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Members include E (born Mark Oliver Everett on April 9, 1963, in Virginia), songwriter, producer, multi-instrumentalist, guitar, vocals; ButchNorton(born Jonathan Norton), drums; TommyWalter (left band in 1997), multi-instrumentalist, bass. Addresses: Record company--DreamWorks Records, 9268 W. 3rd St., Beverly Hills, CA 90210 Phone: (310) 234-7700 Fax: (310) 234-7750.
The singer, songwriter, guitarist, multi-instrumentalist, and producer known simply as E--the man responsible for eels who says his moniker is an old nickname gone too far and the reference to "eels" is just an ever-changing vehicle for his songs--returned in 2000 with his group's third offering, Daisies of the Galaxy, marking the musician's first big step toward embracing life after personal tragedy: the deaths of his sister, mother, and father. Regarded as an upbeat coda to 1998's Electro-Shock Blues, the album that dazzled critics but repelled record buyers with its grueling tour of suicide, cancer wards, and funerals, this third offering from eels took a more optimistic view of the world. As E himself concluded, according to DreamWorks Records: "If Electro-Shock Blues was the phone call in the middle of the night that the world doesn't want to answer, then Daisies of the Galaxy is the hotel wake-up call that says your lovely breakfast is ready."
Throughout Daisies of the Galaxy, like previous eels records, runs a list of poignant characters. When asked if he has always felt so empathetic toward others, E said that yes, he does appreciate the good in others and tries to understand their hardships and problems. "I can be very cynical, but deep down I don't believe there's such a thing as bad people," he told Mark Healy in an interview for Rolling Stone. "People do bad things and get led astray, but if you take any person and follow the line backward from the bad thing they did, you can usually start to understand them." And just how did he arrive at such a hopeful view? "Well, if you've been through some of the experiences I've been through these last few years, you cling to any shred of optimism you can muster," he continued. "Once I felt like the dust was settling and I hadn't been to any funerals for awhile, I realized you have a choice: You can stay down in the muck, or you can tighten your belt and move on. It's like, `OK, time for some carefree years. Time to have some fun.'"
A native of Virginia who later settled in Los Angeles, California, E was born Mark Oliver Everett on April 9, 1963. Several years before forming eels, he released two underrated solo albums for Polydor Records. In 1995 in Los Angeles, after Polydor agreed to release the veteran songwriter and producer from his contract, E teamed with his touring drummer, Butch Norton, and bassist/multi-instrumentalist Tommy Walter to record as eels, hoping that an expanded lineup would enable him to produce a fuller sound more akin to his greatest influence--singer, songwriter, and pianist Randy Newman--and to add trip-hop technology to the idiocratic pop sensibility of his prior work. Taking his new project to DreamWorks Records, the label established by film director/producer Steven Spielberg, E, along with his group, became one of the first acts to sign a contract with the newly formed record company.
A Diverse Debut
E's new band debuted in mid-1996 with the eclectic Beautiful Freak, an album noted for its intelligent pop sound and intriguing lyrics. Each song of E's revealed a heartfelt, personal edge and underpinning humor, a mix that appealed to a young, literate audience dissatisfied with the slacker culture. Because of these elements, eels' first album often drew comparisons to another fresh-sounding songwriter, Beck. However, E, who friends describe as cantankerous, resisted such charges: "The only similarity is that we're white guys using samples. We're coming from a completely different angle," he argued, as quoted by Rock: The Rough Guide contributor Alex Ogg. Regardless of the similarities, Beautiful Freak earned rave reviews for its fresh mix of classic pop, country, rock, and hip-hop beats, with Q magazine calling the work a "complete musical vision, a genre-spanning soundscape that reels you in with its myriad of hooks." And after the album's 1997 release in Great Britain, Melody Maker ranked Beautiful Freak number 43 on that year's list of best albums, while a New Musical Express critics' poll listed it at number 33.
Record buyers, both in America and Europe, embraced eels' debut as well. The ironic single "Novocaine for the Soul" became a modern rock hit at home as well as abroad, and the band in 1996 started touring the United States and Europe, opening for the likes of the Screaming Trees and playing music festivals such as the Inrock Festival in France and the Rockpalast in Germany. By 1997, eels were touring as a headlining act, quickly gaining a reputation for their impressive live shows, especially in Europe, where the band's popularity soared. That same year, eels also toured in the United States with Lollapalooza, then returned to Europe for another round of sell-out concerts. Despite eels' breakthrough, Walter left the band soon after touring in order to form his own band, Metromax, later known as Tely.
