Dr. Hugh Everett III, Ph.D., was what Scientific American magazine calls "one of the most important scientists of the 20th century." A quantum physicist who authored The Many Worlds Theory, Everett inspired countless science fiction books, movies and Star Trek episodes with the concept of parallel universes. As a young teenager he exchanged letters with Albert Einstein, debating whether it was something random or unifying that held the universe together.
Until the age of eight, Hugh Everett lived in Washington, DC with his mother, Katharine Kennedy, a troubled poet and author, and his father, Col. Hugh Everett, Jr., US Army. As an adult, Dr. Everett settled in nearby Virginia, with his wife Nancy. They had a daughter, Elizabeth Ann, and a son, Mark Oliver.
Mark Oliver Everett showed no talent for physics, or even mathematics. He was much more interested in the records his sister was playing in the house.
Everyday after school one year, Elizabeth played Neil Young's AFTER THE GOLD RUSH album over and over. Mark listened. He never would have dreamt that one day he would record an album (DAISIES OF THE GALAXY) playing the same upright piano that Neil Young played on AFTER THE GOLD RUSH.
At the age of six, Mark found himself at the next door neighbor's garage sale where he saw the toy drum set that would change his life. He begged his parents for the $15 it cost to buy the set, and they relented. Most children that get a drum set play it for a week and then leave it in the closet until their parents have a garage sale. Unfortunately for the Everett family, Mark played those drums everyday for the next 10 years.
As a young teenager, after a period of trouble with the law, being arrested and thrown out of school, Mark started to pay attention to the acoustic guitar gathering dust in his sister's closet. He had already been making up little songs on the family's upright piano for years.
Mark had several friends that were coincidentally named Mark. To avoid confusion, they would refer to each other by their initials. Throughout his teens Mark Everett was "M.E." Gradually it was shortened to the even easier "E".
By the time he was 20, E was obsessed with writing songs and recording them on his secondhand 4 track cassette recorder. He wrote and recorded virtually every day of the next seven years.
At the age of 24, feeling stifled by the lack of inspiration and creative community in his Virginia neighborhood, E packed up everything he owned into a car and drove 3,000 miles across the country to Los Angeles, where he knew not one person.
He eventually moved into a tiny apartment above a garage in Atwater Village, on the East side of Los Angeles, and resumed his antisocial routine of waking up, writing and recording 4 track cassettes, going to one of many shitty jobs that he hated, coming home, writing and recording more, and going to sleep.
As time went on, from the time he started his obsessive song writing, the quality of the songs and production of his tapes slowly improved. Eventually someone heard some of his songs and asked him to record for a record label.
a man called e broken toy shop
In 1991 E signed a contract to record two albums for Polydor Records. This was a great relief for him, as it meant he could now devote all his obsessive energy to writing and recording. The first record, A MAN CALLED E, came out in 1992, and yielded the top ten alternative rock hit "Hello Cruel World." Having never performed live as the front man of a band, E went out to open for Tori Amos on her first American tour, to much acclaim. In 1993, Polydor followed up A MAN CALLED E by releasing E's second album, BROKEN TOY SHOP.
From 1993 to 1995 E recorded most of what became the BEAUTIFUL FREAK album. The single "Novocaine for the Soul," having been recorded and mixed in 1993, was eventually a number one alternative rock hit in 1996.
In 1995 E decided to work under a different name. Having grown more adventurous musically and lyrically, and tired of the logistical nightmares of going by one letter, he added a few letters and formed EELS, an ever-changing project for his songs, with a live band to present them in concert. With E playing electric guitar and a Wurlitzer electric piano through a guitar amp, drummer Butch (aka Jonathan Norton) and bassist Tommy Walters joined to help play E's BEAUTIFUL FREAK songs live.
With the release of BEAUTIFUL FREAK (DreamWorks Records) in 1996, the EELS live band toured throughout America and Europe. The striking "Novocaine for the Soul" video clip of the band seemingly flying through their day was nominated for several MTV awards. They had a second top ten international hit with the song "Susan's House."
They continued to tour, concluding with a stint on the 1997 Lollapalooza tour. After collecting a Brit Award, presented to EELS by Spinal Tap, (the award was soon turned into a cymbal stand to illustrate that it was actually worth something), and giving director Wim Wenders the song "Bad News" for the soundtrack to his film "The End of Violence," E experienced a period of great artistic growth.
At 19, E found his father dead. His troubled sister, Elizabeth, committed suicide in 1996. And now his mother was terminally ill with lung cancer. That was his entire family. He ultimately decided he could not ignore these things artistically, feeling that anything else would be an act. So he set about the writing and recording of an album that was inspired by, and that would deal with the tragedies in his life, but only if it could offer a new point of view, and a positive resolution.
