Bucketful Of Brains - 1997

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The Secret Of Happiness'
Publication: Buckeftful Of Brains
Author: Ralph Traitor
Date: 1997

I first met Mark Eitzel ten years ago. Courtesy of Lisa Fancher whose Frontier Records had just licensed American Music Club's first great classic, Engine, I was flown out to 'Frisco and after a prodigious human pig-out staked a table upstairs at a downtown bar and awaited prodigy.

I'd listened to Engine and liked it. Loved it, no, that came later. I was impressed by the songs, especially "Outside This Bar" and "At My Mercy". Lisa's cautions about Mark being shy and awkward intrigued me, but once we got talking I found him companionable, highly intelligent and very intense. His insistent self-depreciation and apparent discomfort with just being alive was fascinating and endearing.

Later we crossed the bay to see Young Fresh Fellows and then parted. My last morning in 'Frisco we met up in a restaurant and Mark tried to oblige me with some copy but he was obviously uncomfortable and I'd wished to God I'd captured our first meeting on tape.

Engine was soon being recognized as a work of sophistication and Eitzel's songwriting as something pretty special.

Licensed by Demon it was making an impression and AMC arrived for some showcases. Mark and Dan ended up crashing in a spare room in the house I shared. I hung out with them a little, which was a pleasure, but I'll never forget sitting one morning in my kitchen rapt and grateful as Mark played me some new songs on his beat up acoustic. These songs which I suppose ended up on California were quite unspeakably beautiful. I went back to Engine with a vengeance and then fell in love with it, and soon California. And I'm still in love with them.

I saw the band and Mark's performance was devastating in its intensity: a good front man will give you their heart but only the true great will give you their soul and Mark is one who does, delivering it slice by dripping slice, an ungodly, holy pizza topped with his guts.

A lot happened then. More albums, endless tours, and for Eitzel the big deals and hot reviews and, finally from Rolling Stone, the sort of accolades granted only the great. And make no mistake, Mark Eitzel is one of the great songwriters of his - any - generation.

Ten years on and Mark Eitzel has been through the business mill, held himself together and emerged through the other side a formidable solo artist. Having dispatched 60 Watt Silver Lining, he teamed up with Peter Buck and now it's West, a collaboration that gives us more of his greatness. All the dents and rust are there, the shine is too.

And I'm talking to him again. We're both ten years older - and as Mark points out, "wiser" - and his openness dictates that the answers are good, whole and honest. And he sounds happy too after the uncertainties of the post-AMC fallout his work's cut out for a while at least, a month touring the States with Buck, reissues of early AMC albums imminent, a soundtrack album with The Rachels in the pipeline and maybe, who knows, a book although Mark says characteristically that "when you're talentless..." that can take a long time.

From its opening "If You Have To Ask", reminiscent of Brian Wilson's most penetrating work and "Free Of Harm" where Buck's influence is really felt and through another ten songs, West reassures us that here is a songwriter whose powers have not remotely begun to wane.

Recorded in Seattle with engineer Ed Brooks (Automatic For The People) and Tuatara, a quasi-folk combo cooked up by Buck, Screaming Tree Barret Martin and Skerrit.