Musician - June 1989

From The Official Website for Mark Eitzel & American Music Club
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Scary Is Beautiful
Publication: Musician
Author: Duncan Strauss
Date: June 1989

If Mark Eitzel, singer/songwriter/frontman of American Music Club, hears one more person speculate that he must be this incredibly glum guy, some bleak beast, it will make him, well, sad.

"Sure, I write some sad songs," Eitzel concedes. "But I'm not a manic depressive, and our live shows are not sad affairs, unless we really suck that night. I'm writing sad songs as I think they should be written, with pretty much no holds barred. And therefore people think I'm this manic-depressive suicidal maniac. And I'm not any of those things."

What he is: a truly extraordinary songwriter, one of the best you've probably never heard of. And while we're not looking to jump into the debate over his emotional condition, there's no arguing that Eitzel's songs are rife with despair, loneliness, alienation, unrequited love, regret and other upbeat themes. Of course, someone giving a cursory listen to the San Francisco quintet's latest LP, California, might miss the dark tales altogether for the gentle, dreamy, sometimes downright gorgeous music that usually provides their setting. Eitzel intentionally sets his haunting, often ugly verbals against the music.

"I'm trying to make a real quality thing," he says. "I want the songs to have a long shelf life, right? So I try to make the music as beautiful as I can, which I think also makes the music a lot scarier."

But acknowledging that he melds incongruous musical and lyrical elements doesn't begin to address the enormous disparate songs that have resulted since AMC in 1984. Or the nearly hilarious range of comparisons those songs have evoked: Pink Floyd, Richard Thompson, Toiling Midgets, Alex Chilton and at least two Neils (Young and Diamond).

Eitzel laughs when this subject is raised, but allows that "I have tried all different kinds of styles. Nowadays, though, if my songs fall into a particular thing, they're mostly really quiet. But there are some amazing things we've been compared to; it's really strange."

What's stranger is that even college radio has all but ignored AMC. While Eitzel claims that writing and performing his compositions is it's own reward, he occasionally entertains the idea of his work reaching a a broader forum:

"I do fantasize about them being on the radio. And I do actually think through videos that could be made about them. But when push comes to shove, I realize that probably won't happen, 'cause the stuff I write is just too weird. It's really not weird at all, but it just seems too morose."

Isn't this where we came in?