In February, Netflix premiered another original comedy jewel, this one called Love. The L.A.-set sorta-not-really-rom-com series comes from Judd Apatow, Lesley Arfin and Paul Rust, who co-stars with Community's Gillian Jacobs. In the fourth episode, Mark Oliver Everett, a.k.a. E, a.k.a. the band Eels, shows up as a disaffected new father hosting a party at his swanky Hollywood Hills home. His wife is Chantal Claret, singer of the now-defunct Morningwood. By the end of the party, E's singing and playing the 1974 Wings single "Jet" in the living room while Rust jams along on bass.
On the occasion of what E is semi-certain to be his acting debut, he and Fuse spoke about miming a rock song for a day-long shoot, working with Jon Slattery, known to you and yours as Roger Sterling of Mad Men, and E's first extended break from music in more than 20 years of recording and touring.
FUSE: I can't tell you how surprising
it was to suddenly see you on a TV show with no advance notice.
E: Yeah, I'm getting a lot of that.
It's a very un-E moment
when your character says he sucks at guitar and immediately flips it to say he
Of course the first thing I said was more truthful. I would never do that in real life.
How did you end up on the show?
Y'know, I'm not entirely sure how I ended up in it. A couple years ago at an Eels concert, I met the guys who play Roger Sterling and Don Draper on Mad Men [John Slattery and Jon Hamm]. We met them backstage, which was really exciting for me as a big Mad Men fan. I hung out with Jon Hamm a few times, and I got to go to the Mad Men set and saw John Slattery there. And then years later, I just got a random text out of the blue from John Slattery, who I'd never gotten a text from before, that said, "Hey, we'd love to have you in this thing we're shooting." I hadn't heard anything about it, nobody had called me or anything, so I didn't know what he was talking about. He was like, "Oh, it's a party and everyone's gonna sing 'Jet.'" I was like, "Ah, okay, that sounds fun. I'll do it." He's an awesome guy, and it's just fun to be around Roger Sterling, for god's sake.
I thought you were
going to say it happened because you did that deleted scene in This Is 40 with Paul
Well, when I got there I discovered it was produced by Judd Apatow, and I had recently appeared at one of his benefits. So I have to deduce maybe that's how my name came up. I'd like to think Judd thought I was funny that night, maybe. But I actually don't know. No one tells me anything. It was a perfect point in my life where I was looking to do different stuff. Wanted to experiment and try something different.
What was that point?
Where was your head at?
Periodically when you do one thing as long as I've been doing it, you go through a period where you need to take a break. It's an integral part of the process, turning it all off for a little while. So I've only been interested in doing anything other than what I normally do. So that was nice timing.
What was your comfort level on set?
It's terrifying to do something you have very little experience doing. I'm a comedy nerd, I love comedy, it's been part of our videos and concerts and even the songwriting at times. It's really exciting and fun to be around these real comedy actors. But it's intimidating and terrifying because you're not one of them, and you're consciously aware of that. I really enjoy it, ultimately.
What was it like to
be performing in that living room, in that kinda archetypal L.A. party setting?
It took three days just to do that party scene. It was quite awkward because the whole first day was us acting like we're playing the song, just miming it with no music while other actors are acting in front of us. So that was just very uncomfortable and weird, for the first day of work to be—and there's all the extras, all the people at the party, and we're just feeling like idiots, standing up there silently acting like you're rocking out, all day and all night. It was a lot better the second day when we got to actually play the song and people could hear us. We didn't feel as stupid.
I like how Gillian
Jacobs' character starts so aggressively booing you guys.
And that was such a thrill because she is such an amazing actor. It's so exciting to be able to work with such a great actor, and she's taught me a lot. I just did some stuff for one of the earlier episodes of the next season. And, y'know, it only takes a year to see it [laughs].
“This is like a genuine break, maybe the first one I've ever had.”
Do you have a favorite on Netflix?
