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Members include Mark Eitzel (born in 1959), singer, songwriter, and guitarist; Tim Mooney (joined band 1991), drums; Dan Pearson, bass guitar; and Vudi, lead guitar. Addresses: Record company--Reprise Records, 3300 Warner Boulevard, Burbank, CA 91505-4694; or 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019-6979.

The San Francisco, California-based quintet American Music Club offer their own unique brand of dirge rock and have been compared to Joy Division, the Violent Femmes, R.E.M., U2, the Clash, Elvis Costello, Leonard Cohen, and even Hank Williams at his most melancholy. The fact that the band's music is difficult to describe and often defies comparison is a tribute to its originality. They provide a mixed bag of musical offerings: some songs are underscored with a funeral beat, some feature a danceable, up-tempo pace, and still others are marked by a slight country-music twang. Singer, songwriter, and guitarist Mark Eitzel ensures that all singles are seeped in his despair-laden vocals.

American Music Club was formed by Eitzel, guitarist Vudi, and bassist Dan Pearson in 1983 in San Francisco. Playing together during the rise and fall of punk rock, the three musicians never ventured into hardcore punk; instead, they chose to adopt a softer punk sound, lyrically and plaintively accentuating angst, despair, and longing. Studio owner Tom Mallon played an important role in the early formation of the band: for their first four albums, Mallon served as a mentor, producer, and, when needed, even a band member. Mallon taught Eitzel how to write music and showed the group how to strip a song down to its essence. American Music Club eventually became known for the dark humor and intelligence found in their lyrics, their eccentric musical shifts, their unexpected psychedelic riffs, and their obvious willingness to experiment.

American Music Club's first album, The Restless Stranger, was released in 1985 on the independent (indie) label Grifter. Two years later, in 1987, the band released a second album, Engine, on Grifter/Frontier, made available on compact disc (CD) through the Alias label. Engine featured "Outside This Bar" and "Nightwatchmen," two songs that would become favorites for live performances. Spin's Jen Fleissner dubbed Engine a "brilliant" album, and wrote, "[It] incredibly, in retrospect, got by on almost [rock musician Bruce] Springsteenian anthems." The band ceased using keyboards for the album and chose to open Engine with a dirge-like, brooding cut. This type of opening would become a trademark for the band.

In 1988 American Music Club released California, an album that featured the singles "Western Sky," "Firefly," and "Blue and Grey Shirt." Around this time, the band was gaining popularity in Great Britain, where in 1990 they released United Kingdom on Britain's Demon Records. Eitzel subsequently went to England for solo performances and released Songs of Love Live in 1991 on Demon.

Also in 1991 American Music Club signed with Alias Records for their sixth album, Everclear, which had a more commercial sound than the band's previous records, as evidenced by the pop single "Rise." Everclear was cited in a Rolling Stone critics' poll, and Eitzel was named best songwriter by the magazine. In sharp contrast to its previous situation, American Music Club was soon talking to people from major labels and was made a variety of offers. Before the band made a communal decision, Eitzel spent some time recording with the San Francisco band Toiling Midgets and, as a result, ended up recruiting American Music Club's drummer, Tim Mooney. Once Mooney was part of the band, they chose to sign with Reprise Records.

Mercury was released to much critical acclaim in 1993: Rolling Stone gave the album a four-star review and "hot band" status. The LP was characterized as introspective, dour, and "atmospheric." American Music Club began to tour the United States and frequently opened for Seattle grunge rock success Pearl Jam. In 1994 American Music Club released San Francisco, which Rolling Stone's Lorraine Ali found "more seamless" than any of their other albums. San Francisco's appeal, perhaps, is that no two songs are similar on the album; each track is meticulously stylized and unique. Ali also wrote of San Francisco, "The rhythms are delicate and sad (occasionally evoking Joy Division), then cocky and catchy, riding freely under the effects of winding bagpipes, jangly tambourines and rushing wind."

American Music Club's lamentable sound and Eitzel's flat tone requires, for some, an acquired taste. After the release of San Francisco, for example, Musician magazine's Rob O'Connor wrote, "Eitzel might as well be the poster boy for [the anti-depression medication] Prozac." The group, however, has garnered a loyal following; in 1994 they were invited to perform--along with the Neville Brothers, Joe Satriani, and Smashing Pumpkins--at the reopening of the legendary Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco.

American Music Club frontman Eitzel's onstage antics are the stuff of legend and have on occasion inspired madness: He once crawled through the tables of a club, clad only in his underwear, while the band played "Highway To Hell." During another performance, he angered a woman in the audience, who stormed out of the club. Eitzel then followed the woman outside to beg for her forgiveness. Giving performances reminiscent of punk rock icon Iggy Pop, Eitzel has been known to kick a bottle into the audience, to grovel on the floor, or to push someone against a wall. After once crippling himself for weeks, he decided never again to jump in the air and land on his knees.

Eitzel, the son of an army man, was born in 1959 in the San Francisco suburb of Walnut Creek. At the age of seven, he moved with his family to Okinawa, Japan, then to Taiwan, then to Southampton, England. Eitzel was a quiet, studious child who took an inordinate interest in pop music. The Monkees and the Beatles were early influences for him, and by the time he was 14, he was writing songs. Punk rock interested him during his teens, and when his family moved to Ohio, the 19-year-old Eitzel wanted to join a punk band there. He eventually became a member of the Naked Skinnies, which migrated to San Francisco in 1981.

No stranger to the pain of losing a loved one, Eitzel faced the early death of both of his parents. After losing a friend to AIDS, Eitzel and American Music Club contributed the single "All Your Jeans Were Too Tight" to the 1993 No Alternative compilation album, whose profits are contributed directly to AIDS research. Eitzel would witness several of his friends die of AIDS, and his experiences are reflected in some of American Music Club's singles; "Western Sky," "Rise," and "Johnny Mathis' Feet" were all written for dying friends.

As an explanation for American Music Club's style, and as an example of his own dark humor, Eitzel told Request's David Sprague, "Maybe I do have a morbid bent. But it's my job. I was born to be a sad crooner. I was born with no chin."

by B. Kimberly Taylor

American Music Club's Career

Group formed in 1983 in San Francisco, CA; released debut album, The Restless Stranger, Grifter, 1985; released major-label debut, Mercury, Reprise, 1993; performed at reopening of Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco, 1994. Eitzel released solo album Songs of Love Live, Demon, 1991.

American Music Club's Awards

Cited in Rolling Stone critics' poll for Everclear, and Eitzel named best songwriter by Rolling Stone, both 1991.

Famous Works

Further Reading


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