Bucketful of Brains - September 1991
American Music Club
Publication: Bucketful of Brains (#38)
Author: Jon Storey & Jud Cost
Date: September 1991
Oh, how things change. Back in the wintry months at the beginning of 1989 this writer was about the only twerp ready and willing to get soaked to the skin struggling through the rain to get to some grotty pub in Archway, North London to talk to Mark Eitzel and Dan Pearson. We get pissed and the cassette recorder fucks up. My article (issue 29) has very few quotes. But where were the NME, Melody Maker and all the rest? Nowhere to be seen. Clueless. Couldn't give a toss.
The American who?
Two and a bit years later, the UK press are falling over themselves en masse to tell you what a genius this Eitzel is, and what a great band this AMC are. As ever the Bucketful is way ahead of the pack. Instead of scrabbling for my 15 minutes amongst all these Johnny-come-latelys this writer avails himself of a leisurely conversation with Mark Eitzel over a pleasant meal in an Italian restaurant on Haight St, San Francisco.
A date arranged by "Bucketful" West Coast correspondent Jud Cost, who is also present and reasonably correct. One of us has recently given up the demon drink - and it's not Jud or I. But Eitzel is in genial form and takes a vicarious pleasure in recommending some of his former favorite bars and brews that he urges we sample, "I don't drink anymore, so I'm desperate for people to drink. Have you tried Boonville Porter...?"
In the USA, the situation vis-a-vis the AMC is much as it used to be in the UK, the Americans don't know what they've got.....yet. I managed to catch the AMC live at S.F's Great American Music Hall, a fine old ballroom and I admit the place was pretty full, but as this is Eitzel's hometown and most of the audience seem to either know him personally or live with him, this doesn't count. So there.
B.O.B: Do you have a lot of songs stacked up?
M.E: The new record Everclear was started in '89. We dropped a few songs and added a few. We made a CD single with a few more songs. I'm getting protective about my songs because it seems if I'm gonna be touring there isn't so much time to write songs anymore. All the new songs I'm writing are upbeat.
B.O.B: What about the Matador label single, is it ever coming out?
M.E: Ask them! It's been a year almost. I started with the Toiling Midgets when AMC didn't have a record deal. Actually I have very little to do with the Midgets, I barely go to practice. I just stand there and sing, I make up all the words as I go along. I take on the role of a mass murderer. A very American role I think.
B.O.B: Did you do Ted Bundy yet?
M.E: No, I haven't done Ted yet, but I was the guy who shot Reagan, John Hinkley. But I did the Matador single (a solo single entitled "An Ecstatic Epiphany: A Celebration of Youth And Beauty Past Present And Future") Wow! Just before we were going to sign the big RCA/Frontier deal, because I knew that after that Lisa Fancher (head of Frontier) would never, ever, let me do anything like that.
B.O.B: Is it just you and a guitar?
M.E: Yeah, well I added stuff to it. The next AMC album is already written, too (the one after Everclear).
B.O.B: What's on the CD single?
M.E: "Rise" from the album, which is supposedly the 'hit'. It's a 'hit' in view of the fact that it sounds like U2 single or something, it has far too many choruses, and it's really obvious.
B.O.B: You've made a video for it too.
M.E: I'm in a dunking booth, and every time the word Rise happens I fall in the water. There's dancing girls. It's corny. They've got these real bad mermaid outfits, they're tacky girls and they know it, y'know? We had them dance out of time to the music. At one point they said, "This music is too slow, don't you have anything like Metallica?"
B.O.B: So what did happen to the RCA deal?
M.E: It's not nice. But we've agreed that this is the story to tell. A lot of it was our fault because our manager took six months to find a lawyer. That was a problem. But also it was a sic record deal and we'd still end up being on an independent label. There were two contracts between BMG (RCA) and Frontier. When we finally signed the damned thing, a week after that, BMG dropped Frontier.
B.O.B: I heard BMG just wanted Frontier for Thin White Rope.
M.E: Of course, what I heard was that BMG just wanted Frontier for AMC. I don't care, Thin White Rope is a great band. Anyway, we told Lisa we'd do one more record with Frontier, then we need to get a major deal.You can't get anything without a major deal in America, can't get a good agent, can't get good distribution....you're stuck at one level. We thought she said ok, so we went into the studio and spent an awful lot of money over two weeks recording an album. Then her lawyer sent the papers, and the deal wasn't what we thought ,it was that we agreed to six records for Frontier.
B.O.B: I heard you spent $13,000.
M.E: I won't tell you how much, it was an awful lot, it was more than that. If Frontier had got the major promotional deal it would have been fine, because Frontier is great. But they didn't. So we were stuck because we'd spent all this money. We said we'd take out a loan to pay Lisa back, beacause I didn't want to be with an independent.
B.O.B: But you're still with an independent now, Alias.
M.E: If they get a major deal, we'll stick with them. They work really hard. All the local papers ignored us for eight years, before Alias got involved, we'd get more press in England.
B.O.B: Was your involvement with the Toiling Midgets thing an escape from all this bullshit?
M.E: Yes. It was loud feedback. We made an album for Matador. I just stand there and sing, no commitment. We're 360 degrees different to AMC. I don't know if I'll ever tour with them because it takes my throat two weeks to recover after a show with them - they play so loud. I'm really afraid of them being compared to AMC, it would damage both bands and it would make them into Mark Eitzel's Midgets. But it's Frank, Tim and Paul's band not mine, I won't do any interviews for the Midgets. Most people see it as Goth, but it's sort of like Led Zeppelin 'cos it's repetitive.