Mad Men. That's also what was so fun in that party scene last season, was being directed by the guy that played Roger Sterling, and then one of the actors in it was the guy who played Harry Crane. And that whole living room, which was supposed to be my character's house, it had kind of an old, Mad Men–y vibe to it. It felt like, "Wow, I'm in a Mad Men episode..."
Is this the first time you've legitimately acted in something?
I dunno, it's hard for me to remember or say for sure. I think there's probably stuff that hasn't come out before. This is my debut of things that haven't been cut out, probably [laughs]. You gotta pay your dues, you gotta get cut out of a lot of stuff before you stay in something. I consider an awful lot of what I do in our videos acting, of course.
Love seems like a good fit with Eels. It's a very specifically voiced thing that I'm guessing was made without much interference, which has been your situation for a while.
I think Love is a great show, I would be a fan of it regardless of if I had anything to do with it or not. I think the biggest reason why it's great is they left them alone to do it the way they wanted to do it. These are people that know what they're doing, you know? It took me a long time to get to that [with Eels]. After always being meddled with—and the Road Trip video [a movie tie-in with the song "Mr. E's Beautiful Blues"] is an example—eventually I got to a point where I finally was afforded the luxury of being pretty much left alone.
Has someone ever approached you about a biopic?
There's been talk about that. Actually I'm glad you brought that up, because it was erroneously reported last year that there was a film in the works based on my book. But it's not true. I mean, it could be true someday, but what they reported on was not true. It's completely false. But yeah, occasionally it comes up. Who knows. I watch [musician biopics] because I'm such an intense fan of so many artists, but they're usually kinda all the same. It'd be nice to do one that was really different.
Are you looking to
line up more acting work?
Right now I'm enjoying this sidetrack, but otherwise my favorite thing as far as film goes is providing a song here and there. That's still a fun and exciting thing to do.
Is there any music
going on out there in your studio?
Not at the moment. I'm taking a break from it still. I'm continuing along with my sabbatical, but I'll get back to it. There's stuff I left midstream awhile ago that I'll get back to.
Is it easy to switch
it off like that?
For me it's usually not easy to switch off until I get to a point where I have to. Where you just have no choice, you know, life tells you it's got other plans for you.
In your book there's
a moment where you're on a silent meditation retreat and you have to steal a pencil and
write some new lyrics on toilet paper, you can't stop yourself. How much of that guy is still in you?
He has left the building for the moment, but does poke his head up once in a while and threaten to make a full return.
How does it feel when you do manage to switch it off?
It's sort of two different feelings. It can be a little scary, like, "Uh oh, when's that gonna come back?" On the other side of it is it's such a great relief. Because when it's there, it makes it difficult to have any kind of life outside of that. I got to a point in my life where being a constant slave to that for so long, it became too unbalanced and created a lot of problems. I was forced to give it a break.
Has it helped?
Yeah, yeah. I mean, I'm...I'm havin' a good life now [laughs].
Did you know that this summer it's
been 20 years since you debuted with Beautiful Freak?
Oh man...wow, no wonder. No wonder I got so tired. That is hard to believe. That's like really amazing because that really speaks of what I'm talking about, that it was so intense for so long. The time flew by. I can't believe it's been 20 years, that's insane. It seems like it's been...not even 10 years. It's weird.
Is this the most
serious break you've taken in that time?
Yeah, I would say so. There's been times when it appeared to be an extended break—there's a four-year period after the Blinking Lights album where no new album came out until Hombre Lobo, but what was happening wasn't actually a break at all. I wrote a book, went on several tours and I recorded three full, complete albums. Oh, and I did the documentary about my father and we put out a best-of and a rarities collection. It was probably, ironically, the busiest period of my career. This is like a genuine break, maybe the first one I've ever had.
Thanks for talking. I know acting isn't your usual thing, maybe kind of a minor occasion for an interview—
Minor occasion?! I heard the director murmuring after one of my takes, "This guy's the Daniel Day-Lewis of indie rock. Thank god we got him." That's what they're calling me, I'm so intense and Method.
Watch a clip from Eels – Royal Albert Hall, the band's 2014 live album/DVD: