Mark Everett Shares What Went Into Making EELS Latest, ‘Earth to Dora’

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Videos by American Songwriter

Mark Everett, principle songwriter and front man for the Los Angeles indie rock band, Eels, was just trying to make his friend happy. Dora, an old friend of the musician’s who used to work on the band’s tour crew as the lighting director, was feeling blue and Everett (better known as “E”) wanted to cheer her up. The two were text messaging back and forth when, suddenly, E realized the exchange made for good song lyrics. Maybe they could be spun in a way to cheer other people up too? A day or two later, Jeff Lyster, who is known as “The Chet,” sent E a bit of music and he realized it would be perfect for Dora’s text message song. It’s an open temperament like this that’s willing to accept creative “lightening strikes” that’s buoyed Eels for 25 years. And it continues today with the band’s latest LP, Earth to Dora, set for release Oct. 30th.

“There was a lot of collaboration on this one,” E says. “I wrote a lot of the songs with different members of the Eels. That’s always fun, I like doing that. I always write the lyrics pretty much, but it’s fun to get something musical from someone else that you might not get out of yourself. That keeps it exciting for me.”

The cover of Earth to Dora is a thrift store painting of a clown, haggard, still smiling but definitely worse for wear. The image is one E had seen many times a day. It’s been hanging on his bathroom wall for a decade, he says. While composing some of the songs for the record, he was using the bathroom one day and looked at the clown like he’d done before. This time, though, lightening struck again.

“I said, ‘Oh, this is the cover of the album!’” E says. “Just look at him. He looks like he’s been through it but he’s still managing a smile.”

Like the clown, E has been through his fair share of life. While he’s enjoyed a long, fruitful career, it began in a different way than it’s continued. At first, record executives pushed for Eels to be more of a commercial band. But, E says, he realized early on that wasn’t his bag. His aim was to be the best artist he could, which meant sticking to his impulses and not those of a purchasing audience. In addition, E has experienced tragedy and death in his family and these themes come up in his work to help process their heft, even if death isn’t always a popular motif.

“But for me it’s worth it,” E says. “I’d much rather do what I want to do artistically than – you can’t really make a song you think is going to appeal to a certain kind of people or certain kind of listeners.”

E, whose father was a well-respected academic physicist, remembers being a little kid in the late 60s (he was born in 1963). He had an older sister who introduced him to rock ‘n’ roll at a young age. He remembers listening to “Strawberry Fields Forever” when he was 4-years-old. At 6-years-old, his neighbors put on a garage sale and had a rather sturdy toy drum set for sale for $15. E begged his mother and she acquiesced, likely thinking it was a phase that wouldn’t last longer than a week. But E played drums every day for the next 10 years. He graduated to his mother’s upright piano and his sister’s discarded acoustic guitar. Today, he writes bouncy, genuine and thoughtful music.

“For me,” E says, “there’s no real recipe. As a songwriter, I always have my lightening rod out and I’m jotting down things on scraps of paper that I put in my pocket anytime anything strikes me. I’m always observing things. But it’s also got a lot to do with luck.”

The new LP could easily be one that came out in 2020 (as it did) or it could be one that was unearthed from the era in which E grew up in the 60s. It has a timeless sense to it with songs about hope, remorse and personal idiosyncrasies. They are songs for the unheralded day-to-day existence sung by someone so adept at doing so that they sound monumental, eloquent and full. And if you ask E, he’ll say that he’s surprised that he even gets to make music and share these songs with the world. Yet, it’s something for which he’s eternally thankful.

“I still can’t believe it,” he says. “Because when I was young, I had no hope for the future. I didn’t see anything in my future. I didn’t know – I couldn’t imagine anything like this happening. I think about it all the time. I’m just so grateful that something happened and I’m still here and able to do it.”

Indeed, E feels indebted to music. He’s given so much to it and it’s returned so much back to him. It’s the muse, lifeblood and product he’s spent his life involved with. It’s a compass for the future and many reminders of the past. His orientation to writing music is so nuanced that he can’t even put a finger on a single favorite aspect of the art form.

“Music serves me on so many levels,” E says. “Its hard to pick a favorite aspect. Just the enjoyment of music as a listener. Then the fact that it’s given me a life. And how much I love making new music and how much I love playing music. It’s everything.”

Get Earth to Dora on your favorite digital service.

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