Time Out - January 1992

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Sullen Impact
Publication: Time Out
Author: Laura Lee Davies
Date: January 1992

Seriously great rock 'n roll has always been played by people who understand that the seriousness ends when you unplug your guitar. Look at the Rolling Stones: they might not share a happy little house on the prairie but they usually manage a cheesy grin for the photo sessions and strewth, what was (Si Si) Je Suis Un Rock Star all about? Even in a future without Bill Wyman, the Stones' bow-ties won't stop spinning. Look at REM. They didn't swap instruments on their last album to show off, they did it because, as good geezers, they were up for the crack. Mark Eitzel of Californian rock geniuses American Music Club is a serious musician.

"Hey, look at this," he says waving a pop magazine at his press officer. "Right Said Fred - they're great. Can't I be in this? I don't mind taking my shirt off."

After listening to AMC's downbeat, introverted and intense work, notably the recent Everclear album, you rather expect meeting vocalist, lead guitarist and writer Mark Eitzel to be a shy, dour encounter. When other people tell you how self-depreciating and dismissive he can be about his music and how quiet he is, you expect a chat with him to be about as enticing as praising the shell of your pet terrapin. But Eitzel takes his afternoon of coffee, doughnuts and countless interviews with cheerful aplomb.

"Look, I'm a basket case, right?" he reasons merrily. "Even if I only do one interview I'm spending the rest of the day thinking about the stupid things I said, so I'd rather get all the stupid answers over altogether."

Reading through the record reviews - almost unanimous in their praise - AMC have clearly confounded everyone who tries to describe their records. Most people who are party to AMC's blended acoustic and raw electric rock are drawn to the band's careful musicianship and Eitzel's intimate, insightful lyrics which reveal a warm and bewildering personality.

Live, he visibly struggles to do his work justice but audiences never leave disappointed. His style is a far cry from the showman legend of Freddie Mercury at 'Live Aid'.

"I do strive for showmanship. I've thougth about this a lot and I reckon I'm just trying to be Elvis Presley. With my own limitations and those of the songs - limitations in so far as they cover our particular areas of music - I really try to give the best I can. I'm a perfectionist but the audiences aren't. Sometimes they don't live up to my expectations."

It might sound too ungrateful to dismiss appreciation in this way, but to Eitzel, only the nest expression of his work is good enough. Anyone brought up on stage shows where smoke bombs compensate for true spirit is bound to find the bands stirring live performances a breathtakingly new experience.

"A lot of real exciting rock music is played by people standing stock still. It's difficult to play well and have a personality without being a caricature. Really great talent is often glossed over because it's like, 'oooh, human beings, yeuch, I don't know if I want to deal with this...'"

If you squirm at the thought of people baring their souls to the point of embarrassment, then perhaps AMC's tear jerking songs are not for you. Everclear is a good dragging across broken glass as far as perspective soul-bearing goes, with songs of love, frustration, and even one about the death of one of Eitzel's closest friends. It's not unusual to hear such expressions so touchingly rendered, but these days it's increasingly rare.

"It's confrontational, almost a political thing to say how you feel and honesty gives it strength. I read the music papers and it's all celebrating the people who are absolutely careerist, evil pricks y'know - young men who are out to storm the world, to fuck and drink as much as possible. That's never been our thing. We're just dullards who make music, ha ha ha.

"We are ambitious and we can certainly be stuck up as the rest of them, but there's more to life. I'd rather have the kind of fans we do than be locked away from people....on the other hand, sometimes I feel AMC does its best work when we're just being this dumb rock band entertaining people.

"People think we criticize ourselves too much but we're very demanding. We also have no preconceptions. We're Spinal Tap and that's it, just another rock band trying to make it. It's weird with NME - which I like by the way - the way it can make revolutions happen out of thin air. I remember the '60s, '70s, '80s and it's so strange to meet people who don't. In my band, I'm the least educated musically. They'll get down to differing styles of mandolin playing in different regions of Kentucky!"

Dumb rock, grilled emotion and a musical education - get three for the price of one while stocks last.