Dr. Hugh Everett III, Ph.D., was what Scientific American magazine calls “one of the most important scientists of the 20th century.” A quantum physicist who authored The Many Worlds Theory, Everett inspired countless science fiction books, movies and Star Trek episodes with the concept of parallel universes. As a young teenager he exchanged letters with Albert Einstein, debating whether it was something random or unifying that held the universe together.
Until the age of eight, Hugh Everett lived in Washington, DC with his mother, Katharine Kennedy, a troubled poet and author, and his father, Col. Hugh Everett, Jr., US Army. As an adult, Dr. Everett settled in nearby Virginia, with his wife Nancy. They had a daughter, Elizabeth Ann, and a son, Mark Oliver.
Mark Oliver Everett showed no talent for physics, or even mathematics. He was much more interested in the records his sister was playing in the house.
Everyday after school one year, Elizabeth played Neil Young’s AFTER THE GOLD RUSH album over and over. Mark listened. He never would have dreamt that one day he would record an album (DAISIES OF THE GALAXY) playing the same upright piano that Neil Young played on AFTER THE GOLD RUSH.
At the age of six, Mark found himself at the next door neighbor’s garage sale where he saw the toy drum set that would change his life. He begged his parents for the $15 it cost to buy the set, and they relented. Most children that get a drum set play it for a week and then leave it in the closet until their parents have a garage sale. Unfortunately for the Everett family, Mark played those drums everyday for the next 10 years.
As a young teenager, after a period of trouble with the law, being arrested and thrown out of school, Mark started to pay attention to the acoustic guitar gathering dust in his sister’s closet. He had already been making up little songs on the family’s upright piano for years.
Mark had several friends that were coincidentally named Mark. To avoid confusion, they would refer to each other by their initials. Throughout his teens Mark Everett was “M.E.” Gradually it was shortened to the even easier “E”.
By the time he was 20, E was obsessed with writing songs and recording them on his secondhand 4 track cassette recorder. He wrote and recorded virtually every day of the next seven years.
At the age of 24, feeling stifled by the lack of inspiration and creative community in his Virginia neighborhood, E packed up everything he owned into a car and drove 3,000 miles across the country to Los Angeles, where he knew not one person.
He eventually moved into a tiny apartment above a garage in Atwater Village, on the East side of Los Angeles, and resumed his antisocial routine of waking up, writing and recording 4 track cassettes, going to one of many shitty jobs that he hated, coming home, writing and recording more, and going to sleep.
As time went on, from the time he started his obsessive song writing, the quality of the songs and production of his tapes slowly improved. Eventually someone heard some of his songs and asked him to record for a record label.
In 1991 E signed a contract to record two albums for Polydor Records. This was a great relief for him, as it meant he could now devote all his obsessive energy to writing and recording. The first record, A MAN CALLED E, came out in 1992, and yielded the top ten alternative rock hit “Hello Cruel World.” Having never performed live as the front man of a band, E went out to open for Tori Amos on her first American tour, to much acclaim. In 1993, Polydor followed up A MAN CALLED E by releasing E’s second album, BROKEN TOY SHOP.
From 1993 to 1995 E recorded most of what became the BEAUTIFUL FREAK album. The single “Novocaine for the Soul,” having been recorded and mixed in 1993, was eventually a number one alternative rock hit in 1996.
In 1995 E decided to work under a different name. Having grown more adventurous musically and lyrically, and tired of the logistical nightmares of going by one letter, he added a few letters and formed EELS, an ever-changing project for his songs, with a live band to present them in concert. With E playing electric guitar and a Wurlitzer electric piano through a guitar amp, drummer Butch (aka Jonathan Norton) and bassist Tommy Walters joined to help play E’s BEAUTIFUL FREAK songs live.
With the release of BEAUTIFUL FREAK (DreamWorks Records) in 1996, the EELS live band toured throughout America and Europe. The striking “Novocaine for the Soul” video clip of the band seemingly flying through their day was nominated for several MTV awards. They had a second top ten international hit with the song “Susan’s House.”
They continued to tour, concluding with a stint on the 1997 Lollapalooza tour. After collecting a Brit Award, presented to EELS by Spinal Tap, (the award was soon turned into a cymbal stand to illustrate that it was actually worth something), and giving director Wim Wenders the song “Bad News” for the soundtrack to his film “The End of Violence,” E experienced a period of great artistic growth.
At 19, E found his father dead. His troubled sister, Elizabeth, committed suicide in 1996. And now his mother was terminally ill with lung cancer. That was his entire family. He ultimately decided he could not ignore these things artistically, feeling that anything else would be an act. So he set about the writing and recording of an album that was inspired by, and that would deal with the tragedies in his life, but only if it could offer a new point of view, and a positive resolution.
It was a challenge that E rose to on the critically acclaimed ELECTRO-SHOCK BLUES album, recorded 1997-1998 and released in 1998. Although a glance at the track list on the back of the CD jewel box can often make people assume the album is “depressing,” E called it “probably the most positive record I will ever make.” The album, now considered a late 90s rock classic, can at first prove to be a difficult listen, but soon reveals a life-affirming heart. Guests on the album included E’s neighbors and friends, Mike Simpson of the Dust Brothers, Mickey Petralia, Grant Lee Phillips of Grant Lee Buffalo, Lisa Germano, Jon Brion, and T-Bone Burnett.
After making more MTV-nominated videos for “Last Stop: This Town” and “Cancer for the Cure,” the new 3 piece EELS live band found E trading in his Wurlitzer electric piano for a Hammond organ and bassist/guitarist Adam Siegal joining the line up to hit the road for a 4 month theater tour of Europe and America.