Trashcan - Summer 1991
A Restless Stranger
Publication: Trashcan (#2)
Date: Summer 1991
There's been more shit written about Mark Eitzel than there is floating around the London sewage system. I could quote to you endlessly how he "tears apart the human condition." However if you listen to the music then you realise that quite a lot of it is probably true. He's attracted more praise than many of our contemporary religious icons.
I think it's the way he's not afraid to get up and sing his life. Morrissey would do well to take note.
It's not that American Music Club are that innovative or groundbreaking, they're not. There's no next big thing aura about them. You either take them or leave them on their songs alone. Folky in the loosest possible way without the middle-aged implications. The sheer brutality of his stark compositions shows you don't need to have a big sound to have emotion or soul. Mark in interviews is prone to putting himself down, I enquire why?
'Well, because I know myself in a very intimate way. The only reason I say it like this is because I heard it the other night. I guess it was a song. It was a band called Brian. There's a line in the song "the more you open up to people, the more they will put you down." It's kind of the same with me.'
He then smiles and adds, 'And ultra serious now, if I don't have a chin and my face is in repose, I look very, very sad. I don't actually put myself down too much anymore, but if people tell me they really like your band, I say I know my limitations. If someone says I'm a great songwriter, it's not like I know how great I am. I'm not, so that's meaningless talk. I say things like, you're wrong, I'm not and they say why are you putting yourself down?'
At times he seems keen to dispel all the sensitive artist rumours and myths about himself, but when it comes to people slagging the band off he's very sensitive.
'If people put us down, if someone says something bad about the band, we laugh but we don't talk to those people anymore,' jokes Mark.
He's definitely not the crying wreck portrayed by some, his eyes positively sparkle during the interview and most of the time he's joking and poking fun. Live, his humour stands in stark contrast to his heartfelt songs, but today he seems very nervous.
As he talks, he moves his head from side to side as if to escape from an invisible leash. Some of my questions are greeted by vast amounts, others by blank silences. On the subject of the fairly recent departure of Tom Mallon their producer/drummer, he's quite verbose when I ask him how it affected him.
'I was depressed for about a month, but it was good,' begins Mark somewhat enigmatically, 'It was good for him and it was good for us. Basically I was acting like a prick in the studio one day and he kicked us all out. It just wasn't working out, we were trying to negotiate this deal with RCA and the friendship came down to dollars and cents, which was really tough. It was a really bad time. Personally I didn't want this next album to sound depressing or quiet. I've never had so many reviews in my life and they're all good and they all say shocking confessions and he walks down the shadow of the valley of death. On United Kingdom they said he reaches the last gasp and that kind of shit. It's great to read a good review but you also become kind of self-conscious about them. In Greece there was this guy at the front of the stage saying, "Don't kill yourself Mark, don't do it," and I just wanted to bury that scepter. It's not like the next album isn't going to be full of really sad songs because that's what I like writing but I want to sound really happy as well and put the sadness into place. I want to make a really passionate album but I really want it to rock as well and sound really fun and be have funny and have humour. When we play out, half of it is people laughing. It scares me this next album, because I think it's going to get universally panned whereas all the others were universally praised. Tom Mallon did his job really well and it's really scary not having him around because he just knows how to make these songs sound like the most basic, bland thing. He says it "focuses on evil." I don't want to overproduce them, I want to let them breathe very naturally and that's one reason why Tom isn't in the picture; I want them to sound good on the radio.'
Commercialisation is one of the last things you'd expect American Music Club to embrace. It conjures up crass compromises of his compositions, like, for example, forcing Mark sing in tune the whole time. At his last live English show with Dan Pearson he revealed one of his self-proclaimed dumb pop songs, "Rise", which sounded as heartfelt and wretched as any in his canon. Mark is serious about his commercial talent however.
'When some big bands make a record it sounds sonically expensive. It sounds great so people buy it, it's good product. Whereas we never turn out good products, we turn out little turds and then they become little diamonds, but i'd rather sell records and not have to work a day job. So, yes, we're selling out, I wish we'd sold out a long time ago and made something that would be beautiful and that wouldn't take twenty listens to like it. I don't mind if we come up sounding like Perry Como or Barry Manilow, I don't care, I just want to sound a certain way. On the other hand nobody plays us on any radio station.'
A spiky proposition at the very least for any A&R man, Mark even had his fellow band member, Dan Pearson, thoroughly confused. He'd start one song then stop and play another. His lyrics are generally far too incisive for the cute and cuddly of sad songs he seems to be aiming for and certainly not dumb enough to make an easily marketable pop product. I feel if they're to "make it" then people will have to take them as they are.
Mark doesn't make it any easier, for example at the San Francisco New Music Seminar they ditched all they're old songs and played a completely new set of songs in the key of D. Why did they do that I asked?
'That was after Tom quit the band, we didn't have enough time to practice and didn't want to play any of the songs Tom played. I had all these songs in D and they weren't arranged and we just rehearsed and played them. It was a pretty wild show for us.'
What do you see as your future?
'This last year I've been prepared to quit the band and do something else,' answers Mark despondently, 'It doesn't seem any major record company will be interested in us and that's our only method of survival. Rolling Stone won't review you unless you're on a major. Major booking agencies won't book you unless you're on a label. It's catch 22. All you need to do is tour, but you can't tour unless you're on a major label and you can't make an album unless you tour. We can't afford to bring the whole band over. That costs a lot of money and that's why I'm here and not the whole band. We don't have the money, especially with the state of dollar. The only reason there's a recession is because we've done nothing about cutting military spending in the last ten years. Because of Reagan education's gone down. If the economy collapses, it'll only affect rich assholes who have a lot of money and don't pay taxes and don't participate in the cities or with America in any way. I hope then people will come to their senses and vote democratic because the country's a shambles.'