It was a challenge that E rose to on the critically acclaimed ELECTRO-SHOCK BLUES album, recorded 1997-1998 and released in 1998. Although a glance at the track list on the back of the CD jewel box can often make people assume the album is "depressing," E called it "probably the most positive record I will ever make." The album, now considered a late 90s rock classic, can at first prove to be a difficult listen, but soon reveals a life-affirming heart. Guests on the album included E's neighbors and friends, Mike Simpson of the Dust Brothers, Mickey Petralia, Grant Lee Phillips of Grant Lee Buffalo, Lisa Germano, Jon Brion, and T-Bone Burnett.
After making more MTV-nominated videos for "Last Stop: This Town" and "Cancer for the Cure," the new 3 piece EELS live band found E trading in his Wurlitzer electric piano for a Hammond organ and bassist/guitarist Adam Siegal joining the line up to hit the road for a 4 month theater tour of Europe and America.
daisies of the galaxy
Soon after returning home and contributing "Cancer For The Cure" to the film "American Beauty," E went down to his basement to write and record the next album. Less than 6 months after the release of ELECTRO-SHOCK BLUES, DAISIES OF THE GALAXY was finished.
Not released until February 2000, DAISIES OF THE GALAXY picked up where ELECTRO-SHOCK BLUES left off. "The challenge was to figure out where one can go from ELECTRO-SHOCK BLUES, and I wanted to go up," says E. Legendary producer Lenny Waronker likened the album to "A nice walk in the park, where you're occasionally bitten by a snake." NME Called the album "A masterpiece in almost every way."
R.E.M.'s Peter Buck guests on the album, and co-wrote the track, "Estate Sale." The first single, "Mr. E's Beautiful Blues" was a hidden track on the album, yet a substantial international hit. The video for the second single "Flyswatter" featured drummer Butch as a clown on a police stakeout in front of E's home.
Shortly before the release of DAISIES OF THE GALAXY, the robust Butch ate a large pizza before he went to bed. That night he dreamt of a concert where he was playing timpani with "The EELS Orchestra." There were strings and horns and they even played an overture of EELS songs. The next morning Butch called E and told him about his dream. They agreed that they had to make this dream a reality.
Starting in January, The EELS Orchestra 2000 toured throughout Europe, America and Australia. The six piece band featured saxophone, trombone, trumpet, banjo, guitar, violin, upright bass, piano, melodica, clarinet, flute, and, yes, timpani. Each band member, including multi-instrumentalist/recording artist Lisa Germano, who previously opened many of the 1998 EELS concerts with her own set of songs, had to play an average of 3-4 instruments each night. And they played the EELS Overture, just like in Butch's dream, (an idea that the legendary Brian Wilson emulated, much to Butch's chagrin, for his late summer 2000 Pet Sounds tour). It was a vast change from the 3 piece rock band they were a few years ago. In the spring, E also toured solo with Fiona Apple in the US, winding up the tour with an appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman.
Upon returning home, EELS contributed the song "Christmas Is Going To The Dogs" to the film "How The Grinch Stole Christmas." In December, 2000 EELS released the limited edition OH WHAT A BEAUTIFUL MORNING live CD, culled from the EELS Orchestra and E solo 2000 tours.
Souljacker Souljacker Souljacker
Recorded in bits and pieces, some dating back to 1998, the bulk of the SOULJACKER album was recorded in the early part of 2001 and co-written and co-produced by E and John Parish, whom E met while EELS were appearing on the same 1998 taping of the British TV show, "Top Of The Pops," that PJ Harvey, the band Parish is often a member of, was also appearing on. E & Parish hit it off immediately, bonding over a mutual love of croquet and rock music.
The album's inspiration came when E was taking a break from the recording of ELECTRO-SHOCK BLUES at a meditation retreat, deep in the woods of central California. While thinking about a story he had recently heard about a California serial killer called the Soul Jacker, who claimed to take not only the lives of his victims, but the souls as well, E broke the retreat's rules of not reading, writing or speaking by writing the song "Souljacker Part II" on a roll of toilet paper.
The SOULJACKER album was released internationally in September of 2001. In an unfortunate case of timing, E's new short hair and long beard made a lot of people at the airports EELS were frequenting at the time of the September 11 tragedy nervous. The US release of the album was delayed until March, 2002. Legendary German director Wim Wenders shot the video for "Souljacker Part I" in an abandoned East Berlin prison. TIME magazine crowned SOULJACKER one of the best records of the year, while NME called it "downright brilliant" and London's SUNDAY TIMES deemed it Album Of The Year, saying that "The conventional wisdom that Electro-shock Blues was E's masterpiece will have to be reassessed: it was clearly just one of his masterpieces."
