Eels - Biography
By Scott Feemster
Eels is the brainchild, and main vehicle, for the singer/songwriter Mark Oliver Everett, otherwise known as E, to present his ideas and songs to the world. Though Eels was started as a 'proper' band, in later years it became basically whomever Everett decides to gather together to either record or perform his material. Regardless, Everett and the Eels have put out some of the most bracing and most literate pop/rock records of the last twenty years, and have garnered praise from both critics and the band's ever-growing legion of followers.
Mark Oliver Everett was born on April 9th, 1963 in Virginia, the son of Hugh Everett III, a physicist who was the originator of the many-worlds interpretation of quantum theory and a pen-pal of Albert Einstein. At a very young age, young Mark was fond of goofing around on toy instruments and trying to play his family's piano. At the age of six, he found that some neighbors were selling a kid's sized drum kit for fifteen dollars, and after pleading with his parents, he retreated to the family's basement to teach himself how to play. Everett spent a lot of time in the basement, and eventually taught himself how to play not only drums, but keyboards, piano and guitar, as well. As a teenager, Everett played in several bands, but also recorded his own ideas and songs on his basement on a second-hand four-track recorder. Tragedy struck when Everett was 19, as he found his father lying dead in bed one morning. This was the first of a few family tragedies that would mark Everett in his career, and would influence his songwriting. Everett had several friends with the same first name as Mark, so to differentiate, he started calling himself M.E., which was eventually shortened to just E. In 1985, Everett gathered together some of his songs and self-released a limited 500 copy run of his first album, Bad Dude In Love. The album pretty much did nothing, but it did spur him to take his music career more seriously, and he decided to move to Los Angeles in 1987 to pursue that goal. Once in Los Angeles, Everett used any free time to work on his songs and demos, and eventually his demos came to the attention of Polydor Records, who signed him to a recording deal. His first album under his pseudonym E, A Man Called E (Polydor) was released in 1992, and received generally positive reviews. Everett toured in support of the album, scoring an opening slot for Tori Amos. A second album, Broken Toy Shop (Polydor), was released in 1993, and while neither album sold in great numbers, they did establish E's name in music fans minds as a talented songwriter and performer. While touring to support Broken Toy Shop, Everett met drummer Jonathan “Butch” Norton, and the two discussed possibly putting together a band that could take Everett's musical ideas further. At around the same time, Everett was released from his deal with Polydor. Soon after, Everett and Norton met classically-trained bassist Tommy Walter, and the three decided to form a band called Eels, a name supposedly chosen so that the Eels albums would be filed close to E's solo albums in record stores. The new group was almost immediately signed to Dreamworks Records, a new record company set up by film director/producer Steven Spielberg along with partners in the music business.
The Eels debuted in 1996 with their album Beautiful Freak (Dreamworks), an album that drew from Everett's diverse musical influences, including rock, country, classic orchestrated pop, and hip hop. The group achieved moderate success in the U.S. with singles like “Novocaine For The Soul” and “Your Lucky Day In Hell”, and, through touring and festival appearances, became even more popular in Europe and the U.K. The band toured extensively through 1996 and 1997, and, at the end of touring, Walter left the band. (It is not clear as to whether Walter quit the band or was fired.) The Eels songs were becoming popular in their use in films and television, (the fact that they were on the Dreamworks label most likely helped with this), and have been featured in such movies as Scream, Shrek, Road Trip, A Guy Thing, Hot Fuzz and Scorched, as well as television series such as Scrubs, Six Feet Under, Dexter, and Homicide: Life On The Streets, to name just a few. In 1998, Everett and Norton should have been on top of the world, ready to work on another album to further the success they had already achieved. Unfortunately, tragedy once again struck Everett's family, as his sister, who had long suffered from mental illness, committed suicide, and soon after, his mother was diagnosed with cancer and succumbed to it within a fairly short amount of time. Everett's mood was understandably dark, and that mood was mirrored in the Eels 1998 album Electro-Shock Blues (Dreamworks). The album was recorded by the duo of just Everett and Norton, though they did have many guests on the record, including T-Bone Burnett, Jon Brion, Lisa Germano, Grant Lee Phillips, and Michael Simpson from the Dust Brothers. Electro-Shock Blues was not a commercial success, though it did resonate deeply with critics and fans of the band. To tour for the album, the group stayed a three-piece, and recruited former Infectious Grooves bassist Adam Siegel to fill in the gap left by Walter's departure. The group again toured heavily, though a leg of the American tour had to be canceled because of the death of Everett's mother. After the tour, Siegel left the band. After such a dark couple of years, Everett decided he needed to release some music that was going to lift his, and his audiences, spirits a bit, so the next Eels album, 2000's Daisies Of The Galaxy (Dreamworks), was more of a return to the sound of the band's first album. With guest such as Grant Lee Phillips, Mike Simpson, and Peter Buck from R.E.M., the album was, again, not a huge seller, but it did return the band to a place as one of the more respected newer modern rock bands. Everett and Norton had the idea to put together a six-piece band of multi-instrumentalists to take their material on the road, and the band, which included Lisa Germano, toured extensively across North America, Europe, and Australia. A live recording of the 'Eels Orchestra' tour, Oh What A Beautiful Morning, was released in 2000 via the band's website.
