Eels’ Mark E Everett on wanting to “bury the hatchet” with Colin Firth
E talks to NME about what went into new album ‘Extreme Witchcraft’
As Eels release new album ‘Extreme Witchcraft‘, frontman Mark ‘E’ Everett has spoken to NME about his desire to “bury the hatchet” with actor Colin Firth.
It’s been nearly 20 years since Firth uttered the line “I can’t stand eels” in Love Actually back in 2003, which Everett took to heart and then immortalised in his recent single ‘Good Night On Earth’
“I have reached out to his people, and got no response,” E told NME. “So I think it’s true. He really can’t stand Eels. It particularly hurts because I also learned that he and I have both been awarded Freedom of London. It’s like we’re British brothers practically.
“I’m making this last plea. Colin, please, let’s bury the hatchet. The world is waiting for this.”
E clearly wants no bad blood staining the largely bright-side vibe of ‘Extreme Witchcraft’, his 14th album, and second of the pandemic following 2020’s ‘Earth To Dora’.
“I wasn’t even thinking about making another album because it hadn’t been that long since the last one,” he said, but when ‘Novocaine For The Soul’s video director Mark Romanek got in touch out of the blue to tell him he’d been playing Eels’ 2001 fourth album ‘Souljacker’ – co-written with PJ Harvey collaborator John Parish – during the pandemic, it inspired E to re-establish contact with Parish.
“When we’re in the same town as John he’ll usually jump on stage and play with us,” E said. “But we hadn’t made anything in the studio since ‘Souljacker’, I realised. I know that he’s a busy man but I just thought ‘you know, I’ll just check in with him and see if he’s interested in seeing what we might make now. It just happened to be good timing. He was in between some projects and had a little bit of time and he was interested and immediately started sending me ideas. It began this rapid-fire back and forth between us. A few weeks later we had an album.”
As the album drops, E sat down with NME to tell us about
NME: The early part of the album has a retro garage rock feel – was that from John or from you?
E: “Definitely from him. It’s very John Parish. It was definitely stuff that I felt like doing. The last album ‘Earth To Dora’ was primarily kind of singer-songwritery and I definitely felt like rockin’ a bit this time… Sometimes I would say ‘make it a little more voodoo’ or ‘give me something spooky’ or whatever, but for the most part we were on the same wavelength.”
It’s also a quite a loud record for one that was apparently recorded mostly at 4am, when Parish’s files would arrive in LA?
“Which is tricky when you have a four-year-old sleeping in the other room. I always had to keep an eye on the volume. It’s definitely a new way of working, the whole process was a new way of working in. It’s definitely not as much fun as making a record not in pandemic conditions – it can be frustrating having to get up at four in the morning to check the latest thing John Parish has sent me so I can send my part back to him before he goes to bed and before my son wakes up, and sometimes that that’s just to tweak something small that would take a minute to do when we were in the same room together. It can be frustrating how long it can take, but it was always exciting because of the music.”
Did you find you could come up with good ideas at dawn?
“I’ve been a morning kind of person for a while and particularly when you have a little kid, but I’m a very poor excuse of a rock star. A real rock star’s going to bed at 4am.”
If ‘Earth To Dora’ traced a relationship from start to finish, is ‘Extreme Witchcraft’ a coming-to-terms-with-it sort of record?
“I think everything I write is trying to come to terms with life. But it’s just a song-by-song basis. For me each song has its own story and I’m not really conscious of any one particular theme or handle to put on this whole album. I think it’s one of the keys to happiness is to just try to be conscious and grateful for the good stuff.”
Certainly ‘Strawberries And Popcorn’ is a song that’s revelling in post-relationship freedoms – eating junk for dinner, never cleaning and so on.
“That song is about a guy who has recently found himself independent from the relationship that he was in and he’s trying hard to celebrate the good feelings of independence, but there’s a part that illuminates that it’s not all good. The original inspiration for that title was having a little kid – I’m sure a lot of parents can relate – sometimes you forget to feed yourself and one evening I realised I hadn’t had anything for dinner and I was too tired to make anything so I just looked at the kitchen counter and I saw my son’s bowl of half-eaten popcorn and half-eaten strawberries from earlier in the day and I just thought ‘fuck it, I’m just gonna eat that for dinner’. Which I have to say was a wonderful combination. Really sweet and savoury, I’d recommend it.”
And ‘Good Night On Earth’’s message seems to be no matter how bad things are, it’s still great because we’re here.
“Exactly. I was just sitting on my back porch one night in the thick of the pandemic and all the crazy awful things happening in the world and I just thought ‘you know what, if I don’t think about all that right now, this is a pretty nice moment, I’m having a nice evening’. So I think it’s important to acknowledge and hang on to the good moments.”
There’s a track called ‘Learning While I Lose – are you?
“The original inspiration for that title came from playing the game on my phone, Words With Friends. I have a friend who’s somewhat autistic, on the spectrum, and she’s a really amazing Words With Friends player that I can never beat because, because of her autism, she can with no effort go through every possible letter combination until she finds some crazy long word that you’ve never heard of that scores 100 points.
“But they have the option to click on the definition of a word so I told her I enjoyed playing with it because I always look at the definition of these crazy words that she finds and I just want to learn while I lose. That’s kind of been my philosophy since I was a little kid, I was a scrawny kid who was one of the last to be picked for sports teams and I early on decided I’m not gonna worry about winning games. I’m just going to enjoy that I get to play.”
Latest single ‘The Magic’ is a bit of an egotistical song: ‘Try me, you’ll find me, a personality, That you can’t get enough of once you can feel the magic…’
“I don’t know if I’d call it egotistical because the guy in that song is acknowledging that he thinks he’s all that, but not everybody does. That was probably unconsciously inspired maybe by. It’s an awkward time to find yourself divorced right before a pandemic that’s going on to year three and you have a kid who’s not old enough to be vaccinated yet – it’s impossible to date. So I am left feeling, during these pandemic years, often like what do I do with all this magic?”
Can you pinpoint what the Mark E Everett magic is?
“The people that I have shared the magic with knew exactly what I’m talking about.”
Everyone’s selling their catalogues for vast amounts of money at the moment. How much are you going to be after when you decide to cash in?
“How much did Springsteen get?”
Something like £400 million.
“I want £400 million and one cent. I gotta be the top dog.”
‘Extreme Witchcraft’ is out now. Eels head out on a full UK and European tour from March.