Horn-rimmed glasses and a quivering lip. It’s been almost six years since Eel lead singer E, yes just the letter, had his minute in the spotlight getting recognition for his hit song “Novocaine for the Soul.” That time is now ancient history for E, who has since released three more albums since on Dreamworks Records, including his newest record SoulJacker.
As the creative backbone of the Eels, E has managed on his new record to create a disturbing and creepy vibe, employing a wide variety of outrageous musical techniques. He has also managed to slip just below the mainstream. So how’s E looking these days? The music is as inventive as ever, and the man . well, this geek rocker’s gone lumberjack in a big way. Beard and all. So why the new look to go with the new sound?
E: I saw some dumbass alternative band somewhere on TV and I was like ‘Man, I just want to be as far removed from this as possible. I threw away the red baseball cap and the earring. I covered up all of my tattoos. Then I grew a beard.
Hatchet: Not going for the radio rocker look then?
E: I could see a band like ‘Nsync sporting beards in the future. But I’m sure some of those guys can’t even get a little stubble going. I guess the Beatles went through a beard phase. But you know, those English guys don’t have half the testosterone as me.
Hatchet: It’s early in the morning, I don’t want to stress you too hard. What should we talk about?
E; I don’t know, you got any questions?
H: Questions? I thought you were asking me questions. But ok we can do it your way I guess. I’ve read that you’re favorite part of being a musician is making the records, that you hate everything before and after, like doing this interview.
E: It’s all the business stuff. It’s not much fun. I love making the record, the rest is all kind of boring.
H: What about playing the shows?
E: Sometimes it’s pretty fun. The last time we went out, we had an orchestra, with strings and horns. That was crazy.
H: Are you guys keeping with the strings and horns for this tour, or are you taking it back to the basics?
E: It’s a four-piece rock combo this time.
H: Taking it back to the rock roots?
E: We’re taking it back to somebody’s roots, I’m not sure whose.
H: You guys were toured around Europe on this record for the last couple months. Why the delayed release in America?
E: That’s a question for our record company. I think the rest of the world was ready for the record, Japan and Europe and everywhere else was like ‘Give it to us’. The US was more like ‘we’ve got a lot going on right now, can you hold on? I don’t really understand it, to be honest with you.
H: It wasn’t your decision then?
E: No. Not at all. I would never do that. I was ready to put it out everywhere six months earlier than it came out.
H: I was sad. I wanted the new album and I was pissed because I heard they had it across the water.
E: It’s just a matter of who wants to put it out, and when. We just have to go along with it.
H: I know you guys haven’t come to DC in a long time. You’ve been busy in Europe, I guess. Do you get a better reaction out there? Is that why we don’t see you much?
E: I guess so, it seems that way. It’s pretty tough to be a musical group in America these days, other than for the few mainstream acts that get all the attention. Music just isn’t an important part of people’s lives anymore.
H: You think it’s important in other countries?
E: Yeah, in Europe it’s considered a vital part of your existence: food, shelter, and art. They really make time to enjoy it. The system in America right now for music makes it very hard to find out about something new, unless you’re one of the few things that gets hammered by the public.
H: Do you think that’s changed or gotten worse?
E: It’s been like that for while, but it’s definitely getting worse. Everything’s getting smaller and smaller as far as possibilities because everything’s getting bigger and bigger as far as the companies that own everything. You don’t have much of a chance. Most of the radio stations in America are owned by the same company, which is pretty fucked.
H: Which means they can do whatever they want.
E: Someone’s dictating what they play.
H: It’s The Man.
E: Yeah, The Man.
H: Do you feel like The Man is keeping you down?
It’s all getting very Orwellian.
E: Is it now?
No, I don’t think the man’s keeping me down. I don’t have any complaints.
H: But he’s keeping someone down?
E: The man’s keeping someone down. But he can’t keep me down.
H: How can you fight the man then?
E: The Man can’t grow a beard as manly as mine.
H: You don’t think so?
H: Is that why you grew the long beard, to be more manly?
E: No, I didn’t need to be more manly. I just wanted to prove it. I felt like I can, so I should.
H: Makes sense.
E: I get hassled at the airports a lot now, of course. Occasionally though they’ll be a guy at the metal detector, one of the security guys will kind of whisper to me, ‘I wish I could grow a beard like that.’
E: That’s when I realized, when you can, you should. Simply because you can. There’s a lot of guys who can’t.
H: Were you sure you could, or did you just throw it out there and hope?
E: It all started with that song “Dog Faced Boy” on the new record. I got into the character so much and I wanted to feel his pain as fully as I could. So I just stopped shaving and decided to see what would happen.
H: When you got to this point you kind of got to like the character.
E: I also saw some dumb ass alternative band somewhere on TV and I was like ‘Man, I just want to be as far removed from this as possible. I threw away the red baseball cap and the earring. I covered up all of my tattoos. Then I grew a beard.
H: Not going for the radio rocker look then?
E: I’m sure N’Sync will start growing their beards. Somebody told me my beard is in the current issue of GQ, so it’s all over for the beard real soon.
I could see a band like N’Sync sporting beards in the future. But I’m sure some of those guys can’t even get a little stubble going. I guess the Beatles went through a beard faze. But you know, those English guys don’t have half the testosterone I do.
H: No English guys, or just those English guys?
E: None, in general.
H: In your experience at least?
E; I think so. I don’t know. Maybe it’s a stereotype. I don’t know.
H: Ok. I read that you lived in DC for awhile. Is that true?
E; Yeah, I grew up in Northern Virginia.
