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E Speaks: An Interview With The EELS

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Photo by Kubacheck, used with permission.
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LA resident Mark Oliver Everett -- perhaps familiar to you as E out of the EELS -- is calling me from the middle of Pennsylvania, most of the way through an extensive world tour, in the midst of a serious jones.

Asked what he’s most looking forward to after the tour wraps on August 12, besides playing a hometown show at the El Rey Theater -- “one of our favorite places to play, maybe the favorite” -- he admits to craving a substance that is notoriously hard to obtain even in such exotic locales as Beijing, Brussels and Harrisburg.

“When we’re out of town, and especially out of the country, what we miss most is Mexican food, so that’s one thing we always look forward to on our return.”

E’s titled this year’s excursion the Tremendous Dynamite Tour, which may strike some observers as ironic, given the general melancholy usually exhibited by this crew. For previous tours, he’s often re-worked familiar songs in a way that extracted the greatest amount of beauty and torment. But for this trip, the group has reverted to the original album arrangements for many of the older songs, which translated to one observer of the band’s Santa Ana show this past May as an unusually rocked-out, high energy EELS experience compared with other recent visits.

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“Where we had mutated some of those songs into different arrangements in years past, I thought it might be fun to take them back to their roots and start doing them they way they were when they first appeared on the albums. That’s one of the fun things about songs, you can find new things in pieces that have been around a long time. We definitely wanted this to be a ‘feel-good’ show, the kind of show you can walk out of with a very positive feeling.”

It sounds like it’s been a good trip, notwithstanding the burrito cravings. The band started its international journey in China, an experience he describes as “interesting,” and a little-kid enthusiasm momentarily overcomes him as he notes, “I got to sing with a Beatle!,” having taken the mic with Ringo Starr at a festival in Oslo for an impromptu version of “A Little help From My Friends.”

Keeping close proximity to rock royalty is becoming something of a habit for Everett. Years ago, he was a regular participant in Pete Townshend and Rachel Fuller’s pioneering web series In The Attic. We caught him at ITA’s last installment, at the Troubadour in 2008, performing solo, then alongside Ben Gibbard and Townshend himself. “At first, those shows were done with no audience, in an airstream trailer… Those early shows were VERY informal, so much so that at one of them, I asked Pete if we could play ‘Substitute’ by the Who, and then realized after we’d started playing it, that I didn’t remember any of the words and it was a complete train-wreck. But that’s how informal those shows were. It was a different thing, having no audience.”

As for what listeners can expect at the El Rey show, it seems like a high percentage of beards on the stage is a given, likely as high as 100%. Everett denies that excessive grizzliness is a requirement for membership, however. “It’s been said that animals sometimes take on the traits, or the appearance, of their owners. In the same manner, I just seem to attract like-minded people around me.”

And while there will certainly be more EELS music down the road, don’t expect any advance dirt. “I am working on some new music but I’ve made a rule for myself not to ever talk about something I’m still working on, until it becomes clear that that really is the next thing that’s coming out. Otherwise I end up talking about things I’m not going to do and people wonder ‘what happened to that record?’ So as a rule I just don’t talk about it.”

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EELS appear at the El Rey Theater on Friday, August 12. Tickets, $30, at Ticketmaster.