Eels on new album ‘Earth To Dora’: “Dark phases happen, but they will get better”

E tells us about the road back to happiness and shares new single 'Are We Alright Again'

Don’t call it a comeback, call it a revival. Just a few years ago Mark ‘E’ Everett of Eels was hinting to interviewers that he was on the verge of giving up music for good, in the wake of his painful and personal ‘The Cautionary Tales Of Mark Oliver Everett’ album. Following a four-year break, however, he returned with ‘The Deconstruction‘ in 2018 and is now releasing his second album in as many years, ‘Earth To Dora’ – refusing to let anything as trivial as a global pandemic put the brakes on his fresh creative momentum.

“It’s weird,” he tells NME down the phone, “I can’t imagine thinking that way now. It’s a great lesson for everybody in all sorts of situations. You can feel very strongly a certain way at a certain time in your life and that really might not be how you’re gonna feel about it in the future. Sometimes when you feel like sticking to your guns about something, you’ve gotta be open to how life is always changing.”

The new album, Eels’ 13th, is a typically plush and melodic affair, structured to mirror the rise and fall of a relationship. Is it a window into E’s brief marriage during his hiatus, which gave him his first son aged 54?` What’s his best advice for dealing with the dark times? We gave him a call to find out.

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Hello, E. How have you been coping with the pandemic?

“It’s probably a little easier for people like me who tend to live a pretty reclusive lifestyle anyway, but even for someone like me it’s gotten extreme. It gets very lonely. I like my alone time but this is too much. My only company has been my three-year-old boy and my two dogs, which I thank God for.”

COVID came along just as you were getting up to speed again creatively.

“Once we got back up there was just some momentum. We went on a pretty long tour in 2018 when that album [2018’s ‘The Deconstruction’] came out and we had such a good time we thought ‘we’ve gotta do this again in 2019’. So we went back out. At that point the wheels were just spinning and making more music felt like a natural thing to do. We’re dying to get out on the road again now but obviously that can’t happen. We were gonna start touring this coming January, we had all sorts of plans for the coming year, but now of course who knows what happens.”

Why still release the album while you can’t tour?

“The plan was to release it when we thought we could tour, and then it got like ‘Well, people still wanna listen to music and maybe now more than ever it can be a comfort, so let’s just put some music out now’.”

Eels’ E

What’s been the rejuvenating factor?

“Back then, when I took that four-year break, I was just seriously burned out and I just had to step away from it. The rejuvenating factor was just that, stepping away from it for a good long time. That fixed me and I’ve been fine ever since. Sometimes you just need a good long break.”

Who’s Dora?

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“Dora is an old friend who used to work on the Eels crew, she was a technician, we’re just old friends and the song ‘Earth To Dora’ came about when, one night she and I were texting and I was just trying to cheer her up through something, I can’t remember what, and most of the lyrics are lifted directly from the text.”

The album seems to follow the trajectory of a doomed relationship…

“It sort of appears that way but it’s not necessarily how it came about. Some of the songs are autobiographical or based on my own experiences, and some of them aren’t. Some of them are maybe something that happened to a friend of mine or just complete fiction that I just made up. I sort of arranged it so it can be listened to like it’s the course of a certain relationship but it comes from all sorts of different sources.”

It’s not your marriage diary?

“No – it’s songs from all sorts of different sources that I laid out so they can appear like they’re all from one relationship. I’m not even in a relationship, I’m just a lonely guy with a little boy and two dogs.”

Are ‘Are You Fucking Your Ex’, in which the protagonist accuses his partner of cheating, and ‘The Gentle Souls’, in which the partner gets thrown out, some of the autobiographical ones?

“Those ones are particularly dark-sounding coming after some of the earlier songs that are very bright and optimistic. I’m happy to report that both of those songs are not based on anything from my life. There’s aspects to both of them that I can relate to and understand both sides of the story in each song but they’re not direct experiences.”

The Lou Reed-like ‘OK’ seems to be the darkest moment on the record – suggesting you might have hit rock bottom at some point: “There were times that I didn’t think I’d see the sunrise, and that was fine by me, I didn’t care for being alive”

“To me, ‘OK’ is really the brightest song because of what it says at the end (“You told me it was just a dark night, and I said ‘no, this is something more’, but you were right”). Which is a really great thing for us all to remember. You can be in a really dark, down time in your life and you might have a friend who’s saying, ‘I know you think this is the end and you really wanna give up, but trust me, it’s just a dark night, it’s just a bad phase, it’s gonna get better’. What that song says is my friend was right. I didn’t believe it at the time, but he was right. That’s a great thing for us all to try to hold on to.”

And particularly relevant right now…

“Yeah, I guess so. This is obviously a really dark phase for all of us and for some of us much worse than others, but they’ve gotta get better. History shows that these dark phases happen, but they will get better. It’s obviously going to take some time but you’ve just gotta hold on.”

Eels on stage at Mad Cool 2018. Credit: Derek Bremner/NME

Have you had any acting roles stymied by Corona?

“No – oh, well there was one. I had a part in the new Bill & Ted movie, I was playing myself, but that wasn’t stymied by corona. That was stymied because it had to shoot while we were on tour, so that didn’t happen. I do pop up very briefly at the very end of the movie, if you look very carefully.”

Have you got any post-pandemic plans?

“That’s exactly what the second song on the album, ‘Are We Alright Again’, is about. All the other songs came about before the pandemic, that’s the only one that was done after the pandemic, in the early days when it was really getting bad for the first time. It’s kind of like a quarantine daydream that I desperately needed to have. It’s my fantasy of ‘Oh, it’s all over and now we can go out and do stuff!’ It got a little extreme in my case, I’d go out and get high with birds and there’s a marching band marching through the middle of the outro. I couldn’t wait to try to make people feel a little more hopeful for the future. There’s no time to wait.”

Will the pandemic spell the end of Trump?

“God, I fucking hope so. It’s beyond ridiculous. I guess his message is, ‘Let’s make America great again after I fucked it up so badly’.”

Is Kanye getting your vote?

“No man, what a travesty. I’m a fan of Kanye’s music but I’m not a fan of the way he’s being used as a political pawn. It’s a ridiculous, bad situation.”

‘Earth To Dora’ is out on October 30. Check out the artwork and tracklist below.

Eels announce new album 'Earth To Dora'

  1. Anything For Boo
  2. Are We Alright Again
  3. Who You Say You Are
  4. Earth to Dora
  5. Dark and Dramatic
  6. Are You Fucking Your Ex
  7. The Gentle Souls
  8. Of Unsent Letters
  9. I Got Hurt
  10. OK
  11. Baby Let’s Make It Real
  12. Waking Up
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