Chickfactor - Fall 1994
Publication: Chickfactor (#7)
Author: Gail O'Hara
Date: Fall 1994
Chickfactor: What was your first concert?
Mark Eitzel: My first big rock concert that I wanted to go to was Yes in 1972 at the Goldenmont Theatre in Southampton, England.
CF: Were you living there?
ME: I grew up there.
CF: You don't have an accent.
ME: I don't want to. I'm not English, I'm American, Army. I used to have an accent when I first moved here.
CF: So it was Yes.
ME: Yeah and I was really disappointed cause I was too stupid to know that they'd had this big stage show. It was the close to the edge tour so there were these little rocks that glow. I was very disappointed. I thought they'd all be in jeans and t-shirts and play that amazing rock that I knew they could play so I didn't like it at all. But I still like them.
CF: What is your dream gig?
ME: I'd see - of course this is corny - Billie Holiday anytime, anywhere, pretty close to the stage. I'd see Little Jimmy Scott about 20 years ago. I'd see Joni Mitchell, but I don't know what she's like live. She might be really boring. I'd see Suicide, never saw them.
CF: What prompted you to write 'In My Role As The Most Hated Singer In The Local Underground Music Scene'?
ME: My roommate said, 'you know, you really suck now,' and I said, 'really?' and he said 'yeah!' and I said, 'well, why?' and he said, 'well I still like you but all my friends hate you and I always have to defend you in front of them,' and I said, 'why?' and he said, 'because you suck now.' it was that kind of circular conversation.
CF: He wouldn't say why? You suck because you suck?
ME: I think that's enough. I don't need to know details. So that's why. It's not a very good song. It was better before the producer got his hands on it. It was like a Neil Young song.
CF: Do you really feel that it's true?
ME: Yeah, in a lot of ways. cause I'm ballyhooed a lot in foreign press and yet I still don't seem to fulfill the aspirations. We don't play like really weird rock, we don't play really sensational kind of anything, we're just kind of blah. So people hear that we're great from outside and they go, 'well, they suck.' it's too neo-mor.
CF: You have to be in Caroliner or something.
ME: Yeah, who is a great band. I hate his guts personally, but he is a totally cool guy.
CF: You get super-gushy press in England.
ME: It's weird, huh? I don't understand why.
CF: they reprinted that Melody Maker live review in the booklet for your solo record. I've never read such a rave.
ME: I know. I'm not going to complain about it. It helped us out. It's not gonna last. Think how they'll hate us next year.
CF: Do you get bigger shows and more appreciative audiences abroad?
ME: In London, yes. Certainly in England we get scary appreciation. In America, you never know cause you're home and Americans are like - it's a different scene so I never know if i'm sucking or not. Whereas in England, because there's a whole different vibe, it's a more theatrical thing, I don't have to worry about having to live up to Pavement or...who's the big thing now?
CF: Guided By Voices
ME: We used to have to live up to people who rocked. Now we don't have to except that we still don't rock. So every time we play live people are like, 'how can I have a good time listening to this shit?' Especially in America, if you do anything that's a little depressing, they want to bring a psychiatrist. It's stupid. there's a level that - on a mass level - people don't reach over. Whereas over there, for some reason because communication is so much more global, people are somehow more interconnected and there's less violence and there's less distractions of the street and of poverty, I think they have more of a focus on different kinds of music, more free time, etc.
CF: I saw three of your solo shows last year in NYC. Your audience really wants to interact with you, they really want in on the show. It's almost scary.
ME: That's fine. Hey, you know, I'm an entertainer. There's nothing scary about it 'cause those people are like engineering majors, they're nice people. I mean it. That's the scary thing.
CF: They yell at you a ton.
ME: That's good though. I like that.
CF: Do you have a bad heckler story?
