Pop Culture Press - May 1996
It's A Small World After All
Publication: Pop Culture Press (#38)
Date: May 1996
Mid-December. Two different guys are losing their voices completely across the United States from each other. One is in the middle of his afternoon, the other is still in the morning. A phone line connects them.
Mark Eitzel would be the man with the golden voice if he didn't keep losing it. His recordings with American Music Club were smooth, no matter what the music was like behind it. Then the touring would invariably take its toll on his gilded tonsils and reduce him to a friendly whisper (and yet he would always indulge a request for "Bad Liquor", a song as rough on his vocal chords as its subject matter). So the voice on the line is a familiar rasp.
A year ago I found out that American Music Club, one of my favorite bands over the last ten years, had broken up. When I spoke with AMC guitarist Vudi about it this past summer he seemed to think it was a temporary situation. When you consider that two other former AMC members (bassist Danny Pearson and steel guitarist Bruce Kaphan) play on Eitzel's new solo release, 60 Watt Silver Lining, it seems unlikely that that their paths as AMC will cross again.
The album struck me as being somewhat one-dimensional, compared to the diversity of AMC's sound. It's not that it's more personal - hell, all of his stuff has sounded pretty personal - it's just that it's less-varied stylistically from track to track, mostly mid-tempo, and dominated by his voice and Mark Isham's trumpet.
Mark Eitzel: Nope. None. I didn't write any. I didn't really feel like putting any on artificially just to have a rocker. I just wrote what I wrote.
D.N.L: How did this come about?
M.E: AMC was this band that could never really rock, you know, but I always had to write songs for the band for our low moments so we could rock....have some rock songs to entertain the crowd. It was always frustrating writing songs for a band that really didn't want to rock. When we made San Francisco we made such an attempt to make rock songs just so we could play them live. It really made me kinda crazy. So I went out of my way not to write rock songs. There are more kinds of music than rock. I've been listening to lots of jazz recently, so....
D.N.L: You know, it shows. I heard jazz, and I almost heard some things that were almost classical as well. So you were almost doing something that was really not rock.
M.E: Anti-Indie Rock.
D.N.L: Well you've been kind of Anti-Indie Rock for a while now. It does seem rather ironic that now there are other bands around, like earlier Idaho and Red House Painters, that kind of sound like AMC and you've moved beyond it altogether.
M.E: I guess. Well, I never really listened to Idaho, but I know the House Painters and they pretty much do that one style. They've got the one thing they do. They never did country, they never did stupid loud rock, they always did the one thing. So when anybody says they were like AMC, it's like, well, we were pretty eclectic, we had a really good sense of humour about what we did. I don't really hear many bands that do that. We were really weird. We still are.
D.N.L: And you don't seem to be closing the door on that forever.
M.E: No, no. I'll never do an album like the one I just did. I already wrote two more albums, and I don't know what my next thing is going to be but I kinda want to keep it simple. On this last album I absolutely refused to have any distorted guitars or distorted anything. Distorted guitar, it's like, why make ugly music? You know?
D.N.L: Well, I think distorted guitar is beautiful.
M.E: I do too, but Smashing Pumpkins, and there's so many bands that do it. It sort of fills in the gaps when it's just very obvious that there's nothing there sometimes. People watch very violent films because they want a voyeuristic feeling of violence in their lives, but they don't live around it. They don't really know. Like gansta' rap is supported by thousands of white adolescent males from the suburbs. I never understood it. First of all it's playing into a cliche of what black men are, which completely supports the whole racism of "Yeah, the black man is nothing but a gangster who's going to car-jack your car," which is racist. It seems pretty evil to me. Same thing with heavy metal, sometimes, it's almost like you need something to hit you over the head to wake you up. Really. You do. [Laughs]
D.N.L: It's not even really hitting over the head to wake you up, but more like hitting over the head to stupefy.
M.E: Sometimes. Sometimes not, though, there's great rock. The new Jack Logan album is really good. There's distortion all over it. I like a band called Son Volt, their new album's really great.
D.N.L: Yeah, it is! Have you heard the new one by Red Red Meat? It's great too. They do this whole new take on a kinda blues thing, it's really different. Sometimes even pretty. Another thing that got into the mainstream that people could pin on you, even though it's always been there, is the very emotive vocal thing, and that has gotten really popular lately.
M.E: Oh yeah, since ol' Kurt snuffed it everybody's really emotional about the way they feel.
D.N.L: Well, let's talk a little more about your album. Was there any collaborating on it or was it pretty much other people carrying out your vision of it?
M.E: It was pretty much other people carrying out my vision of it.
D.N.L: But you have Danny and Bruce on it.
M.E: I told them what to play. It's all my arrangements. The only thing was the drummer (Simone White from Disposible Heroes of Hiphoprisy), she basically jazzed everything up. I was trying to keep everything below 86 beats per minute, but every time she sat down behind the kit she was like, "Well this is what we're going to do." I liked it, I thought okay, what the heck.
D.N.L: Well, Mark Isham kind of seems to be like the ultimate session player.
M.E: Yeah he was expensive. But he was good, he came in and did six songs in one day. I had written all these songs and I thought that there would be trumpet in them and I couldn't think of any other instrument. I brought in a friend of mine to play trumpet and he couldn't play worth shit. It was awful. So I brought Mark Isham in and he played everything. Sometimes it's too Kenny G for my taste, but that's okay too. I don't care. At times we were in the other room going, "God, it's Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass!" But I like that.
D.N.L: Well I kinda thought it sounded more along the lines of Miles Davis.
M.E: Yeah. I told him play Miles Davis, play Chet Baker. But the engineer composed most of those solos out of six or seven of those takes. The engineer cut and pasted, it was kind of amazing.
D.N.L: And how has this gone over live, on your acoustic tour?
M.E: To all these people that came to see Everything But The Girl I was kind of the sad folk guy. I came from nowhere and I'm going nowhere and they couldn't care less. I didn't get heckled every show, but I certainly got a lot of hate. People would yell things like, "Oh, get a life" and "Everything But The Girl" and "Shut up!" so it was like I would do my job and get off stage as quickly as possible.The door prices were all like 25 bucks, and I don't think many AMC fans would pay that just to see me.
D.N.L: I imagine there must've been some who were there just to see you.
M.E: There were always five or six AMC fans that I would always try really hard to piss off.
D.N.L: And why did you do that?
M.E: Oh, I don't know, call me a cussardly fuck.
D.N.L: But you do have some very devoted fans.
M.E: Devoted fans? I don't care anymore. I can't live because I have devoted fans. I know a lot of people will listen to this album and go, "Oh God, how come you don't just make California again?" So, why don't I make another California? Well fuck off, thank you, I'll sign your copy, here, go die. I tell them get me another set of folks and then kill them, then I'll write California again. I'm going to write songs until I die, and I know the hardest core fan won't be there when I'm 50 (laughs) and if they are I'll feel sorry for them.
D.N.L: Well, I've been there for a while
M.E: Well, thanks, I'm not being a snob. I've got really hardcore fans, I mean really, and it's like, sometimes I don't know how I'm supposed to please them. I can't just do the same music all the time.