Revealed Personal Hardships
The eels' next album, Electro-Shock Blues, arrived in 1998. Primarily a solo effort by E with a noticeably darker feel than the group's debut, the album was inspired largely by the suicide of E's sister Elizabeth, who died just before the release of Beautiful Freak, and the long illness and imminent death of his mother, who suffered from cancer. While not received well in terms of record sales because of its anguished subject matter, Electro-Shock Blues nonetheless garnered stellar reviews. CMJ (College Music Journal) called the work "one of 1998's most oddly powerful pop albums, demonstrating that weighty, tearful emotions, pretty melodies and groovy tempos can harmoniously complement one another." To support the album, E enlisted My Head frontman Adam Siegal (a former member of the Suicidal Tendencies) to play live with him on bass, but the American leg of the tour was cut short when his mother succumbed to cancer in November of 1998. But in spite of E's personal difficulties, eels did return to Europe later as Pulp's supporting act, then returned home to conclude the Electro-Shock Blues tour.
E spent most of 1999 writing and producing Daisies of the Galaxies in his Los Angeles basement with eels drummer Norton, Grant Lee Buffalo's Grant Lee Phillips on bass, and R.E.M.s Peter Buck on piano, guitar, and bass. The sessions were interrupted, however, when E had to return to Virginia to clean out his parents' house and settle their estate, documented in the song from the album "Estate Sale," written with Buck. While at his parents' house, E also came across a 1950s-era Greek children's book, which he used for the album's artwork.
Returned to Happier Music
After all his recent tragedies, E, now the only living member of his immediate family, felt the need to focus on the positive. "I needed to make something in love with life for my own sanity," he related, as quoted by DreamWorks. "It became important that I make simple, pure, sweet music." And although Daisies of the Galaxy opened with the sound of funeral music, E, who says he is happiest while making a record, opted to use a New Orleans-styled groove. "I wanted to make a fun, pretty record that was full of life," E added. "During the Daisies sessions I realized we were making two different records. One was loud, dark and scary and full of feedback; the other was more acoustic and positive. I only wanted to put out the latter now--even if it doesn't have any big guitar on it, or a guy going `heeYYYYEAAAAAHHHH!'"
Released in March of 2000, Daisies of the Galaxy brought E further acclaim. "Like its predecessor," concluded Jim Wirth in New Musical Express, Daisies of the Galaxy "mixes humor and humility, hope and fear, and stands as quiet testimony to one of modern music's most gifted writers.... Here is an album that, in its wit, humility and calmness in the face of a firing squad of terrors, justifies the existence of pop albums. In almost every respect a masterpiece." Soon thereafter, eels started touring again, this time just E, Norton, and a couple of string and horn players. They traveled first to Europe, then opened for singer/songwriter/pianist Fiona Apple in the United States. Already, E had made plans for a fourth record, and soon after completing Daisies, started working on new, louder songs again with Siegal. Judging by the past, the next eels release was sure to draw similar admiration from both fans and critics. As Los Angeles Times reporter Richard Cromelin said of the songwriter: "E refuses to codify emotional reality into a convenient package. His determination to capture life's complex, ambiguous, paradoxical contours is what makes his songs so true and touching."
by Laura Hightower
Formed in Los Angeles, CA, 1995; signed with DreamWorks Records, released Beautiful Freak, 1996; released dark album Electro-Shock Blues, 1998; released the more upbeat Daisies of the Galaxy, 2000.
- Selected discography
- Beautiful Freak DreamWorks, 1996.
- Scream 2 (soundtrack), contributed song "Your Lucky Day in Hell," Capitol, 1997.
- Electro-Shock Blues DreamWorks, 1998.
- Daisies of the Galaxy DreamWorks, 2000.
- Buckley, Jonathan, and others, editor, Rock: The Rough Guide, Rough Guides Ltd., 1999.
- Atlanta Journal-Constitution, December 18, 1997.
- CMJ, January 11, 1999, p. 5.
- Los Angeles Times, February 5, 2000; March 16, 2000; April 30, 2000.
- Melody Maker, February 16-22, 2000, p. 46.
- New Musical Express, February 19, 2000.
- Rolling Stone, April 27, 2000; May 25, 2000.
- Q, December 1996, p. 147.
- a band called eels, http://planetorg.com/eels (May 20, 2000).
- eels at DreamWorks Records, http://www.dreamworksrec.com (May 20, 2000).
- Sonicnet.com, http://www.sonicnet.com (May 20, 2000).
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