American Music Club‘s Mark Eitzel talks to Alastair Mabbott about reading. writing and repetition. And why lobotomising doesn‘t sound such a bad idea.
Something about the man in the centre ofthis photograph spells ‘hardcore‘. The haircut. the stance. the eyes perhaps? He might be the perpetrator of some severe. apocalyptic dance throb. . . or maybe he barks venomous gobbets over a pounding Black Flag-go-Sub Pop backing (closer to the truth. as we‘ll see). What you wouldn‘t immediately suspect is that Mark Eitzel has been compared with both Tim Buckley and Roy Orbison. and his songs. as played by American Music Club. described as ‘wracked‘. ‘gorgeous‘. ‘fragile‘ and 'poignant‘.
Those songs come from a place where few like to
tarry too long. The latest American Music (‘lub album. livcrr'lcur. is personal and sometimes harrowing. But it‘s sprinkled with moments like the country-esque jig ‘(‘rabwa|k‘ and the irresistible. echo-swathed single ‘Rise‘. and is lovingly textured in a way that wouldn‘t repel fans of some of Scotland‘s most high-profile tunesmiths.
‘All you have to do is agree to be
lobotomised. Which isn’t such a bad thing,
And as well as the previously-mentioned Buckley and ()rbison. you might set up two more signposts: The Blue Nile‘s Paul Buchanan. whom Eitzel reveres. and Fatima Mansions‘ (‘athal (‘oughlan in his Microdisney days. (‘oughlan (legend has it) would smash his head off the microphone until it bled. or find some other way to break through to the ferocity lurking just below the skin of Microdisney‘s classily-crafted adult pop songs. Eitzel already has an outlet for his excess aggression. screaming over the top of ‘slow grunge feedback sort of stuff‘ in a band called The Toiling Midgets. but feels in his bones that American Music (‘lub will start sounding like an angrier band in the near future. Whether or not this will make much difference to the lyrical content is another matter.
‘I really only have one topic.‘ he explains resignedly. ‘1 write the same song over and over anyway. Not that I know what that topic is. but it
seems I do. I even bore myself a lot. I wish I could write about political things well. but I can‘t for the life of me do that with any credibility. I wish I could write good rockers. real mindless things. but at this moment I don‘t seem capable of that. It‘s hard for someone like me. I read too much. or I read too well. ()r at least I think I do. which is probably worse than actually doing it . . .
‘I write as well as I possibly can. Well. that‘s not true. I guess. Jesus. I hope that‘s not true. But I don‘t think it‘s an art form. I agree with Phil ()chs. who said that it‘s basically newspaper reportage. That‘s how I see my role. When I‘m doing well. as a songwriter. I‘m basically reporting something very clearly.‘
Though it‘s hard to glean much from a half-hour conversation. Eitzel has some of the qualities of the eternal misfit. The idea that American Music (‘lub might be taken for ‘some patriotic ensemble‘ fills him with disgust. and further trains of thought brand him an unlikely candidate to win hearts and minds in an average redneck bar. ‘l‘ve always. in a sick way. wanted to be in the army. Because I‘ve seen so much ofit. It‘s an easy life. You‘re taken care of. pretty much. All you have to do is agree to be lobotomiscd. that‘s about it. Which isn‘t such a bad thing. you know'."
That be bypassed the American High School system may go some way to accounting for his distaste for conformity. The son of a civilian who worked for the US Army. Eitzel grew up in Taiwan and England and wrote his first song after seeing The Damned and The Adverts play Southampton Polytechnic in 1977. llisonly talent at school was for English. ‘When I was a teenager.‘ he remembers. ‘l was pretty withdrawn and I had these huge philosophical ideas. and I thought that because my mind worked along those lines I should do Physics. Chemistry and Biology.‘ l le llunked them all. ‘I don‘t know whv I did it either.‘ he shrugs. ‘
American Music Club. Mark Eitzel. centre.
When his family moved back home. Eitzel ‘had a hard time adjusting‘. and occupied himselfin punk bands with names like The Naked Skinnies. The earliest band to go under the American Music Club banner was an acoustic trio which played poetry readings. The next was outlandish. by any standards. ‘That had a guitar player who played Iggy Pop leads and somebody who played a car doorand backup singers and this huge. . . lguess you could call it — makes your skin crawl — a Tubes-like revue.‘
The next incarnation. the one‘that stuck. has now produced five albums. but the acceptable. restrained face ofstadium pop still hasn‘t found a stadium to play it in.
"This started eight years ago. and . . . [can‘t even begin to tell you. The first time we were in Europe was when our drummer quit because he wanted to live in Germany. We said. "No. don‘t quit. we‘ll go to Germany with you and we‘ll be superstars in Europe.“ So we packed our things. went to Germany in 198-1 for six months and in the whole time we were there managed to open up for Sonic Youth once. That was kind ofa waste of time.‘
Even in the land from which they took their name. AM(‘ are riding a rough and rocky road. One could almost be driven to blaming their splendidly neutral moniker for their lack of recognition.
‘lt‘s a dumb name. It‘s the three worst words
ever to use in a barid name. but we couldn‘t think
ofanything else. It could be even more anonymous. Over the years. I‘ve thought ofeven more anonymous names than that.‘
You don‘t mean . . .
What a dumb name fora band. But it‘s what counts in the end. I American Music (‘luhpluy The Venue. Edinburgh on 510126. '
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