Mark Everett interview
Doug Johnstone hears from Mark Everett, lead man from rock mavericks Eels, whose autobiography tells of a strange upbringing and death at every corner
When Mark Oliver Everett was nine years old and home alone, a plane crashed in his neighbourhood. Stumbling outside, he wandered through the carnage of burning wreckage and body parts before returning to his house. ‘Just another day in my weird life,’ dryly cackles the creative force behind American alternative rock outfit Eels. ‘Hey! It’s Wednesday, must be a plane crashing outside.’ That this kind of event doesn’t seem out of place in his blackly humorous memoir, Things the Grandchildren Should Know, gives you a pretty good indication of how strange Everett’s life has been.
The musician who’s gone on to sell millions of records, paradoxically by being anti-establishment within the music business, had one hell of an upbringing. Allowed to run riot as a kid, Everett was taking drugs, stealing cars and generally getting into a whole heap of trouble early on. His parents were into the swinging scene, and his troubled father was a misunderstood genius physicist who came up with the parallel worlds theory about 20 years too early. Ridiculed, his father crawled into his emotional shell, to the extent that Everett’s first memory of touching his dad was of finding him dead of a heart attack.
Death has haunted Everett: his drug-addict sister committed suicide and his mother suffered a slow, painful death from cancer. All of which makes you wonder, why he would want to go through that all again by writing about it? ‘I thought it would be really easy, but it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,’ he laughs. ‘I don’t recommend it. Like any good therapy, it was a really difficult, agonising process, but it worked. I really hated working on it, but by the time it was over, it felt like a weight off my shoulders.’
Everett has always been one of society’s outsiders, from his lonely childhood to a refusal to tow the music industry line. Dropped three times by labels for not playing ball, he’s nevertheless gone on to massive success with Eels, spawning hit singles, award-winning albums and sell-out tours around the world. This memoir and a recent documentary film about his father have led Everett to diverge from music, but he’s not about to give up the songwriting, thank you very much. ‘Every time I branch out, I think it’s going to be a relief to do something other than write a song,’ he says. ‘But I always find that everything else is a lot harder, and where I really belong is back at the day job.’
Nevertheless, the book, film and music have all acted as therapy over the years, each project helping Everett get to a place today where, despite family tragedy and all the rest, he is pretty happy. ‘I wish I’d had some kind of crystal ball as a kid to see where my life would be right now,’ he says ruefully, ‘because it would’ve given me a lot of hope.’ And as for the future? Everett would love to just live a slightly more mundane life. ‘In 40 years I’ll write volume two, and I’m determined for it to be the most boring book ever written. I’ve had enough of the drama, thanks.’
Things the Grandchildren Should Know is out now published by Little, Brown.