An Interview With Former American Music Club Front Man Mark Eitzel.
Mark Eitzel has made a career out of being miserable. As the singer/songwriter for American Music Club, he established himself as a songwriter of prodigious talent, but one for whom sadness was inescapable, inextricably woven into every chord of the band’s music and every line of his lyrics. After seven albums with American Music Club, Eitzel announced the dissolution of the band in 1994. His first post-AMC solo effort was last year’s “60 Watt Silver Lining,” an album that was darker, slower and jazzier than his work with AMC. He’s currently on tour promoting his new album, “West,” which was produced and co-written by R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck. The two worked at a stunning pace, writing 11 songs in three days. But it’s unmistakably an Eitzel record — perhaps his bleakest yet — with Buck’s influence subdued at best. There’s very little respite from the downward spiral of the songs, which bring to mind the songwriting skill and emotional weightiness of Leonard Cohen and the ever-dour, occasionally tongue-in-cheek outlook of Morrissey. Salon spoke with Eitzel during a sound check at San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall, where he was kicking off his national tour with Tuatara, another Buck side project that includes members of Pearl Jam, Screaming Trees, the Young Fresh Fellows and Los Lobos.
If I remember correctly, it wasn’t too long ago that you said that you’d never want to work with a band again. Now you’re part of some sort of alt-rock supergroup. What happened?
I guess when I said that, I meant that I didn’t want to be in a band that was a complete democracy all the time. I was married to those guys (in American Music Club) for 15 years, so I guess I didn’t want to be in that marriage anymore. But I have no problem being in bands. I love collaborating. It’s just a matter of getting the right person to collaborate with. Anyway, this whole tour is not about me; it’s about Tuatara and the Minus 5, and I’m just the asshole that gets onstage and brings everybody down.
Your live shows are extraordinary for how much emotion you put into each song — as if the emotions or people or whatever inspired them are still there. Do you ever find that some songs are difficult to play, that there’s too much “there” there?
It’s only when I can’t bring myself to feel them that they’re difficult. I guess I don’t have a problem with playing things live. I guess sometimes, if the crowd is no good, or the moment is kind of stupid, you feel like a fool, like you’re pissing in the wind. Otherwise no, I’m shameless. I try to perform the way I write songs, without irony, without reflecting my own cynicism too much, you know? You just do what the song asks for you to do. The song makes a demand on you, and you try to fulfill it.
You have sort of a “no request” policy, right?
Right, I mean, I like it when they do, it’s flattering … but especially tonight (in San Francisco) is going to be weird, because I’m not playing any American Music Club songs at all. I feel kind of weird about another band playing those songs.
The album you’ve made is pretty bleak.
The world is bleak.
Sure, but do you ever find yourself emboldened by progress in the world? I mean, for instance, being a gay man in San Francisco, with the progress in AIDS treatment …
Yeah, well, let’s look at that. Sure, there are some new drugs, and some of them work, for a little while. But they’re so expensive that it you have any money at all you’ll be bankrupt. Where people really have AIDS, in Africa, they’re so far away from being able to afford the drugs that they’ll never get their hands on them. I don’t know if that’s good news. I mean, it’s still there, it’s still a nasty disease. There’s still discrimination against gays and lesbians, all over the place. It’s not changed.
So external events never have an effect on your songwriting?
When I write songs, I write songs about love. That’s it. I mean, politics is like something you have to wipe after, then you flush.
After three years working solo, is it everything you’d hoped it would be?
I’m loving it. I’ll make music any way I can.
Dave Eggers is the author of "You Shall Know Our Velocity" and "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius." More Dave Eggers.
More Related Stories
- Cannes: Directing 101 with James Franco
- Welcome to the jungle: The definitive oral history of '80s metal
- Burt Bacharach opens up on daughter's suicide
- Steven Spielberg to produce "Halo" television series
- Amazon set to launch fine-art gallery
- Twitter torches Dan Brown's "Inferno"
- Brad Pitt keeps breaking his silence on how boring marriage to Jennifer Aniston was
- Lars von Trier's "Nymphomaniac" to use porn star body doubles
- New Beyoncé single leaked
- The sweet, sure to be short-lived "The Goodwin Games"
- Damon Lindelof admits barely-clothed scene in "Star Trek" was "gratuitous"
- Justin Timberlake: I'm a mediocre folk singer!
- Ray Manzarek, founding member of The Doors, dies at 74
- Beware of book blurbs
- Did a Salon excerpt ruin Penn Jillette's chance to win "Celebrity Apprentice"?
- Zach Galifianakis to take formerly homeless woman to "Hangover 3" premiere
- Seth MacFarlane will not host Oscars again
- "SNL's" uncomfortable Garner/Affleck moment
- "Celebrity Apprentice" finale ratings hit a new low
- Worst National Anthem fails
- The truth in Kanye's anti-prison rap
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11