It's hard to imagine Eels principal E bursting with vigor and verve.
Even at his most rocking, there is always a cool, subdued presence about the off-kilter icon. There was, however, a time when Mark Oliver Everett attacked an entire day with the impassioned energy of a wide-eyed child.
That time, as pointed out by his latest single, "Saturday Morning," was when he actually was a wide-eyed child.
"The song's about that unique period in your life when you're a little kid and you wake up too early on the weekend," E explained. "When you're 8 years old, a day is a big part of your life. If you've only known 8 years, then a day is a big piece of it. So days go on forever if you're a little kid and don't have anything to do and you wake up too early in the morning. It's just agonizing trying to pass the time. You want some fun, you want some action."
E's mellowed since those mornings, evidenced by his five LPs that span seven years. His latest, Shootenanny!, released June 3, continues in his whispered, musically eclectic tradition of turning the mundane into introspective poetry. But unlike 1996's Beautiful Freak, 1998's Electro-Shock Blues, 2000's Daisies of the Galaxy or 2001's Souljacker, the Eels' new LP may become part of the pop-culture vernacular.
"Well, I'm telling you, that's gonna be the next wave of street talk," he said of the title. "It's a hybrid of something from the hills mixed in with something from the street. Hillbilly thug, exactly. 'There was another shootenanny at the high school yesterday' — that kind of thing. It'll be a word that the newscasters on 'Entertainment Tonight' will feel good about saying too."
Besides working on Shootenanny!, E's had his hands full with other projects. His soundtrack to the film "Levity" was released in April, and he appeared as a guest on MC Honky's I Am the Messiah LP, which was also released that month. The album was recorded in 2000 and also features Beck/R.E.M. drummer Joey Waronker, frequent Eels collaborator Koool G. Murder and Li'l 'Fer.
For the unfamiliar, E described Honky as "a reclusive DJ in Silver Lake, an older guy, like 50-something, who doesn't want any part of the limelight." It has been said that E hails from the same hipster neighborhood in Los Angeles.
The pair hooked up after Honky's daughter gave E a tape of her father's work. Since then E "made it his life to spread the word about him." The book may be closed on the Honkey gospel according to E, however. After the British press credited I Am the Messiah to E, Honky blew his top and a rift between the two erupted.
"I hope MC Honky dies of SARS," E wrote on his Web site.
There may be some truth to the talk that E and Honky are one in the same. They haven't been seen in same place at the same time. It's one of the many mysteries surrounding the Eels. Chalk it up next to the one about why, in these troubled times for the music industry, the Eels are still signed to DreamWorks.
That doesn't mean E hasn't worried about getting his walking papers.
"The president of the label called me at home, and I was thinking, 'Oh, he must need to drop me from the label.' But he actually called to invite me to a family gathering, so I must be better off than I thought."
Perhaps the credibility the Eels offer DreamWorks is akin to Sonic Youth's nearly two-decade run on Geffen Records. There's a music industry joke about it: No one wants to go down in history as the guy who drops Sonic Youth. The same rationale may apply to E and company.
"Actually, I probably have already been dropped," he said, "just nobody's been the guy who wants to tell me."
Although he may joke about his place on the Billboard albums chart (#145 this week, for those keeping score), he's not above being optimistic.
"I just want to say to everybody that I know, the Eels are going to blow up this year, but I won't forget you," he announced. "Thanks for being there when I needed you, but I've got bigger fish to fry.
"Now get away from me, kid, you bother me."
Eels tour dates, according to DreamWorks:
- 6/17 - West Hollywood, CA @ Roxy Theatre
- 6/18 - Santa Ana, CA @ Galaxy Theatre
- 6/19 - West Hollywood, CA @ Roxy Theatre
- 7/11 - San Francisco, CA @ The Fillmore
- 7/12 - Portland, OR @ Aladdin Theater
- 7/13 - Vancouver, BC @ Richard's On Richards
- 7/14 - Seattle, WA @ Showbox
- 7/17 - Boulder, CO @ Fox Theatre
- 7/19 - Lawrence, KS @ The Bottleneck
- 7/20 - Omaha, NE @ Ranch Bowl
- 7/22 - Minneapolis, MN @ First Avenue
- 7/23 - Chicago, IL @ Metro/Smart Bar
- 7/25 - Cleveland, OH @ Odeon Concert Club
- 7/26 - Detroit, MI @ St. Andrews Hall
- 7/28 - Toronto, ON @ Phoenix Concert Theatre
- 7/29 - Pittsburgh, PA @ Rosebud
- 7/31 - New York, NY @ Irving Plaza
- 8/1 - Somerville, MA @ Somerville Theatre
- 8/2 - Philadelphia, PA @ Theatre Of Living Arts
- 8/3 - Washington, DC @ 9:30 Club
- 8/4 - Carrboro, NC @ Cat's Cradle
- 8/7 - Atlanta, GA @ Variety Playhouse
- 8/8 - New Orleans, LA @ Tipitina's Uptown
- 8/9 - Austin, TX @ La Zona Rosa