Eels frontman Mark Oliver Everett is eager to return to Richmond — even though his band has never played here. “I lived in Richmond for a year and went to VCU,” the Virginia native says, “so I'm looking forward to it.”
It's somewhat surprising to hear given the sullen memories of the River City detailed in his 2008 autobiography, “Things the Grandchildren Should Know.” He's come a long way from breaking into the music building on the Virginia Commonwealth University campus to find solace in midnight piano solos. Known to most as simply E, the 47-year-old rocker is coming out of the shadows with the group's eighth disc, “Tomorrow Morning,” and he's dishing on authorities who recently interrogated him in London's Hyde Park on terrorist allegations. The reason E got grilled? His big ol' burly man beard.
“I tried to ignore what was going on with the facial hair this time,” E says. “I don't always want that to be my motivation. I had an idea at the beginning that I wanted to do these three albums and have them be part of a bigger picture.”
As for “Tomorrow Morning,” it marks a surprisingly happy end to the trilogy of which “End Times” and “Hombre Lobo” are a part. “This last one is the most pleasant part. It's the second chance and new beginning,” he says. “It's saying, ‘You can go through a really terrible time in your life and you can have another chance if you want it.'”
Everett is no stranger to sour times. While the band's memorable first American single, “Novocaine for the Soul,” was spinning on nearly every alt-rock station in the late '90s, the man behind the uplifting sound was trying to find solid ground in a tailspin of torment. He lost several close family members around that time to suicide and cancer, among other tragedies. His subsequent work captured that tumult, but with eloquence, grace and occasional black humor that astounded critics and garnered praise.
Misfortune caught up with him again recently in the form of what's now known as the “beard incident.” “These police were no Eels fans,” E says. “I initially laughed about it until they approached me and had guns. By the end I was really shaken. When it starts to dawn on you that your freedom might be at stake, it's a really unpleasant feeling.” Laughing, he asks, “C'mon, do I really look like a terrorist?” then quickly answers, “Well, maybe I bring it on myself.”
For now, shaving's not an option and he'd much rather talk about the bliss of “Tomorrow Morning” and its experimental sound. “A goal of mine for a while has been to make an electronic record, but I always associated that with a colder type of music, something being made in a cold apartment in Berlin,” he says. “The secret to warming up the cold sound is to think pleasant thoughts while you are playing those instruments.”
While the disc sweeps and sways with lush strings throughout, he says the live show will be a little more difficult. He sums it up simply: “Right now, I feel the need to rock.” With a chuckle from under that troublesome fuzz, he adds, “And after that, I'll get an after-show pizza, a cigar, and quietly weep myself to sleep.”
The Eels will perform at the National on Sept. 23 at 8 p.m. Visit thenationalva.com for information.