Mark Oliver Everett is the one constant behind the Eels, an L.A.-based "group" that's been releasing record since 1996. His work always carried a "studio savvy" sheen to my ears, so when I heard there were a couple of compilation albums coming out I pestered the heck out of a publicist to obtain a face-to-face interview with E. The Useless Trinkets CD features 50 rare and unreleased tracks plus a DVD of an obnoxious Lollapalooza set. The Meet The Eels Vol. 1 collection is a "greatest hits" of 24 songs with a DVD of music videos (with hilarious commentary.) How lucky I was to be invited over to his instrument-filled home/studio in the Hollywood Hills and hang out with E and his fine pooch, Bobby, Jr., while we fielded reader's questions (thanks guys!) and I probed into E's musical mind.
I'm going to start you with some fun stuff — questions from our readers. The first question is, "Can you ask him how the recording and mix process has changed for him over the years and why he's made the choices he has?"
Yeah, is that saying I'm doing something wrong?
It also says, "How did his ear evolve and what did he not hear when he started that he hears now and vice versa?"
That's a good one. I can answer that. For the first question, I can date it all the way back to starting on 4-track cassette, which I did obsessively for ten years. That's all I did. It was literally in my closet. I remember the big day when ADATs came out and then I had 8- track and that was an amazing luxury. Then computers came along and I resigned as my own recording engineer. I could probably still make a pretty nice sounding thing on an ADAT if I went back to that but I don't even know how to turn the computer on. At that point I decided to say, "All right. You're just going to be the artist and let someone who knows what they're doing run the computer." It's nice because it freed me up to just pay attention to one side of things instead of trying to do all the jobs myself. I still do like to go into a traditional recording studio and record on 2-inch tape whenever possible, but the best is the combination of the two, I think, when you can have some of that tape warmth, but the editing possibilities from the computer. Therein is the arc of my technological recording process.
How do you work differently now and what do you hear differently?
What I hear differently is interesting in terms of mastering. One of the things I was happy to do for these new CD collections that we just put out is re-master stuff. In the early days I didn't know what the hell I was doing in terms of mastering. I was always listening on speakers that weren't giving enough bass response. I had no idea what I was doing. As a result, a lot of our earlier records have way too much bottom.
You would tell the mastering engineer, "Give me more low end" and send it back and stuff?
Right. Over the years I slowly learned about having a neutral listening place and I finally developed a keen sense of having a more compact band sound instead of making it so bottom heavy or top heavy. I got a sense of how to make it hotter and tighter to the point where I feel like I'm kind of an expert on it, now. I'm sort of obsessive about it. Most artists, I think, spend a day or two mastering and then they're like, "Okay, that's good." Our last album — the Blinking Lights [and Other Revelations] album — took three months to finish mastering of almost constant work.
Who did the mastering on that?
It went through a couple of people but the guy who finished it ultimately was Dan Hersch [at DigiPrep] who masters a lot of the Rhino box sets and stuff like that. That's mostly what he does. I figure if he's good enough for the classics, he's good enough for me.
I was visiting him last year and he was mastering something for you that had heavy revisions.
Yeah, I've definitely put him through the paces. He actually lives a couple of houses away. He does home repairs for me, as well.
So he did the mastering on the compilations that came out? How long did that take you?
Not that long, surprisingly. I think he was scared. The re- mastering went smoothly. The music is from different eras. I think one thing we noticed, and we knew this would happen, is the process got easier as we went along because [songs were] in chronological sequence on both of these collections. The hard stuff was the early stuff, when it was really fat. At the end we didn't need to do anything to the modern stuff —...