Everett decided to scale back and dig into a heavier, more rocking feel for the next Eels album, 2001's Souljacker (Dreamworks). Appearing on the cover with a full beard and sunglasses, Everett was barely recognizable from his previous appearance, though the visual image of the band was never a priority. Souljacker was written and recorded with frequent PJ Harvey collaborator John Parish, and Parish joined Everett and Norton, as well as new member bassist/keyboardist Koool G Murder, on tour for a while, until he was called away because his wife was having a baby. Parish was replaced for the remainder of the tour by frequent Tom Waits guitarist Joe Gore. A live album of the tour, titled Electro-Shock Blues Show (Dreamworks), was released in 2002. The core group of Everett, Norton and Murder next recorded and released the live-in-the-studio album Shootenanny! (Dreamworks) in 2002, a more stripped down effort that had a lighter feel than Souljacker did. Shootenanny! only took ten days to record. After the release of the album, many of the band's long-time fans were shocked when they learned that “Butch” Norton had left the band. Originally it was reported that he left the band to play drums in Tracy Chapman's band, but Norton later stated he left because he wasn't being financially compensated enough for his role in the band. Norton was replaced by drummer Puddin', and Everett, Puddin', Murder and guitarist Shon Sullivan toured through 2003 in support of Shootenanny! Sullivan soon after left the band to work on his own Goldenboy project, and was replaced by guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Jeff Lyster, aka Chet Atkins III, aka The Chet. After Shootenanny!, the Eels left Dreamworks, and next signed with smaller indie label Vagrant Records.
2003 was a busy year for Mark Everett, as he had a “hand” in releasing the joke/hip hop album I Am The Messiah (SpinART) by MC Honky, (Everett has never admitted he is, in fact, MC Honky, but most people assume he is), and also completed the soundtrack to the movie Levity under his own name. Later in the year, Everett and the Eels released their next album Blinking Lights And Other Revelations (Vagrant), an ambitious double album that included a rich mix of orchestral instruments, including strings, brass, and bells along with some of Everett's most personal and revealing lyrical content since Electro-Shock Blues. Everett gathered together Lyster, pianist Allen Hunter, and a string quartet consisting of cellist Ana Lenchantin, violist Heather Lockie, and violinists Julie Carpenter and Paloma Udovic to perform material off of the album, as well as acoustic treatments of other Eels material, on tour through 2005. Taking a recording of the band at New York City's Town Hall in June of 2005, the live album Eels With Strings: Live At Town Hall (Vagrant) was released in 2006. In 2008, two collections were released spanning the career of the Eels. The first, Meet The Eels: Essential Eels Vol. 1(Dreamworks/Universal), is a greatest hits collection that came packaged with a DVD of the band's music videos and behind-the-scenes photos. The second, Useless Trinkets: B-Sides, Soundtracks, Rarities And Unreleased 1996-2006 (Dreamworks/Universal), is a self-explanatory collection that also included a DVD of the Eels performance at the Lollapalooza festival in 2006. To promote the collections, and Everett's first book, published in 2008, and titled Things The Grandchildren Should Know, the duo of just Everett and Lyster set out on “The Evening With The Eels” tour, which featured the two frequently switching instruments and playing stripped down versions of some of the band's songs. During the tour, and later through their website, the live album Live And In Person: London 2006 (E-works) was released. The 2008 comedy film Yes Man, starring Jim Carrey, featured 9 songs by the Eels, including one new song, “Man Up”.