Sun Zoom Spark - November 1994
Publication: Sun Zoom Spark (#6)
Author: Ignatius Carmichael
Date: November 1994
Musically, you have the reputation of being an aquired taste. Do you think that's justified?
"I've heard that criticism from a lot of people. You know how it goes...I write too many words....the words get in the way of the rock. For some people it's like, 'What's his fucking problem? Why doesn't he just get on medication?' Musically it's like MOR but that constituency think 'Well it sounds like MOR but he's fucked up' - I guess some people get it and some just don't."
Do you find you tend to be performing to a hardcore fanbase at your live gigs?
"It depends where we play. In London there's like a really nice group of about fifty people, right at the front, who are awesome. But usually people come to see us because they've read a review that says 'Devastating band that gets to the depths of despair' - then they come and see us and they think; 'Oh God, he's really drunk'; 'He's a lot older than I thought'; and 'Look, the guitar player is bald too, they're all bald'. That's the reaction we've come to expect."
Off stage, do people expect you to be a sage of human misery?
"Yes, and sometimes I am - so sometimes it works out fine. Although, I've had people say; 'You took us by surprise there - we didn't expect you to talk. We though you'd just sit there and think about your problems.'"
Do they expect you to talk in tirades or soliloquies?
(Heavily ironic intonation) "Outside my window, it's raining and the dark clouds are gathering over the canal....and on the surface of the canal - it looks like me looking out...I could say that to them!"
It has been said your songs are about how flimsy our egos are, the difference between our fantasies about ourselves and the more mundane reality. Why do you think this is a recurring theme in your lyrics?
"Well, that's a big question. Just because. I can spend a lot of time writing a song and, usually, one song ends up being two or three or just a combination of two or three stories within it. A lot of people expect me to be really compassionate, kind of sad or a little dopey. When they meet me, they find that I am a little dopey, but I'm also a little prick. No, in answer to your question I really don't know why. Just because."
Do you think American society has changed for the better or worse in your lifetime?
"Well, the older you get, you always think things are getting worse. I know that where I live people have more guns. I know that in my lifetime, we've had fourteen years of the Reagan/Bush era and, in that time, prison building became a growth industry. Any idealism you might have had was undermined by the cynical hate they fostered. They made racism fashionable and made it ok to be seen as a greedy, unthinking capitalist. Yes, things have got worse; there's more desperate people on the streets and more gunfire than ever before."
Do you think that the sense of despair that many people felt in the Reagan/Bush era made have made people react more positively to your music?
"I'm not so sure about that. There still is a lot of despair. I think people are still living through it. Clinton didn't change anything. I live in San Francisco and on the other side of America you've got New York. Between these two places is this vast, enormous stretch of people who don't think like we do in California or New York - these are the people who are really calling the shots in America. I have absolutely nothing to do with them. They thought about carving California up in to separate states a while back. They put Orange County in to one state and so on....when it came to San Francisco - no one wanted it to be part of their state. They hate the liberal politics of San Francisco so much that it had its own little state all to itself."
Where do you stand on the viewpoint that the west is 'decadent' and that essential human values have been suplanted by rampant consumerism?
"I wouldn't say that Western society is decadent - there's more good in the west than there is in the East. Ok, so the West gives lip service to freedom of speech, but that's better than not giving lip service to it. I think we should get way from the narrow Christian definition of decadence. A really noise-some, difficult and diverse culture is probably best."
How has your deal with Virgin compared with previous deals - Zippo, Demon and Alias?
"Well, there's an awful lot more money. They treat us better and we are in a different situation than most bands on a major label. Being older (we have already made seven albums), they don't really try and tell us what to do. We give them the record from America, with no interference from the American company at all. We give them the cover of the album and the song order. We say what we want and what we don't want, it's as simple as that. So, they don't really fuck with us at all. We know exactly what we want and we are not exactly extreme. It works out fine."
Have your relations with the rest of the band changed over the years?
"I think we're closer as people. There's only three of the original members left; Vudi, Danny and me. We used to write all the songs together but I never got what I wanted and eventually the others gave up. I'm the sole songwriter; I'm the one that gets the songwriter royalties; I do the majority of the press, so yes, the relationship changes a little."
How did your solo project Songs Of Love Live affect the rest of the band?
"Well, at the time there WAS no American Music Club. We'd stopped recording because we were sick of dealing with record companies with no money; we were desperate to sign to a major label, which of course we subsequently did. You've got to remember that in those days, a tour in America was just endless driving and tossing on people's floors. It's just a complete fucking drag if there's no support from your record company. The band just didn't want to do the project, unless they had enough money to buy a hotel room every night."
Do you think the fact that you lived in England as a child, has influenced your music, in comparison to other American artists?
"Yes, totally - When I was young, I wanted to be Harold Pinter. I wanted to write absurdist plays and live an absurdist life....It gave me more of a literary background than I would have had. Growing up here, the whole punk thing influenced me enormously. At that time, people in America were only interested in listening to Springsteen and The Eagles."
The new album San Francisco is your seventh. How do you keep up your level of creativity, when you have expounded so many ideas on your previous releases?
"Oh I haven't expounded any ideas at all. You know, it's more like just the same idea. It's like urinating the same piss with different smells. I'm the Armitage Shanks of songwriting."
What literary influences have there been on your songwriting?
"Not really any. I am reading Tennessee Williams' short stories at the moment - I think he's pretty amazing. I like all kinds of science fiction. I have been known to steal words from Bukowski? Nick Cave I think, Jesus! I'm a fan of a lot of film-makers too. I love John Cassavetes' work and anything by Scorcese."
And what about musical influences?
Well, Nick Drake obviously. The Beatles, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Joan Armatrading, Paul Westerberg, Bob Dylan - you know, the usual crew. I like PIL records a lot. I try to be influenced by everything. Even more contemporary stuff like PJ Harvey, Vic Chestnutt, The Palace Brothers....I think Stereolab are God. Jack Logan, Codeine - I guess there's very little I hate but a lot of things bore me...."
We chat for a while about halibut and heartache and then we bid each other farewell. I am left musing that in an industry not noted for it's self deprecating humor Mark Eitzel is a very rare soul indeed. He has now shaved off his distinctive goatee and mustache combination. And with it he has lost his hapless melancholic tag - the one he kept in the pocket of his charity suit. This aside, AMC are still a powerful band to watch in full flight - even if they are bald and can't dance for cashew nuts, Mark Eitzel's songwriting skills are more than a match for any of the so-called 'New Troubadours'. He may have started out as a restless grifter but he has since found his feet.... half way between our neuroses and our funny bones.