Eels: I do see a correlation between Kanye West and John Lennon

Categories: Gimme Songs, Q&A
Photo by Parker Fitzgerald

In Gimme Songs, musician Mark Mallman talks songwriting with his peers and heroes. This week, a conversation with Eels frontman E before Sunday's show at the Fitzgerald Theater.

Deep into the catalog of his exquisitely weird band, the man called 'E' has delivered one of the best albums of his career. Smart without getting heady, wise without getting preachy, The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett is about as gourmet as rock music gets. I talked with E, of Eels, about being bold in songwriting by employing the use of raw honesty.

Mark Mallman: I have a friend who is a writer of novels. Once she told me, "Write what makes you most uncomfortable, because it will be your most honest writing."

E: If it's not making you uncomfortable then maybe you haven't gone far enough. That's the most uncomfortable kind of writing of all because you're really exposing yourself. Maybe about half of the time when I write, I'm really writing in a character voice and it's not really autobiographical. Then the other half, in this occasion, is quite autobiographical.

Does it still make you uncomfortable to sing these songs once they are created? Does that fade as you perform them over time?

It's a really difficult thing, when you write one of these songs, to even go into the studio with the guys in the band and have to sing it in front of them the first time. That's embarrassing enough. Then you turn it up several hundred or a thousand notches by getting on a stage and doing it. It seems kind of insane on paper, but when it works, it can be this really great feeling.

Writing a confessional of truth while alone in a room is one thing, but singing a song of ultimate exposure in front of an audience is a whole new kind scary.

There's a certain amount of bravery that has to be involved to stand up in front of a room full of strangers and really expose yourself like that. There's a lot of dark songs on this record, but it's all in the name of getting to a brighter place. You gotta dig through the dirt to make a nice garden. I'm trying to build a foundation to stand on. Hitting rock bottom is the beginning of the climb up the ladder to the top. There's no catharsis in me just venting.

There's a Cure song that I absolutely love, but I've always wondered if Robert Smith if he's just venting like that. It's called "The Kiss," and he sings, "Get your fucking voice out of my head. I wish you were dead. Dead. Dead. Dead." Is he taking his catharsis too far?

You know, I don't really know that song, so I can't comment on it out of context. But I would say that the line that you just quoted is pretty brave writing.

Good point, thanks. I feel like the most brave writing that has come out in the last few years is Kanye West's Yeezus album. It's like John Lennon's Plastic Ono Band album for the 21st century.

I actually do see a correlation between Kanye and John Lennon. One thing that I think bugs some people about Kanye West is that he says a lot of outrageous crazy stuff. But that's what I love about him. He doesn't care if it sounds crazy or not, and John Lennon was the same way. Read the interviews Lennon did in 1970. He was saying all this outrageous, crazy stuff too. That's also what I like about Kanye's music. He's just telling it like he sees it. Sometimes it's hard for everyone to relate to it, when he's like, "Where's my damn croissant!?"

I love that part.

I love that line too. That's something that a lot of people can't relate to, but he can. So you know it's honest.

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