WHEN E WOKE UP THIS morning, he was in a parking lot in Birmingham, Alabama, with a Lynyrd Skynyrd song on his mind. ” ‘In Birmingham, they love the governor,’ ” he begins, reciting “Sweet Home Alabama.” “It took me an hour to remember the line ‘Now we all did what we could do.’ ” The horn-rimmed ringleader of the Eels is on tour behind his new album, Daisies of the Galaxy, a weird, witty, sentimental record that mixes cartoonish keyboard that mixes cartoonish keyboard boogies with heart-busting strings and lots of brass. It’s a hopeful, somewhat sunnier sequel to the Eels’ 1998 buzz kill, Electro-Shock Blues, which chronicled the paralyzing grief E endured following the suicide of his sister and the deaths of his mother and father. The thirty-seven-year-old Los Angeleno has walked through the valley of death and learned some valuable lessons, and now he says he’s ready for a little fun.
Yesterday was your birthday. How was it?
It was terrible. I was all alone. I went to Graceland, and I learned that Elvis’ dad, Vernon Elvis Presley, and I have the same birthday. Vernon’s like rock royalty. He’s like the queen mother of rock.
Where did you play last night?
We played at the House of Blues in New Orleans, which is one of the worst places you can play. For some reason MTV’s The Real World was filming me when I was onstage, and I was pretty much berating the audience most of the time.
Well, when you play any place that’s set up like a bar, and you’re playing the kind of music that I’m playing, it’s a bad experience for everybody. I told them that my sponsor and my parole officer were there, and I left my gun on the bus, but I can signal my guitar tech to go get it at any given moment. This will probably end up on MTV.
Why isn’t the single “Mr. E’s Beautiful Blues” listed on the record?
I’m not a really popular guy at the record company these days. They’re very supportive and understanding –– but they can’t keep up with my mood swings. After I finished this record, I recorded other stuff, and they heard the song and said it’s gotta go on the record. So we put it on as a bonus track. To me, it’s not part of the record –– it’s like, “Buy an album, get a bonus single.” Or, “Buy a single, get a bonus album.”
There are a lot of poignant characters on the record. Have you always been so empathetic?
I can be very cynical, but deep down I don’t believe there’s such a thing as bad people. People do bad things and get led astray, but if you take any person and you follow the line backward from the bad thing they did, you can usually start to understand them.
That’s a hopeful view.
Well, if you’ve been through some of the experiences I’ve been through these last few years, you cling to any shred of optimism you can muster. Once I felt like the dust was settling and I hadn’t been to any funerals for a while, I realized you have a choice: You can stay down in the muck, or you can tighten your belt and move on. It’s like, “OK, time for some carefree years. Time to have some fun.”
“Flyswatter” is a sympathetic song about mice. What brought that on?
I moved into this house and I had these mice down in the ghetto part of my basement, and they looked horrible, very hungry. I thought, “What an awful life.” The relentlessness of the world became very apparent to me, and I thought, “Man, if these mice can’t get a break, what makes me think I’m going to be spared?” It just came out of that –– another happy little ditty.
Did you do anything to make them more comfortable?
Yeah, my cat ate them. Just to really drill the lesson home.
Was this Beck’s old house?
Now where did you hear this?
Just around. Is it not true?
It’s true, but I just wonder how that came around, because I’ve been living in that house for two years and I never mentioned that. He’s got a bigger house now, as he deserves. So, yeah, they were Beck’s old mice.
What else did he leave behind?
He left me an old organ, which I’m determined to use on a hit record so he’ll say, “Damn. I knew I shouldn’t have left it.”
Did you have to record a clean version of “It’s a Motherfucker”?
Every day in the music business you’re met with some hurdle you have to jump over. When they call and say, “You have to record a version of ‘It’s a Motherfucker’ that doesn’t say motherfucker,” you have to stop and think what it’s all about. To me, it’s to have fun, to do something creative and to make a point. So I say, “OK, I’ll make this version to illustrate how stupid it is that I have to record another version.” I call it “It’s a Monster Trucker” and I get on a CB radio and talk through the whole song in trucker lingo. But it’s ridiculous –– that’s the way people talk. I mean, it is a motherfucker. When they nailed Jesus to the cross, do you really think he went, “Yowch, that smarts!”?
Well, do you really think he said, “Motherfucker”?
I don’t know that he said, “Motherfucker,” but come on, it’s just a phrase.
Taken literally, it’s a profane notion.
Well, to take it literally, of course, but obviously I don’t mean it that way. I’m not trying to fuck anyone’s mother here. Let’s just establish that right now.