Mark Eitzel has never achieved household status – at least, not yet anyway – but his audience almost defines the idea of a cult following. Devoted fans follow him across Europe, throw fan letters on stage and request all manner of obscure artifacts from his 12 solo album strong back catalogue.
Based in San Francisco and originally known as the frontman of American Music Club, Eitzel’s admirers include R.E.M., whose guitarist Peter Buck has collaborated extensively with him, to super producer and former Suede guitarist Bernard Butler who produced, arranged and played on his latest long playing offering ‘Hey, Mr Ferryman’. The comedian Stuart Lee namechecks him, as did the recently departed Sean Hughes, both doubtless tapping into the vein of dark humour at play beneath the surface of his often sad and reflective lyrics.
He’s currently on tour in Europe, with dates across the UK and Ireland booked in for early November, and plays a special show forn the London Folk & Roots Festival at St Pancras Church on November 11 which will feature a rare guest appearance from Bernard Butler adding his unique guitar style to Eitzel’s accomplished band. Check out these eleven tracks from his 30 year career as a starting point…
The Last Ten Years
“I spent the last ten years, trying to waste half an hour,” sings Eitzel on the track from which the title of his latest album ‘Hey, Mr Ferryman’ is plucked. The presence of collaborator and producer Bernard Butler is evident but subtle – but you’ve got to love those glam rock handclaps!
Another highlight from the ‘Hey, Mr Ferryman’ album imagines life for Mr Humphries of ‘Are You Being Served?’ fame now that fame has passed and he’s confined to the old folk’s home. When he gave this track its UK premiere at the South Bank Centre some 18 months again he explained that he’d learned the importance of making a dramatic entrance was one of the things he’d learned from the character.
Apology For An Accident
This fan footage from a Bush Hall show in London in March of this year not only captures one of the small handful of occasions on which Eitzel’s sound has been augmented by Bernard Butler, it also gives you an indication of the kind of X rated explanation you can expect in between the songs at one of his gigs. The fact the fan is only interested in filming Eitzel himself, and not his indie god collaborator, should tell you something about the adulation he inspires.
I’m In Heaven
A track from the debut American Music Club album back in 1985, ‘The Restless Stranger’, which is widely touted as the first ever ‘slowcore’ release. This arrived several years before the advent of Nirvana, Mudhoney and the Pixies but it’s 100% grunge infeel and attitude, only more vulnerable and less macho.
Johnny Mathis’ Feet
This typically raw and emotionally upfront favourite from ‘Mercury‘, the 1999 album from a temporarily reformed American Music Club, was later covered by The Divine Comedy. It sees Eitzel, homeless and loveless, consulting the soul singer for life coaching advice. His imagined response – “learn how to disappear in the silk and amphetamine” – seems like sound guidance to us.
This cut from the ‘Mercury‘ album, this one typifies the musical style Eitzel would make his own once American Music Club would disband, relying more on piano than guitar and with a vaguely tipsy sideways swagger to it. The band reformed in 2004 for the ‘Love Songs For Patriots‘ album, and Wikipedia lists them as ‘stilla active’.
A firm fan favourite from the American Music Club catalogue – this time from the 1988 album ‘California‘ – it’s still occasionally dusted off by Eitzel for his live shows today. About staying up all night – some things never go out of fashion – you can hear the country tinge that influenced R.E.M. in evidence here, most obviously in the sumptuous steel guitar playing.
I Love You But You’re Dead
From the 2012 solo album ‘Don’t Be A Stranger’, this is a great example of the trademark mixture of dark and light that makes up Eitzel’s brilliant lyric writing. “I want to get messed up and give up,” he tells us in the song. Thankfully he didn’t.
In Your Life
Eitzel is joined by Peter Buck for a brief interview and a run this Morrissey-esque effort from their 1997 album ‘West’, on the wonderfully named Spud Goodman show.
If You Have To Ask.
Another cut from the ‘West‘ album, dripping in luxurious and opulent production but lyrically as totally direct as ever.
Mark Eitzel: Queen of No One
Worth including alone because it affords us the chance to mention that Eitzel’s 1998 solo album bears the marvelous title ‘Caught in a Trap and I Can’t Back Out ‘Cause I Love You Too Much, Baby’. Oscar Wilde pointed out that talent borrows but genius steals, but forgot to add that if you’re going to steal a title then you could do a lot worse than plundering the lyrics of Elvis.