E's a Jolly Good Fellow (Finally)

Eels unearth their dark past, look to a brighter future

Cool kids have feelings, too, and need cool, sad music to tempt those sexy crocodile tears. All the better that a prime resource for a hipster-style curl-up-and-cryfest is a hotly melancholic LA cowboy with a rep for being batshit crazy. Mark Oliver Everett, solo artiste and leader of the enigmatic band Eels, is old-school creative, a rare bird in an increasingly slick indie-rock scene. Bristling, restless and messy, Everett (also known as "E") has released many excellently weird records, but he retreats to his Silver Lake basement whenever the music-biz heat gets too severe. Not that he doesn't sometimes court it: On Tuesday, Eels will be releasing a gigantic amount of material over two compilations, one a best-of called Meet the Eels: Essential Eels Vol. 1 and the other a B-sides, rarities and live collection called Useless Trinkets. Before a long European tour, Eels will play a warm-up show on Valentine's Day at the Galaxy Concert Theatre.

Of the first release, Everett says, "Meet the Eels is for the casual user—the people who may not be very familiar with Eels, who may have heard a song or two and want an easy way to get to know us. Of course, we put two unreleased songs on it to enrage the hardcore fans who wouldn't want to buy it otherwise." The "casual user" may well be familiar with "Novocaine for the Soul," the band's creeping, feel-bad, surprise megahit. "One of the best things that ever happened to me was having a moment of mainstream success in 1996 to '97," Everett says. "I learned that I hated being part of it all and decided then and there that I would always make sure my priorities would be different than the priorities I noticed everyone else seemed to have at the time. I never thought I'd be popular, and when it started happening, it made my stomach hurt to see how it all works."

A decade later, Everett has also very consciously curated the second collection from an expansive cache of material. "Useless Trinkets is for the already-familiar Eels fan who wants to catch up on all the B-sides they may have missed and have a nice place to keep them, along with all the scattered soundtrack tunes and a bunch of unreleased stuff they've never heard before. But it turns out that Useless Trinkets isn't useless at all, and some of our best stuff have been the so-called 'B-sides' that should have been on the 'A-list,' so the casual fan may enjoy it as well."

Eels’ E is excellently weird
Courtesy Eels
Eels’ E is excellently weird

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The very fact of repackaging and selling older material is usually a self-aggrandizing exercise in ego or superfluity, especially when every Eels fan has a Wi-Fi connection in their asshole, but Everett defends his choice. "I think people still like to have something to hold onto," he says. "We've made them nice packages, with books full of stuff to touch and hold near and dear to your heart."

Everett's ballsy snark is familiar to his wry, sharp, smartypants music. For a cool guy, he may fall just across the border from genuine nerd. When asked why Internet nerds, bloggers and message-board habitués are all over his jock (Eels and Everett have a curiously adoring, cultish, e-nerdy fanbase), Everett replies, "Isn't everyone an Internet nerd these days? My grandma is an Internet nerd. Okay, she's dead, but if she were alive, she'd be an Internet nerd."

This particular kind of fandom is at least partly attributable to the themes of ennui and isolation that permeated Eels' early music. Everett maybe has moved forward. "I'm not so lonely these days," he says. "People love me. I rock. I'll have to start writing songs about how much everyone loves me. Get ready."

Next fall, Everett's autobiography will be released in the U.S., and he's made a film with the BBC about his physicist father, "the guy who invented the theory of parallel universes." It's a heavy amount of retrospective all at once for a relatively young and prolific songwriter. "I'm someone who never likes to look back, but I decided to do so in an effort to clear the decks in the name of looking forward, and I have to say—it really worked. It's like a weight has lifted off my shoulders. Can't wait to get back to the future."

 
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