After contributing the song "My Beloved Monster" to the film "Shrek," EELS were ready for the road once again, with new live band members John Parish on guitar and Koool G Murder on bass and synthesizer, joining E and drummer Butch for an extensive world tour, dubbed the Bus Driving, Band Rocking Tour, that took them to Europe, Australia and their first trip to Japan. Guitarist Joe Gore filled in for the baby-making John Parish on the 2002 US leg of the tour.
In the summer of 2002 E contributed music to the film "Levity," and the second limited edition live EELS CD, ELECTRO-SHOCK BLUES SHOW, recorded during a 1998 concert supporting Pulp, was released. While continuing to develop songs that would eventually become the BLINKING LIGHTS AND OTHER REVELATIONS album, E took a break from the arduous process to make what would become the next EELS album to be released, SHOOTENANNY!, essentially the document of the 4 piece band from the spring, 2002 US tour playing live in the studio during a ten day stretch in November.
The spring of 2003 was a busy time in EELS history, with many EELS-related releases coming out in the period of 2 months. I AM THE MESSIAH, a record made in the summer of 2000 by the EELS' favorite Silver Lake DJ, MC HONKY was finally released (after being released in Australia in 2002). E, Koool G Murder, Joey Waronker and others helped out on the disc. The "Levity" film score album, released in April, featured 2 tracks billed to EELS as well as score billed to Mark Oliver Everett, and two more songs, "Eyes Down" and "Mighty Fine Blues" were contributed to the film "Holes."
On top of all that, June 3rd saw the release of the EELS 5th studio album, SHOOTENANNY!. The 80 city EELS Tour Of Duty, which found E flanked by a band outfitted in red polyester suits once worn by Elvis Presley's backing band on his 1968 comeback TV special, began in June and ended in November, circling the globe at least twice with Koool G Murder on bass, Golden Boy on guitar and Puddin' on drums. Guitar legend Chet replaced the baby-making Golden Boy on the 2nd US leg of the tour. ROLLING STONE gave the album 4 stars, praising its "Zen-like self-realization," while judges Tom Waits and Cameron Crowe nominated SHOOTENANNY! for the 2003 Short List Music Prize.
The bulk of the recording of an epic EELS album that began some years earlier is done in 2004, as the EELS lay low for the year, toiling away on the record, only surfacing from the basement studio to contribute the song "I Need Some Sleep" to the film "Shrek 2" and a new studio version of longtime EELS concert favorite "Living Life," by Daniel Johnston for the DISCOVERED COVERED: THE LATE GREAT DANIEL JOHNSTON tribute album. DreamWorks Records is sold to Universal, which already distributed the EELS records, and EELS move to the Universal-owned Vagrant label.
Blinking Lights and other Revelations Blinking Lights and other Revelations Blinking Lights and other Revelations
April 26 sees the worldwide release of the 33 track double album, BLINKING LIGHTS AND OTHER REVELATIONS. Guests include E's hound dog, Bobby, Jr., new friends Tom Waits and The Lovin' Spoonful's John Sebastian, as well as returning friend Peter Buck from R.E.M. The album is heralded by the press as perhaps E's finest work to date. E directs the video for Hey Man (Now You're Really Living) himself, while Jesse Dylan mans the camera for the Trouble With Dreams video.
In May "EELS with strings" is formed and goes on the road. The line up of E backed by a string quartet and two multi-instrumentalists, The Chet (formerly Chet) and Big Al, play critically acclaimed concerts throughout Europe, the U.S., Australia, and concludes October 23rd in Auckland, New Zealand. Along the way they film and record a show at New York City's legendary Town Hall, perform on Late Night with David Letterman, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Last Call with Carson Daly, The Late Late Show with Craig Furgeson, Later With Jools Holland, and in London alone they play at Royal Albert Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall (as part of Patti Smith's Meltdown Festival) and Royal Festival Hall.
Also in May, the SIXTEEN TONS (TEN SONGS) CD culled from the EELS 2003 KCRW live session is released for sale exclusively at the EELS with strings shows and the EELS website, and EELS contribute a cover of "Jelly Dancers" to DIMENSION MIX, a tribute to electronic music pioneer Bruce Haack.
There may be many things to come from Mark Oliver Everett and company in the future. Some of it may surprise you. Some of it may delight you. Some of it may sicken you. But know that they are having a wonderful time making things down in the basement.