Eels: Things The Grandchildren Should Hear
Eels are throwing away the rule book.
Photo: Mike Massaro / DIY
There’s something reassuring about Eels. Ten albums in, they’re a steadfast constant; a musical comfort blanket to hide away with. Life probably does suck – but so what? If you’ve gone anywhere near his autobiography, ‘Things The Grandchildren Should Know’, you’ll be aware that if anyone has reason wallow in self pity, it’s bandleader E. Instead, he musically greets you with an air of melancholic contentment, like an old friend.
By Emma Swann
Posted 31st January 2013, 11:00am
The record we’re here to talk about, ‘Wonderful, Glorious’ has that same instant familiarity. And E, sitting in this west London hotel room, looks just as your mind’s eye might picture him; beardy, but not overgrown, his iconic thick-rimmed glasses masking the rest of his face.
The album is quintessentially Eels. From the sweet ‘A True Original’ to the ballsy ‘Bombs Away’, via the slightly funky title track and darker ‘New Alphabet’; the songs follow no sonic pattern other than those set before by the band. Lyrically, however, there is a common theme. “There are a lot of lyrics about trying to fight my way out of a corner,” E muses, “feeling lost but not willing to go down without a fight.”
"I was feeling artistically lost."
‘Wonderful, Glorious’ is the band’s first album since 2005 that didn’t begin with a pre-ordained theme; their last three records, ‘Hombre Lobo’, ‘End Times’ and ‘Tomorrow Morning’ were a concept trilogy. And, though he didn’t know it at the time, the freedom proved a little daunting. “I was feeling artistically lost,” he says, “because after doing the trilogy, and writing a book about my life and all that other stuff, I suddenly got to this point where after the dust settled, I was ‘now what do I do?’. And I didn’t really know. I wasn’t conscious that that’s what it was about when I was writing them, but I look back on it now and I see that’s what it was, that’s what was going on”.
That wasn’t the only shift; Eels finally moved out of the basement studio they’d been using for twelve years. “Money,” E laughs, on being pressed as to why it took so long. “I just felt like ‘it’s not broken, don’t fix it’. Then we finally got to a point where it just got so crowded in our studio, the instruments were just piled on top of each other, seating was at such a premium. There were a lot of ugly altercations over couch space, you know, between Koool G Murder and my dog. The dog usually won. It just got to the point where it was time to trade up.”
Trading up means a fully-equipped home studio. That is, an entire house, with each room designated as a different recording space. “The attic is the control room, and right below it, the living room is a live performance room, then one of the bedrooms is the isolation booth. It’s great.
“The one thing that we can do now, that we couldn’t before, is all five of us set up together and play as a live band, and do something in one take if we want to. Whereas in the basement, maybe three of us at best could do that. You get an energy from doing that, that you can’t get elsewhere, so it’s a nice option that we have now.”
It’s impossible to know if the change of surroundings had a great impact on the album. Yes, it sounds more expansive, but that could be because of the studio, or alternatively, the huge change in how the record was written.
“We went in to it with nothing,” E explains, “and no plan. We didn’t know what we were going to do.
"Writing by yourself is lonely."
“I was much more open to every idea. Whereas in the past, if an idea sounded terrible, I’d say ‘that sounds terrible, let’s not try it’, this time, no matter how terrible it sounded, I’d say ‘OK, let’s try it’. And a couple of times it turned out not to be terrible.”
‘Wonderful, Glorious’ is also a more collaborative effort than any Eels record previously. “It’s more fun,” he considers, “Writing by yourself is lonely. Sometimes it’s the right thing to do, but you know, this is more fun. It’s actually the funnest way, because the most awkward way to collaborate is when it’s two people and acoustic guitars, and you’re nose-to-nose and you have to shoot each others’ ideas down. When it’s a group of five of us and we’re all just trying every idea, it just becomes fun.
“It’s a new thing. With the exception of Koool G Murder, who I’ve written a lot of songs with in the past, I hadn’t written anything with any of these guys. Even Knuckles, the drummer, is writing stuff now. And I don’t mean just banging on drums, that doesn’t count! He’s playing real instruments!”
Eels’ new album ‘Wonderful, Glorious’ will be released on 4th February via E Works / Vagrant Records.
Taken from the February 2013 issue of DIY, available now. For more details click here.