B.O.B: But there are no riffs.
M.E: No riffs, no. But it's more worked out than AMC.
B.O.B: AMC have a new drummer now.
M.E: Tim is our second and fifth drummer. He was our second drummer after the first one quit, but he was too strung out then.
B.O.B: You've given up drinking recently.
M.E: I used to drink so much fucking liquor and the whole gig, for me, would be centered around how much I could drink. We'd really go for it. A lot of our shows in Europe would just be me just getting utterly trashed. I'm weird enough looking when I'm straight, so when I'm bombed it's gotta be like the man from Mars or something. In this city (SF) people don't like it when I get too trashed.
B.O.B: Like the 'Covered Wagon' show, remember that (an infamous gig).
M.E: I'm still getting fall out from that show. I couldn't stand up. It was the Hank Williams thing - I kept singing the same song over and over thinking it was a different song. We'd done a 45 minute set and we were off-stage and I said "We've only done 15 minutes why are we stopping?" But there's been other shows like the famous 'broken glass' incident at the Hotel Utah (an intimate SF venue) where I was having an alcoholic pissy fit on stage. I kicked this pint glass across the stage and it smashed against this wall and all over this girl. She ran out and I ran out after her, in the middle of the show because I felt terrible. She was weeping and I went and hugged her and said I was really, really sorry, I was a stupid asshole. She looked at me and said "Mark, you're singing like shit and not giving me the show I came to see, you're an asshole." She didn't care that I'd kicked the pint over her. There's a lot of reasons for me not to drink and that's one of them. There was another incident where I smashed a glass against my head.
B.O.B: I saw the Wipers play the I-Beam - the bass player grabbed one of these long necked Budweiser bottles, they're really thick, and broke it against his head. Bled like a dog for the rest of the night.
M.E: I go to clubs now and I find myself listening to the music for the first time in years. For me the whole thing about music has been....you get on stage and you get on a cliff, teeter around and see if you can fall off. But it's not about that, it's about making music. A weird revelation.
B.O.B: Do you feel that love the crowd have for you, they're really with you, more than most people.
M.E: No, I'm just singing. I've been doing it for so long, most of the crowds reaction was either abject horror or indifference, so I pretty much don't care. I do like it when people like us, but it doesn't mean much, you still have to give them the best show you can. You're only as good as the performance you're giving at the moment. I want to be more than just a piss artist. Also I have too many tunes about liquor.
B.O.B Yes, you do have a few tunes based on that very subject. Do you still do "Outside This Bar"?
M.E: Yeah, don't get me wrong, fuck, I still love bars. It's just, well, who cares. I'd rather be capable of writing songs about dying in bars than actually dying in a bar. A lot of people think that it's glamourous....all through my teens and twenties being the grand old man of alcohol, y'know. But all you end up doing is living that, instead of writing about it.
B.O.B: Didn't you do a record called "Mark Eitzel Gets Fat" one time, was that back in Columbus?
B.O.B: What was it like?
M.E: Self-conscious....I wanted to be John Lydon singing over "Metal Box" or some weird country guy. Rough Trade sold a few cassettes. There's all these tapes that nobody should ever hear.
B.O.B: What was the inspiration for the title?
M.E: I was gaining a little weight.
B.O.B: But you were never 'mean'.
M.E: I can be pretty ornery. This was when I was living with the Skinnies. I would walk into people's rooms and they'd be listening to some nice music and I'd turn the stereo off and say "What the fuck are you listening to this fucking music for" and slam every door in the house.
B.O.B: Hardly 'mean' though is it? A little irritating, maybe. That's not mean, you're a cream puff!
M.E: Ok, Ok....there were vegetarians in the house and I used to make meat dishes in their dishes and not tell them.
B.O.B: That's still not mean, that's sneaky. Is that the best you can do?
M.E: Well (exasperated) I don't know, I just got that name Mean Mark Eitzel!!
B.O.B: Don't get nasty about it. By the way, where's your rehearsal? (Eitzel had a date with the rest of AMC later on n the evening)
M.E: In Indian Basin, it's Jellyfish's place actually. Do you want to come and listen.....until you get bored?
B.O.B: Bored? With AMC?
No way Jose! So Jud and I deliver the man to the rehearsal, discuss the possibility of AMC recording a cover of "Don't Sleep In The Subway Darling" for "Bucketful" and sit in on the rehearsal until, an hour or so later, Eitzel chucks us out. What a meanie!
Anyway the new AMC album has just been issued on Alias Records in the USA."Rise" with its big drums and anthemic chorus may be the obvious single, but maybe Eitzel was too hard on the track in the interview, it isn't nearly as bombastic as I expected. As a counterbalance "Miracle On 8th Street" crawls slowly through empty streets, sung in a resigned whisper. "Crabwalk" is also familiar AMC territory, another night on the tiles with Eitzel leading the merry dance and some sloshed slide along for company. But he's regretting it all by the morning, or at least by "Sick Of Food" over on side two. There's more heart wrenching in "The Dead Part Of You", but "Royal Cafe" pulls out of the trough in a jaunty performance with a warm vocal, and a smidgeon of vocal guitar. On the whole, although Eitzel is still clearly in anguish,Everclear is an oddly peaceable album, maybe the man is finally coming to terms with his demons. Time will tell.