Last updated: 10/30/2011 12:00:00 PM
eels became known to a global audience when their first album, 'Beautiful Freak' was released on 30th July 1996. Their sound is distinctive. Very distinctive. Melody Maker called it a 'low-fi hip hop, grunge, jazz and chamber music mix'n'match' that is 'the sound of now'. If you've never listened to eels before, I recommend you to a song from their first album, 'Beautiful Freak', called 'Lucky Day in Hell'. It starts off with a trip-hop rhythm and quickly enters a bizarre sampled section before the lead singer, E's growling voice takes over. You will soon be able to tell that this is no ordinary group.
The group consists of E (frontman, Mark Everett) on vocals and an assortment of other instruments and Butch, the 'crazy animal who just lives to drum' on the skins and vocals. Until recently their bassist was Tommy 'The Professor' Walter who left to pursue a further musical career. Now, for the tour promoting their second album, Electro-Shock Blues, they have employed the help of several session musicians. More recently, their new bassist, masquerading mysteriously as 'Adam' has played with them on tour and has become a permanent fixture of the band. Tommy, having departed from the band is now playing with a group called Tely and we wish him all the best for the future.
eels reside in the 'funky Los Angeles neighbourhood of Echo Park', where according to one Melody Maker journalist, 'you're likely to bump into Beck, The Dust Brothers' and a whole charade of other performers. You can identify the area in the single, 'Susan's House'. E thinks the district has character and besides, where else would you be able to get a 'real big breakfast' for just $2.75?
"Rather than try to sound like the Beatles, I wanted to do as the Beatles did. They soaked up everything around them at the time and then put their own stink on it" E comments, condemning the tendency of his contemporaries towards the poppy sound of the Fab Four.
You've probably guessed by the attitude of the singer so far that eels are different, and they're proud of it. The title of the album is particularly appropriate in the case of eels. "I'm trying to salute individuality in the face of depression," says the maestro "our album is called Beautiful Freak because that's the thread going through most of it... It's about being fucked-up and different". Powerful stuff.
You may laugh at eels' claim to being social outcasts, but there's no getting away from the fact that E 's been through a hell of a lot in his short life. He describes himself better than I could: "I had such a lonely childhood. I was strung out on cocaine and cannabis by the tender age of 13 and was already better known to the local cops than the teachers at school. I don't know if I was actually a mistake, but I always felt like I was. It's amazing how much those first few years can screw everything up." Six years ago, E fled from Virginia, hoping to pick up a new life for himself in California. His sister had committed suicide recently and he had to undergo a very long period of therapy to overcome his mental anguish.
But now E's better and he's kickin' butt on the music scene. "The upside of hitting rock bottom is that it makes you braver lyrically and more adventurous musically. I recommend hitting rock bottom."
The group met at an open mic session in the Mint Room, an LA club that stands for everything E believes in. "I always thought I'd be a solo kinda guy until I found these two and it really clicked. It's definitely the best band I've ever been in."
Things are looking great for eels, but E's determined not to lose the feel of loneliness and detachment. "I don't think there's such a thing as happiness in the sense that most people seek it - nonstop bliss. To be happy is to be happy and sad, to be able to feel. That's my goal, not to be on Novocaine."
Rob Porter, September 7th 1997, updated and furthered, October 19th 1998 and ammended 18th August 1999