ME: Oh yeah. Of course when we opened up for Pearl Jam we go things thrown at us all the time. I got reduced to giving a nazi salute to the crowd. A bunch of high school Beavis and Buttheads with swastikas tattooed on their foreheads so I hated it. But no, I figured if a show can degenerate into complete name-calling between audience and performer then it's a good show. It never degenerates that far cause I don't play that kind of music but if I was that kind of band, if I really thought that I could make it doing that, then I would. It's the best kind of rock, right? I'm an entertainer. People like to interact, they like to applaud, they like to clap along, sing along if you let them.
CF: Whose lyrics do you dig?
ME: Marcy from Scrawl -- the best songwriter in America right now. Westerburg, Jack Logan, Vic Chestnutt. Believe it or not, Afghan Pigs - the guy can write some good lyrics but I really, I don't like people who toy with that kind of evil. Don't do it. I don't know. The usual suspects. I like Nirvana's lyrics a lot. There's a million people. I like Codeine, but I don't know if that's very p.c. of me.
ME: Well, because. I listen to their tape a lot though. I think about my mom watching me from the doorway when I'm playing some really depressing song and her eyes on me like, 'what will I do with this mess?' and I can imagine these kids very seriously playing in their mom's living room that's all white, with white shag carpet, and she's sitting in the doorway, and the kid is playing these big chords on the piano and she's making his favorite meal.
CF: I read your top 10 list once in NME or something...
ME: See, I never have one, you know, cause I don't care. I put Ice-T in there. Or Ice Cube. Ice-T. That was embarrassing because a week later I hated him. but I did like Ice Cube. Maybe I just got 'em mixed up, who knows. No, I like Ice Cube. I don't listen to much rap at all, maybe cause I'm a white middle-class kid but the violence just...unless you really know what that is, and I kinda do a little bit, it's almost like you don't want anything to do with it if you know what it is. I used to live in a place with gunfire and whores, people doing crack and heroin outside my house, ambulances on my street all the time. I seen it and I don't want anything to do with it. I want art to be beauty, you know? Barbra Streisand - I saw her two weeks ago. she was awesome. It was worth the ticket price, but I wasn't going to buy the $400 calf jacket.
CF: Do you like Morrissey?
ME: No, but I like The Smiths a lot. There's that one song that goes, 'there's a light that never goes out.' It's a great song because what it does it sets up the story and then it gets to the heart of the matter which is that he's looking for the light that never goes out.
CF: How is music going as a career?
ME: It's going really good. I mean, I'm being thrown a lot of money to make exactly the kind of record I want to make and I have heads of record labels telling me how much they love my stuff. A lot of bands have to give the label 20 songs and the label picks the songs - I get to pick all the songs I want. I get to do the albums I've been wanting to make, except when we had to deal with fussy producers. On this album [San Francisco] we didn't, so it's better. All this money seems kind of immoral, like it's karmically fucking my life up. No seriously. I bought the car and I bought the house and i'm not going to complain about it, although I could...
CF: Didn't you 'pay your dues' to get to that point?
ME: Yeah, but so what? Who cares about dues? It's like, I paid my dues so now i'm going to die, you know? I hate that shit.
CF: Are things going better now than when you were on indie labels?
ME: It's just different problems. The only way I got this money was to hire two managers. Then I had to hire three lawyers. It's the only way we could have gotten this contract. The whole thing is like MTV: the spider and the fly, you know, you have to appease the spider but he's going to eat you eventually. The only way to really appease the spider is to become one. That's kinda what we had to do, and it's weird, and it really fucks you up. Just in terms of all the work that we have to do like touring around. I hate it. I can't stand it. I had to put my foot down last year and say, 'I gotta write the next album.' The whole band is like, 'let's keep touring.' My throat goes out real easy. I have no fun. I don't like it. For me now, the thrill of making an album on a major record label is to make a pop album. We've never done it before, so we tried. I hope after this maybe they'll drop us and I can go be a solo artist cause that seems a lot easier to deal with. I'm always having to live up to who's on top. I mean, I can't even read Billboard and Melody Maker anymore.
CF: You're not missing a thing.
ME: I know i'm not, but I don't like the kind of person who doesn't read those things, you know. I don't like the kind of people who don't read shit, even though I'm becoming one. Maybe I'm lying to you. I have no idea what I'm saying.