H: Yeah? Where in Virginia?
E: You know where the CIA is? I used to work at the CIA Exxon.
H: The Exxon by the CIA?
E: I can’t tell you any more. That’s all I can say. I shouldn’t have brought it up.
H: Some very confidential fueling?
E: Yeah, for very secret missions.
H: I read that your move to LA was because you didn’t see much of an arts scene where you grew up.
E; You’ve got to understand that I was very sheltered. I never left the suburbs. There was a lot going on in DC, I just didn’t know it. In Virginia, where I was, there was nothing. The world that I was in was very not artistically. what’s the word? It sucked. It was interesting because a lot of the people that lived around there were like diplomats and ambassadors and shit like that and everything looks like a David Lynch movie. Everything looks fine on the outside of the white picket fence and everything. I had to move to Los Angles to get away from such fucked up situations and such fucked up people.
H: So you feel like the people in LA are less fucked up?
E: Totally, everyone was completely fucked up. Everyone was either a drug addict or a redneck, or the worst combination of both. It was just kind of like spinning your wheels until you die.
H: I feel you on that. I’m in DC to get away from the rednecks.
E: Where you from?
H: Frederick, MD
E: I’ve been there. That’s really out in the country. It’s beautiful though.
H: Maybe if you don’t live there, when you don’t have to smell the cows.
E: I’m sure I romanticize it. I had a girlfriend who lived in Round Hill, Virginia, which is not far from Frederick.
H: So you’ve been through?
E: Actually when I was a teenager I saw Leon Russell at some fair, at a racetrack.
H; The Great Frederick Fair?
E: Yeah. I’ve got to say, that was a great day in my life. To this day, that concert, and that racetrack still resonates.
H: I’m glad to hear that our racetrack has done some good. So you’re happy in LA.
E: Yeah, when I first came out here, it was a long time ago, it was a real eye opener to have friends and neighbors whose lives centered around doing artistic things instead of just doing drugs and killing time. At least the people out there were doing drugs and making something out of it all.
H: And not as many rednecks?
E: No as many in LA proper. I think the outlying areas probably have a redneck situation, It’s a personal taste issue.
H: So you write way more songs than actually come out? True? Did you do that with Souljacker.
E: The next two albums are ready to go. They’re just sitting there gathering dust until they come out. Everything is way after the fact.
H: How long has the Souljacker been around?
E; It’s complicated because it started during the Electro-Shock Blues album in 1997. Then I worked on it bit by bit. During Daisies of the Galaxy, the record after that, I considered combining it and making it a double CD. I just kept working on its as its own record. That’s something I do.
H: What kind of stuff do you have sitting around?
E: One is all polka ballads. One is all oboe and saw.
H: Oboe and saw huh? Do you play the oboe, saw, or both.
E: I play both because you can do that with modern recording.
H: Ah, the wonders of modern recording. You don’t mix the Oboe and saw with the polka?
E: That’s a brilliant idea. That’s gonna be the next one. That’s going to be my two CD masterpiece.
H: I’ll be very excited to see that. I’ll be waiting for it. So the label holds the release on the stuff you’ve got around.
E: My timetable is to release it now. But I don’t really understand the makings of a big record label.
H: Do you stay out of the politics of it all?
E: I try to. I do offer up my “release it now” theory every now and then.
H: You’ve had objections to having songs on soundtracks and things like that. Do you butt heads with them often?
E: Yeah, that’s where the trouble starts.
H: What creates that kind of problem?
E: Well, they put our song on that movie Road Trip a couple years ago, which I still haven’t seen. I really didn’t want to be part of it. I’ve been working for years to pare our audience down and get out all the frat boys who came to hear ‘Novocaine for the Soul’ because it was blasting out of their jeep speakers one summer. Then the label does something like that and it starts it all over again. I begged them to not do it. They pretty much had a gun to my head. Like if I didn’t do it, they wouldn’t let anyone know my record exists. I really regret it, but occasionally you have to just throw them a bone because, I guess, I make things difficult for them a lot of the time. I feel like I have to give them something, its political or something.
H: Do you think you’ve gotten rid of the frat boy contingent?
E: No, one thing we’ve noticed is that there’s a lot more boys coming out since we started really rocking out on this record, in Europe anyway.
H: Is that disturbing to you?
E: No, just an observation, but you can be the next record is gonna be really girly.
H: You gonna get rid of the beard if you go all girly?
E; The ladies love the beard. You’re just a magnet for the ladies. I go out, and things are different with the men. I go into the bank and the security guard takes the safety off his pistol and the babies hide behind their mommy’s legs. But the mommy’s are all very happy about the beard. Its been a very good move on my part that I didn’t expect, socially at least.
H: So you’ve grown in that respect at least?
E: It’s a great lesson in life. You grow a beard, stop washing your hair, and you start smelling like a homeless man. That equals charisma. Who knew?
H: What can I do? I can’t grow a beard.
E: What are you, English?
H: No, I just can’t grow a beard that big.
E: Oh, well give it time, maybe you’re not old enough yet. Maybe by you next birthday it’ll happen.
H: So I should just let it grow and hope?
E: You could always wear a fake one too. They might find that charming, and if they discover its fake they might think you’re a kooky eccentric.
H: So, don’t let them discover it?
E: You have no control over whether or not they discover it. If they discover it, that’s good. It means something’s happening.
H: So that’s good?
E: I think so.
H: So, was this your technique?
E: I think if you’re asking me for advice on your social life it really speaks to the trouble you’re in. But, I mean, if you need it, I’m here to help.