Interview: Mark Eitzel

Legendary American songwriter Mark Eitzel heads to Birmingham this week to perform an intimate concert at The Glee Club. David Vincent caught up with the San Franciscan singer ahead of the show.

Regularly acknowledged on both sides of the Atlantic as one of America’s greatest songwriters, Mark Eitzel has over 15 albums (and a stage musical) to his name. First coming to attention with American Music Club, the San Franciscan band that looked set for major success in the early/mid-90s, his latest album is another solo offering, Don’t Be A Stranger. Funded by a friend, the album was completed in the wake of a heart attack and AMC’s implosion with Ron Sexsmith, Ryan Adams, She And Him, kd lang, and Rickie Lee Jones producer Sheldon Gomberg.

Q: You’ve said that you wanted Don’t Be A Stranger to be “…more reminiscent of records like Harvest by Neil Young or Five Leaves Left by Nick Drake than anything I’ve previously done.” What is it about those two albums from 69 and 72 you admire?

A: They sound so warm and organic.

Q: And do you think you’ve achieved your goal?

A: Well no – but I was at least trying. I think it is the best sounding record I have made in years, I think the vocals are too loud but other people tell me the vocals are too soft. It is the most varied record I have made in years…

Q: The album was funded by a friend’s lottery win! How did that come about?

A: I had no money to show Merge or Decor records what I wanted the record to sound like. An American Music Club fan and friend of my manager had just [won] $22 million and was kind enough to give me enough money to hire a great producer, Sheldon Gomberg, as well as musicians. It was enough to finish a few songs. It cinched the deal.

Q: Costume Characters Face Dangers In The Workplace – another great title. Inspired by Disneyland..?

A: Yep. I saw a title in a newspaper about how people beat up the costume characters. Of course they do. I thought I would put some words in the mouth of one of them.

Q: You didn’t want the album streaming when it came out…

A: I asked that they put off releasing this to Spotify and other streaming services for about six months. People think I’m crazy. Perhaps that is true – but after we spent all this money making the damn thing the idea of handing it over to them seems crazy. The only people getting rich off music on the web are the owners of sites like this and the ISP’s…

Q: I gather Peter Buck [ex-REM] opened for you in Portland – what’s his new ‘thing’ like?

A: It is very odd, disturbing garage rock. Very cool. Peter lives in Portland now so he just opened for me there and nowhere else.

Q: You’ve collaborated with Peter in the past – any thoughts on working together again?

A: Yes, I hope so. We wrote some other stuff a while back…

Q: I understand you already have another album ready too – I Am Not A Serious Person.

A: It will be a tour release – but it’s all new songs and I hope it sounds as good as Don’t Be A Stranger. We will have it and an EP for sale at our UK shows.

Q: What can we expect from those shows?

A: [I’m] very excited to tour with a full band that features members of ROC.  It will be the first time with a band that has bass, drums , guitars and keyboards for over 10 years. This allows the set to be  more dynamic as well as allowing me to rock out on a few numbers which is always fun.

The songs will be across my whole career, from early AMC stuff like Outside This Bar and numbers from California, Everclear, Mercury, 60 Watt Silver Lining, plus the last solo album, Klamath, new stuff and some stuff I haven’t played in 20 years. The songs from the new album sound great live.

Mark Eitzel is live at The Glee Club, Birmingham, on Wednesday, February 20. For more information and tickets click here

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