Monday, June 16, 2008
Q&A with American Music Club's Mark Eitzel
Mark Eitzel on stage, Feb. 2008
(This article originally appeared in North County Times)
From its inception in 1983, American Music Club excelled at crafting an extremely dark, sometimes unsettling and frequently gorgeous alt-rock blend that incorporated folk, punk and lounge music elements.
Over the course of seven albums, the Bay Area band - led by singer/songwriter Mark Eitzel and guitarist Vudi - gained a sizeable cult following and became a leading light of the so-called “slowcore” movement, which would later include Galaxie 500, Mazzy Star, Low, Red House Painters and others.
AMC put out the lush, more pop-oriented “San Francisco” in 1994 and broke up soon after. The group reunited a decade later and released “Love Songs for Patriots.” Earlier this year, AMC returned with equally captivating disc “The Golden Age” (Merge). It features new members Sean Hoffman (bass, vocals) and Steve Didelot (drums, vocals) from Los Angeles alt-country band The Larks.
Always a favorite among music journalists, AMC continues to garner acclaim. “The Golden Age” ranks high on consensus site metacritic.com, alongside Portishead, The Roots and Robyn. I recently caught up with Eitzel to give me the lowdown on everything.
Q: Do you have any memories about San Diego area gigs from the past?
A: Once we opened up for Pearl Jam (there) and I was standing in the crowd watching. A girl came up to me and asked if I was in the opening band. I said ‘yes’ and she said she loved us and wanted my all access pass, so she could go backstage and pee (and harass Eddie Vedder, I think).
Q: Now that you’ve had some time to live with “The Golden Age,” are you happy with how it turned out?
A: I am satisfied. I had to compromise a little to get it out on time, but I think it’s good.
Q: What effect did Sean and Steve have on the AMC sound?
A: They are absolutely a part of it - great players, who know how to play simply. Without them, this record would have been very, very different. Sean is a commercial music maker (check out all the shedding guitars on Fox Sports Network) and Steve is a great singer/songwriter in his own right. For them, this was all fairly easy to do.
Q: Some tracks boast dynamic backing vocals, especially “John Berchman Victory Choir.” Was that something you really wanted to emphasize this time around?
A: Of course. I wrote these songs with background harmonies in mind.
Q: What prompted you to revisit “Sleeping Beauty,” originally done on your 2005 solo album “Candy A**,” with the band?
A: It was Sean’s idea and the rest of the band went along with it. I really like the (new) version we do.
Q: Was “The Windows on the World” inspired by a real experience you had at the same-named World Trade Center restaurant and bar before 9/11?
A: Yeah, I went to a party there for (now defunct New York City band) Jonathan Fire*Eater.
Q: Geographical references tend to pop up from time to time in AMC album and song titles. This album has two songs about San Francisco. Why?
A: It is where I live and I like to put real things in songs.
Q: On “Windows,” “On My Way” and “One Step Ahead,” the band plays an atmospheric sound, then Vudi suddenly cuts through with his jagged electric guitar work. Do you think that gives the songs a certain ‘calm before the storm’ effect?
A: Maybe - or else we just like loud noise.
Q: I was surprised to hear the band venture into world music territory on “I Know That’s Not Really You.”
A: We live in San Francisco and LA and hear Mariachi music all the time. Vudi had the idea that this was a “Mexican” song (though it is far from it).
Q: You’ve been working on writing a musical called “Maine Parade.” Can you tell me about it?
A: It’s going great. It might open in early 2009 in New York and then move on to London. It is an odd piece - more of a play with music than a real musical, though it works as a musical as well. Hard to describe.