Critical Questions: Mark EitzelBy Jim Allen
Former American Music Club frontman's new moves.
Despite his penchant for self-effacement both in conversation and in song, Mark Eitzel is nothing if not a survivor. The mid-‘90s breakup of his band, American Music Club, didn't keep him from kicking off a strong solo career. The more recent dissolution of the reunited AMC didn't push him off his path either. Even his heart attack last year didn't put Eitzel out of the game. He's back on the beam with a new batch of tunes -- Don't Be A Stranger is one of his best albums in many moons, and fortunately for us, Eitzel is always up for sharing his thoughts. Especially if you happen to ask him about downloading.
You and Leonard Cohen have a common problem, of constantly being called depressing, when your songs are actually full of humor.
I love Leonard Cohen, my God, I wish I was Leonard Cohen. Sometimes it's my fault too [being labeled "depressing"], because I tend to sing with that "whooah" thing in my voice. I really try to control it, but it's there whether I like it or not. But I don't see that as the only thing I do.
I've read that, again like Leonard Cohen, you write poems in addition to your songs, is that true?
I try, but I'm terrible. My God, they're so one-dimensional and obvious [laughs]. I tell you what, I'm no good at it, I tried. [I keep them] hidden the fuck away, absolutely. It's terrible. Songwriters make words that sound good with music, and poets make music.
I'd like to throw out some of your songs from over the years and have you tell me the first thing that comes to mind about them. How about "Mom's TV?" [From AMC's Engine]
Post-adolescent angst. My parents always had a TV on.
"This Year" [From Engine]
I love that song. That's about my parents' death. It was a terrible year.
"Crabwalk" [From AMC's Everclear]
Louisville, Kentucky and alcohol.
"The Thorn in My Side is Gone" [From AMC's San Francisco]
"Some Bartenders Have the Gift of Pardon" [From 60 Watt Silver Lining]
Kent, the bartender at Spec's Twelve Adler Museum Café. We call it Spec's bar. It's a great bar in San Francisco that we used to go to.
Getting around to the new album, "I Love You But You're Dead"
Niagara Falls, Destroy All Monsters.
"We All Have to Find Our Own Way Out"
That person who always brings everyone around them down with drama, which I have been [laughs]. In this case, thankfully, it's not me. It's a good person actually, it was just drama.
Did you follow the recent uproar about David Lowery's response to the infamous NPR intern's blog post about downloading music?
As somebody who downloads himself, and reads [music blog] A Closet of Curiosities, for instance, I thought it was right on, I thought it was great. The record companies have no power, especially the majors. I'm not talking about Merge or Matador or any of the record companies that I love. But the major labels, they had a lot of money but they were fucking idiots, they should have gone after the ISPs. Every time something is downloaded off an ISP they should take commissions. Half of all Internet traffic is at Bittorrent, half in the world. ISPs make millions and millions of dollars -- music and films are the things people download when they're not downloading porn [laughs]. It gives people a reason to have an Internet connection besides porn. It's almost like a radio station using their music to sell your shit. You should look at an ISP like a radio station or a broadcasting platform.
So you agreed with Lowery's response?
I thought it was exactly the kind of thing I would have written if I could write. He went into detail; he was nice to her, as I would be. I mean, fuck NPR anyway, but I'm of a different generation. My house is paid for by money in the music industry. I did well before it all went away. And to see everyone talk about the new model, what is the new model? The new model is that Spotify, for instance, after a million downloads you get $176. They basically see music as gold that they can pick up off the ground; it's a gold rush. That's human nature. "Oh it's free. Great, I'm gonna exploit it." All these people, they're exploiters, they're not your friends. They don't give a shit. The first four [American Music Club] records, the person who owns the music won't release them, so I tell people to go to Pirate Bay when they ask me how to get them. Also for a lot of really obscure music, the Internet is amazing, I've heard more new weird shit than I would ever dream of hearing. I love it. Record companies still charge $20 for a CD, they should charge five, 10, it's just crazy to me, they're just cutting their own throat, and that's what they've always done. It just galls me that the ISPs are making all this money. I'm of two minds; it's like there's no other format for hearing new music. I'm addicted to Reddit, and I find new music on weird sites. Do I want [Megaupload founder] Kim Dotcom, a total, absolute fucking pig, to be making millions off my back? Well of course he's not, but no!
I'd imagine you're right in the zone of artists who are affected most by illicit downloading.
I'm sorry, but I don't think it's democratization of the web. I remember once in San Francisco, when the dotcom boom happened, I was at a party -- some guy accosted me. This was 1998 or the early 2000s, and he said, "You're Mark Eitzel aren't you? I've got all your records." I was like, "Well, thank you." He goes, "Yep, I didn't pay a fucking cent for ‘em, either, fuck you." I was like, "Fuck me? Really?" He goes, "People like you, you made all this money, and I don't see why I should ever have to pay." I was like, "So, How do I get paid then? How do I go in a studio, how do I pay the studio?" [He said] "Well, get a fucking job!" It almost became "Let's hate the artist." Every time I saw these people who claimed that this was a wonderful revolution in democracy and people power, they're all douchebags. And they're all profiting off of it, so fuck ‘em. Musicians have no power and no money and it took them 50 years to get paid -- in the beginning when radio and TV happened, it took them forever to get the rights. Then they got all the rights and the Internet happened. I think people should pay for music, I really do. To make something that literally has no monetary at all is kind of wild. It's like, "I make this and it is worth-less. The people that rule the Internet gain from it by having free music and free movies. I'm sorry, I'm a middle-aged man and all of us do tend to rant.
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