CF: Do you have control over your records?
ME: More or less. I give away my songs to the band, and then we have a producer who makes certain decisions and choices that you fight with to get the ones you want. I have five members of the band who all want to make the music one way or another. I have to fight to get the way I want it to sound. So no, you don't have much control, except for the degree to which you want to make them all hate you. They all hate me right now 'cause I decided I wanted this record to sound how I wanted to sound. So now I'm hated. Great.
CF: But you're the main...
ME: No, I'm not. I earn the most money but we've been a democracy the whole time.
CF: But you write the music and the lyrics?
ME: I arrange a good portion of it, but it's been a democracy for 10 years. On this album there's so much shit to deal with, so many people.
CF: Were you happy with the way Mercury came out?
ME: Yeah, at the time. It was what we wanted. Now some of the songs were really fucked by the production and the way we tried to make it kinda weird. But you know, win a few, lose a few.
CF: When did you start singing and why?
ME: When I was 14. I wanted to be a rock star. I wanted to be Joan Armatrading basically. Then I saw my first punk-rock show and I wanted to be a punk-rock star.
CF: Which was?
ME: The Adverts and The Damned at Southampton Polytech. And then I moved to America and joined a punk-rock band that did mainly covers. It was a good-time punk-rock band circa '79-'80 called The Cowboys.
CF: How has your voice changed since then?
ME: It's gotten lower and I don't scream anymore.
CF: Do you like to use effects?
ME: No, I hate it.
CF: What did you do to your voice on "Bad Liquor"?
ME: That was six years ago. That was with a 58 through a fender twin. We do a lot of that kind of stuff. That's just like with a cord - usually I like it pretty dry, but sometimes with a megaphone or sanzam. We use a 47 microphone - Streisand's microphone. No it's a 49. 47. I ain't no engineer.
CF: When did you have your first drink?
ME: Oh, when I was 14.
CF: What was it?
ME: Bacardi and Coke.
CF: Was your first drinking experience bad or good?
ME: Very very good.
CF: Do you drink now?
ME: Fuck yeah. I go on and off as my stomach expands and contracts.
CF: What kinda crap have rock critics said that irks you?
ME: I get really mad. We did a show at Irving Plaza and the New York Times reviewed it...I thought we did a really good show.
CF: I saw that show. It was amazing.
ME: Yeah? And I thought it was great. We finally did a good show. They said the in-between the song patter was the only entertaining thing. 'His lyrics and singing style are meant to evoke emotion, and it does.' A very dry New Yorker review. Mostly I don't like it when they [the UK press] tend to deify me. I do get that sometimes. First of all, in a week or so he won't think that because I would want someone, if they were going to deify me, to deify me till the end of time. Secondly, it's like, how do you live up to that? Especially on tour, people read reviews, and you show up and there you are and it's like, 'eew, he's certainly not that.'
CF: Do they characterize you in a certain way?
ME: I don't care. As long as it's positive, I don't give a shit what they say. If it's negative, it better be - Gerard [Conflict Boy] once did a negative thing years ago and I really liked it cause it made me laugh. It helped me a lot. And you know what? It was stupid, just plain stupid, but it was harmless because it was kinda heartfelt in a way. A lot of reviewers, even if they're being really positive can be kind of destructive to your process or your time strength - I read lots of science fiction - it can really fuck you up cause you begin thinking about it. You begin tripping on what they said. That's bad, but I read 'em all.
CF: Didn't Gerard change his mind?
ME: No, not about that song. I'm talking about a very minor infraction here which will never be forgotten. No, he's always really helped us out.
CF: I think your vocals have gotten better with each record. What song are you most proud of or what's your favorite to play?
ME: I like 'em all. To play live, whatever the crowd pleaser is. 'Blue And Grey Shirt.' I always forget how to play it, but it's easy.
CF: You don't like touring.
ME: Hate it. I become even more self-absorbed and I get throat problems and I can't drink and hang out and meet anybody and have a good time. It's no fun.
