Monday, August 26

eels slip positive message into their songs


Friday, October 25, 1996

MUSIC:

Family, social background source of songwriter’s lyricsBy
Kristin Fiore

Daily Bruin Senior Staff

Life can be a bit slippery and vicious, even for an eel.

The eels’ name seems ironic. Though the band’s singer/
songwriter E seems to have none of the qualities the slithering sea
creature suggests, he has an extraordinary talent for pointing out
those qualities in society.

Not that that’s surprising ­ he’s had to deal with them
much of his life ­ from school and home to the media, who have
been snapping at his heels lately. On the eels’ current
international tour, which stops at the Roxy Sunday through Tuesday,
E has had to handle all of the press and the pressure they put on
the current "buzz band," "next big thing," or "(insert favorite MTV
catch phrase here)."

The most frustrating part is that none of these fancy phrases
mean anything to anyone but the press, who are "trying to impress
their rock critic buddies," according to E.

"The media is so good at getting people to care about things
they don’t really care about," E says of the press’ fascination
with his band’s rising star and deal with Steven Spielberg’s label,
Dreamworks. "I wish they would just shut up and let us be."

It’s easy to understand why eight hours a day of interviews in
Europe and 50 total in Australia would get exasperating, especially
when you’re fielding the same questions all day. But with
interviews, long bus rides and all, the musician’s life is having a
good effect on E.

"I’m becoming less and less cynical every day," he says. "My
family background is tailor-made to make someone cynical. If I had
looked into a crystal ball, I never would have thought it would be
this positive."

Like many kids, E grew up alienated from his peers and his
family. In high school, he was a "fish out of water," always
wanting to be somewhere else.

"Everyone I grew up around was Beavis and Butthead. They got
into drugs and started dying ­ that’s what I don’t
understand," E says. Fortunately, he got into something else
instead.

"All I’ve ever had to hang onto in my life is music. It’s the
only reason I’m still alive. The obsession that you would pour into
drugs I poured into music. I became completely anti-social," E says
of his teen years. The 12 songs on this album are just some of 70
he has written in the last two years alone.

Though he feels he has found his niche with the band and,
previously, as a solo artist, E worries about kids who are still
lost.

"At radio stations some of the kids call in and you hear the
voice of numbness. I mean, I’m a product of the times too, and the
times are fucked up, but they call and they’re stupid," E says.

Much of his music address the insecurity and pain many people of
any age go through because they are abused, alone, unlucky or just
plain different. The album’s title, "Beautiful Freak," alludes to
the silent majority who slide into this unfortunate category.

Many of the songs chronicle the trials of these outcasts,
whether through their own eyes or those of an onlooker.

In "Susan’s House," E describes the sights he sees on the way to
his friend’s. Though he is purposely objective, his shock at the
situation and powerlessness to change it are apparent.

"Here comes a girl with long brown hair who can’t be more than
17. She sucks on a red popsicle while she pushes a baby girl in a
pink carriage. And I’m thinking, ‘That must be her sister. That
must be her sister … Right?’ They go into the 7-11 … and I keep
walking," ("Susan’s House").

"I’m just writing about my neighborhood," E says. "Everything in
‘Susan’s House’ is true, on TV, or friends told me about it."

Despite the album’s grim topics, E feels it is a hopeful record
whose theme can be gleaned from its first and last lines ­
"life is hard" ("Novocaine for the Soul") and "Somehow I’m going to
be all right" ("Manchild"), a message E finds "life-affirming."

This album has been a very personal, cleansing one for E. "My
last solo record was a break-up record. I got that out of my
system. This one is my ‘becoming more aware’ record and my ‘wanting
to celebrate some aspects that I normally would only complain
about’ record," says E, who seems to finally be coming into his own
as a musician and a person.

Computer-generated massive eyes on the band and on the little
girl on the album cover emphasize this focus on awareness. It is
possibly the first step to tackling some of the problems ­
social and personal ­ that the eels mention on their
album.

"What would’ve helped me the most … I think (would be) that
people need to be educated about how to raise children. People need
to know about how important it is to let a child be a child. And
I’m not talking about that ‘family values’ bullshit. It’s not about
‘not doing things,’ it’s about doing things," E says.

"Ever since Bob Dole went to ‘Independence Day’ and said we need
more movies like it, I’ve been fighting to keep him out of office,"
he continues.

Though he is less than impressed with folks in other vocations,
E seems to be doing his part to get the word out that things like
violence and stereotypes just won’t cut it in this society. And
it’s paying off.

"Fans come up and say that they identify with my music," E
says.

It has also given him a passion, a career and a heightened
awareness of the world around him. It’s just too bad no one else
thought of it sooner.

"I would have loved the record when I was a teenager just to
know that someone felt like this."

The eels play with Poe and Pure at the Roxy Sunday ­
Tuesday. Tickets are $15. For more info, call the Roxy at (310)
276- 2222.

Dreamworks Records

E, Tommy, and Butch (l to r) of the eels will perform Sunday
through Tuesday at the Roxy.

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