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Drawing on Life's Pain

October 18, 1998|Richard Cromelin | Richard Cromelin writes about pop music for Calendar

Hospitals. Cancer. Funerals. Suicide. These are the nuts and bolts of "Electro-Shock Blues," the second album by the Los Angeles band Eels. The grim menu by itself doesn't reflect the emotional and musical range and the positive resolution that the album ultimately yields, but grim it is--an unflinching account of group leader E's experiences with his suicidal sister and cancer-stricken mother (see review, Page 67).

Eels' 1996 debut, "Beautiful Freak," made the group an arrival to watch, but this follow-up figures to put its fans to the test. In an interview,

E (born Mark Oliver Everett), discussed the album's prospects in the marketplace and the reasons he made it.

Question: Are you concerned that the album's subject matter will put off your potential audience?

Answer: It's the kind of record you have to hear at least four times for it to sink in, and unfortunately we live in a time when we're so media-saturated . . . that people can only get into many things on the surface rather than get into a few things thoroughly.

But I don't like to think, "Oh, this might be too hard for people to get into and they might not be willing to try." . . . I don't think about how hard it will be to talk about these songs in interviews. But now time has passed and it's caught up with me and here I am and I do have that feeling of "What have I done?"

Q: Why did you decide to be so straightforward and graphic in telling these stories?

A: A Marilyn Manson record is supposed to be exploring the dark side, but to me that's more of a caricature of the dark side, and it's more of a show-bizzy kind of thing--it's like going to a KISS concert. There's a safe distance. It's not really scary at all. Whereas this is more--nobody wants to talk about cancer and hospitals and mental illness and death. It's all stuff we sweep under the rug. . . . I just wanted to get it out in the open and take away some of the scariness by getting to know them. I'm not so scared of these things anymore because I'm very familiar with them all.

Q: What inspired you to take on this subject?

A: For a long time I wasn't interested in writing about the tragedies of my family and I didn't want to write tribute songs to dead people. I don't feel like we need "Candle in the Wind 1998." . . . Then I started to see connections between my family and the whole world and modern times. . . . I woke up one night and it just struck me, "Oh yeah, I have to write about this."

Q: What was the hardest thing about the project?

A: Well, this will sound weird, but to me it was a really easy thing to do, to make this record. . . . I feel at my best when I'm facing demons because everybody else is always trying to avoid them. . . .

On the surface, this is a record about death, but it's actually about living. And it's about how brief life is and making the choice to enjoy it as much as you can and think about what's important. There's a lot of life in the music, there's a lot of happiness in the music. I'm interested in reflecting life, and death to me is not the opposite of life, it's part of life, and that's the way it should be treated musically too.

I'm not interested in putting music out that's just desolate. I'm not interested in milking sadness, unless it's in the name of finding happiness.

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