EELS have had one of the most consistently acclaimed careers in music. The ever-changing project of principal singer/songwriter Mark Oliver Everett, aka E, EELS have released ten studio albums since their 1996 debut, Beautiful Freak. The 11th album, The Cautionary Tales Of Mark Olliver Everett will be released this April. Mojo Magazine calls Everett “a member of rock’s very own League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” while legendary troubadour Tom Waits says he “eagerly awaits each new release.” In 2008 Everett published his highly-acclaimed book Things the Grandchildren Should Know and starred in the award-winning Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives documentary about the search to understand his quantum physicist father, Hugh Everett III.
Before recording Wonderful, Glorious, the last EELS album to be released, EELS leader Mark Oliver Everett called the band together to record a group of highly personal songs at his Los Feliz, California studio. Finding the process uncomfortable, he decided to take a break and reconvened with the band some months later to record what became Wonderful, Glorious, an album full of spontaneous band collaborations. After that album’s release and subsequent 73 show world tour, the band returned to what they had started all that time ago.
“I listened to what we had done, and it made me uncomfortable… but not uncomfortable enough,” Everett says now. “I decided to scrub over half of the songs and write new ones that would make me feel even more uneasy. If I’m not uncomfortable, It’s not real enough. I needed to dig a little deeper.”
The resulting album, The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett, is an extraordinarily vivid and intimate document of a personal struggle. “It’s inspired by something I went though,” Everett says. “Someone I lost, by choice, and later came to regret losing. It wasn’t until I started to look at my role in it that it began to feel like I was getting somewhere worthwhile. The experience transformed me. This is the musical version of that experience. I’m hoping it could maybe serve as some sort of example for others. To learn from my mistakes.”
Quite different to the previous EELS release, and in contrast to the high-octane rock n’ roll of the last EELS tour, THE CAUTIONARY TALES couples a bare-bones lyrical intimacy with a live orchestra of cello, viola, violins, bassoon, English and French horn, clarinet, flute, saxophone, trumpet, musical saw, glockenspiel and celesta that lends a stunning backdrop to the brutal insights of the lyrics.
“The title may make you think it’s a solo album, but it’s very much a group effort,” says Everett. Indeed, EELS members Koool G Murder, The Chet, P-Boo and Knuckles are all involved in performing, songwriting, and even arranging the album’s orchestral parts.
“Everyone knows that if you want to write something convincing, you write about what you know,” says Everett, “and what I know best are my experiences. I’m so lucky in so many ways, but it hasn’t been easy. I may as well have been raised by wolves. I’ve had to figure everything out the hard way, through trial and error. I grew up very fast in some ways, and very slow in others. These are some of the trials and errors.”
How often nowadays do we read of an artist’s “intensity”, or their rhetorical, one-of-a-kind individuality? Journalistic hyperbole routinely contorts the mundane into the “epic”, the tired into the inspired, all the while heaping praise on performers as seemingly vacuous and generic as possible. Navigating the landscape of contemporary alternative music can be an exercise in redundancy; true visionaries and boundary-pushers are few and far between. Enter Chelsea Wolfe. To simply call Wolfe unique would be an understatement. Even among her peers in the so-called “drone-metal-art-folk” scene she’s an icon, a stand-alone singer/songwriter whose fully-formed aesthetic and haunting timelessness appear almost without effort.