Mark Eitzel has made some great records, but up to this point, he has never made a great solo record. As frontman with West Coast troubadors the American Music Club, Eitzel steered classic albums like 'Everclear', 'Mercury', 'United Kingdom' and 'California', but critical praise and that of their peers never paved the way for the commercial success they deserved.
In 1995, the band ceased to be and Eitzel chose the solo route. The albums that followed however, never quite had the sparkle or sadness of the AMC and by 1998's 'Caught in a Trap and I Can't Back Out 'Cause I Love You Too Much, Baby', Eitzel sounded like a man at the end of his rope. Back home in San Francisco he found himself with not much money but with a new home computer and 'The Invisible Man' was born.
Like a transatlantic cousin of David Gray's 'White Ladder', 'Invisible' finds Eitzel immersed in loops and atmospherics, reinventing himself and finding the perfect pitch between sadness and wide-eyed mirth.
He talks to Harry Guerin about going solo, recording 'The Invisible Man' at home, the future and the past.
HG: 'The Invisible Man' sees you fooling about with drum machines and a sampler. Do you listen to a lot of dance music?ME: Yes, but I'm sure that the things I like are not very hip. I still like this one Springheel Jack EP from years ago, I still like LTJ Bukem and the first Massive Attack record is great. All these things informed me while I was doing this record.
HG: You recorded it at home - more or less pressure?ME: It was harder because you're alone and don't have anyone egging you on. So sit there until your back starts to hurt, then you go for a walk, then you sit down again, then friends come over, you play them the music and they go 'ooh, it's...different. 'Are you happy with it?' And you say 'Oh, it sucks right?' They go 'Well, it's not finished is it? It's very...different'. So then you just continue on. It was great to be able to make mistakes – and make really bad ones – and then figure out how to get back from there.
HG: I think it's the best album you've done as a solo artist. Do all your albums seem like that to you once you've recorded them?ME: They're not always the best. The way I think about this album is that I can play these songs every night for a year. And every time I play them I'll get really excited and I won't be depressed afterwards. After I did this album called 'Caught In A Trap', a pretty negative record, I went "Mark, you shouldn't do that anymore, you did that and now you're done". So now I try to do things that are a little more positive.
HG: When you decided to go solo back in 1995 did it feel scary or like a release?ME: It was really scary. I didn't want to end American Music Club at all – and I didn't end it.
HG: In retrospect, do you think things could have turned out differently?ME: If American Music Club spoke as one voice. If we stood together as opposed to what we did do which was argue incessantly about nothing. If we actually stood together and had a plan we could've done really well. But that didn't happen.
HG: Do you still see the other AMC members?ME: Absolutely. Vudi (AMC guitarist) is my tour manager.
HG: Do those albums with AMC still seem very close or are they like another life?ME: Another life. People ask me 'my favourite album of yours is 'California' – how come don't you make another 'California'? Well, my parents died the year before, how often do your parents die in a lifetime and how often do you have that to fuel a record? For me, they do seem like old news but I don't disqualify them for that reason – I still think they're great records.
HG: Do you listen back to your old records?ME: Never. Once I listened back to 'Mercury' and it's a great sounding record but I just quail at the horrible lyrics. It's something I can't believe I wrote and took seriously. But that's me, not you - or a listener.
HG: Will there ever be a reunion?ME: There was one at the Hotel Utah in San Francisco. We couldn't remember how to play any of the music so we sat at the bar and talked. Normal things happened: I lost money and I lost my voice. It was a normal American Music Club show!
HG: Some fans might voice concern at your new direction do you find it funny that people appropriate artists - almost as if they discovered them?ME: I don't mind it. I'm an entertainer and the biggest compliment I get is when someone says "I met my wife listening to your record". So that part of your career is fixed forever in their lives and they're going to appropriate that and… they're never going to forgive you! By the time they're 50 they won't remember your name and that's ok. You're there for a minute, it's like life: you're there for a minute and then you go away.
HG: How do you feel about your solo career now that you're on your fourth album?ME: Only after I got this computer did I really start to feel that it was actually worthwhile. It's better to be the boss than be in a band and not have a say over anything. I work with a producer or engineer and from my point of view I have to give away five points for every one that I make? And supposedly that's making me happy. Whereas now I don't have to give anything away, I can make this freakish noise and just say "No, this is it".
'The Invisible Man' is out now on Matador.