CF: What's in your rider?
ME: Usually nothing. We don't care. I don't think we have a set rider. Beer. When we're in England, we usually have two bottles of red wine for me. We usually want dinner.
CF: What do you like about living here?
ME: I don't like living here. I think it's a really beautiful city and I've just been living here for 12 years and I'm sick of it.
CF: Is Vudi his real name?
ME: No, his real name is Mendelsohn, then it got changed to Mark, then Vudi -- short for Vudicus Maximus.
CF: Is there a character from a book of film with whom you identify?
CF: How long was your stint with the Toiling Midgets?
ME: About 6 months.
CF: Was it fun?
ME: No. No. I love the music so I said, 'do you want a singer?' and they said, 'yes,' so I said, 'i'll be your guest singer.' It's that easy. It's that trivial.
CF: I saw three AMC shows last year. They seemed to get progressively more manic. Is that typical?
ME: No. It's club by club. Depends on the crowd.
CF: Are your videos played on MTV?
CF: Why does everyone make videos? Do you have to?
ME: I don't know. I hate them. Especially the ones I've made. The few I like aren't played on tv. I've watched it compulsively for 15 goddamn years. Still, it's the big ugly spider through and through. You have to make a video to be successful and it's like this big load of bullshit money. We have to make a video this time. I said, 'I don't want to sing on the video. I don't want to appear in the video.' They're like, 'Mark, you have to sing in the video.' I'll probably have to but I'll be really annoying. I have to get my way.
CF: I'm gonna start Chickfactor TV. Show all those videos that get made. So many good ones never get shown. Combustible Edison got rejected, they have a cool video.
ME: Even big stars like Chris Isaak -- I used to live with the guitar player -- beautiful videos made for millions of dollars by really famous directors never to be shown. I don't get it. Instead they show over and over things like -- in those days it was foreigner -- now it's like Collective Soul. Of course if you write Collective Soul, I'll meet them one day, we'll be offered to open up for them, then one of them will pick up Chickfactor and my career will be over.
CF: I don't think so. Is there a music community in SF you feel a part of?
ME: No, not really. there's an article in BAM magazine about 'sadcore.' It's really embarrassing, we're on the cover. They try to say there's a community of bands who play this kind of music. We've been playing this music for 10 years.
CF: There's Red House Painters...
CF: Will you do another solo record?
CF: You should pull a Lou Barlow. Just sit in your room and play.
ME: Seriously, that's what I was thinking of doing. I do that anyway.
CF: Are you contractually free to do that?
ME: No, not at all. I could force it down the throats of people, but I'm not gonna. I have all these concept ideas for records.
CF: Your solo LP is amazing. I'm partial to the stripped-down arrangement for people who can do it.
ME: Me too. And this new record of ours is anything but stripped-down. It's got all kinds of heehaws and doodads.
CF: What is your cocktail of choice?
ME: Cosmopolitan if I'm going to have a really good night. It's a vodka drink with grenadine. It's a SF favorite so if you're going out tonight, order a cosmopolitan. It's a $3.50 drink though, so watch out. They gotta shake it up. Gimlets, Bass ale, Sierra Nevada ale, delicious Bushmills. Black Label.
CF: The whiskey, not the beer.
CF: Black Label's the official beer of Richmond, Virginia. $1.50 a six.
ME: Here too. We used to get a 24 pack for six bucks. Is there a club in Richmond called the Pyramid?
CF: Yup. A disco.
ME: We played there once eight years ago for two people.
CF: You're kidding. I lived there then but I didn't see you. I wasn't hip then.
ME: We weren't either.
Records Mark Eitzel digs:
The Stooges - The Stooges
Nick Drake - Pink Moon
Talk Talk - Laughing Stock
Tom Waits - The Black Rider
The Beatles - White Album
Joan Armatrading - Show Some Emotion
Little Jimmy Scott - Lost & Found
Shirley Horn - Here's to Life
Iggy Pop - Lust for Life
Any early Billie Holiday