Following Eels’ 2014 album “The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett” and busy tours of North America and Europe, Everett (professionally known as E) decided a break from his twenty-year old band was in order. Worthy diversions included a recurring acting role in Judd Apatow’s Netflix series “Love,” as Brian the pretentious hipster. Initially, it seemed E might take a permanent vacation from music.
“I was just worn out from so many years of constant work,” says E. “For a time, I didn’t care if I ever did it again. That’s the funny thing about time, though. You never know what’s around the corner. I just needed to get out of the rut.”
“During the four years off, I allowed myself the luxury to write and record If I woke up some morning really inspired and felt I had to do it. Eventually, I noticed there was a pile of songs mounting. Once I started listening to them and noticed themes emerging, I was on the train and couldn’t get off.”
Time away didn’t diminish fans’ ardor. The Eels’ devoted cult in America has welcomed the band’s 12th album “The Deconstruction,” and the group has held even greater sway abroad. The album is Eels’ fourth No. 1 release in Belgium. E is bemused but happy at his unusual hold over the Belgian people. “If I knew what it was, I’d bottle it,” he says. Many bands make wry comments about the international benchmark “big in Japan.” “We’re only medium-sized in Japan.”
Upheaval in the songwriter’s personal life was documented in 2008 autobiography “Things the Grandchildren Should Know.” With personal experience filtering into relatable songs, it’s easy to assume that tunes are torn from E’s diary. For example, knowing of E’s a divorce since “Cautionary Tales” might suggest that the grim pop of “Bone Dry” is a true tale of bitter breakup. The notion shortchanges E’s storytelling ability, and undercuts the wicked fun of the song’s “shooby dooby” hook.
“They’re probably only true half the time,” says E of his songs. “Whether it’s a fictional story or based on someone I know, I’ll usually sing from the first person’s point of view. I just think that’s just the most effective way to tell a story. I understand why people might think a song is autobiographical, but quite often it’s not.”
Balancing songs about couples’ troubles are others brimming with thousand-watt optimism like the sparkling “Today is the Day.” The song’s video features “Love” actor Mike Mitchell. “You Are the Shining Light” offers spirited encouragement against a musical backdrop mirroring the Ramsey Lewis Trio’s swinging 1966 jazz version of “The In Crowd.” The Motown-infused “Be Hurt” finds the songwriter in a comforting, avuncular mode.
Sometimes those sentiments are meant for others, and sometimes they’re sung to the mirror. “‘Be Hurt’ was a note to myself that wasn’t intended to be a song,” says E. “The idea was that it’s okay to be hurt, but know that you’ll get through it. Don’t let something devastate you.”
* Eels, with That 1 Guy, 7 p.m. doors, Jun. 6, Thalia Hall, 1807 S. Allport, admission: $38.50-$55 (ages 17+) thaliahallchicago.com.
Jeff Elbel is a local freelance writer.