|Maximum RocknRoll Interview ....w/ Eric DeArment
1.The Electric Eels were a very unique band for their time (they probably would be today, too). What inspired you, John Morton and Dave E to form the band?
B. The Electric Eels were a pissed-off, perfect, runaway-train release of rage and anguish, channeling as close to pop music as it could possibly manage, and making good on every unkept promise that gave it untenable life. Aural, visual and conceptual yes, we were a crossover band. Our specific inspirations were every great piece-a-art, slab-a-music, strip-a-celluloid that kicked, flailed, or dead-man floated to top the slurry of mediocrity that was our daily circumstance. Davy, John and I could not believe what was not goin' on. How so much total safe shit was making each and every day a living hell. Even our few escapes had become traps; bad movies, crappy concerts, dippy hippie parties (what was a hit of acid, anyway, without a few Jack chasers) we hardly even cut classes or skipped work anymore, it was so bad.
Hey, we were in serious danger of developing really negative attitudes ... until we started to joke about having this purely conceptual band, kind of an art project. We would just talk among ourselves about how cool it would be. And then, somehow, word got around that we were a real band ... really great and different. The band to see. And we hadn't even had a practice yet! One night I was at this club in Kent OH, which was miles and miles and miles away from Cle, and there was a break between two c-c-c-crummy Who-type bands and I overheard some people at the next table they were saying stuff like: "you oughta see the Electric Eels from Cleveland, they're really fucking outrageous!" And I'm thinking, shit we really gotta find a way to do this thing.
2. What was the original Eels line-up (i.e. who played what)?
B. Well, Davy dusted off the clarinet that I guess he used to play in grade school; but we already knew he'd be the lead singer even though we'd never seen or heard him perform. John and I had guitars, so that was easy. And who needs bass anyway, right?
We decided to pick up a drummer only after enough songs were written, so just the three of us set out to practice at John's girlfriend Bonnie's house w/ ceeement pond and a serious bar. A few weeks go by and everything seems jake with her parents who were such huge drunks they didn't notice complete fifths of Chivas Regal missing. So I bought an enormous acoustic upright piano and moved "Stonehenge" poolside. It was much more a harp than a keyboard a definite a fixer-upper. We played it with sledgehammers which Bonnie's father later used to smash it to pieces.
3. Who were your musical influences?
B. I listened mostly to melodic pop-rock, soundtrack composers and the experimental avant-garde: Tyranausauras Rex and John Cage, Blue Cheer and Harry Partch, Emmit Rhodes, Nino Rota, Earl Brown and the Flaming Groovies. Someone else will have to decide if they've informed any of my current work, but I think their influence shows in my Eels songs. Certain other influences can be also heard in the Eels oevre. For example, John's obvious affection for Ayler and Parker, and the likes of Captain Beefheart and Amon Duul (who?) .
Davy was possibly the most original-sounding member, in that his favorites seem less reflected. I know he liked Alice Cooper, Arthur Lee, Nat King Cole and Iggy Pop, but in some waysthough he might not admit the fact it may be the more over-the -top novelty voices that provided the source for his performances: Like Screemin' Jay Hawkins, Louis Armstrong, Sam the Sham, Arthur Brown or even Tom Jones. After all, Davy's vocals were also send-ups of vocalists.
4. What was a typical Eels gig like? How did the audience react?
B. Gigs for the Eels were atypical by definition. And given their number ( maybe 4 ), venue variety, and differing performance line-ups, ... they also had to've been some of the rarest shows ever seen. In fact, I only saw one! And that was the only one I played. It was the last performance for an audience, an outdoor live broadcast on Case Western Reserve University campus radio station CWRU (this covers question 10 also). On the bill were probably the first wave of bands outta Athens, GA. (I remember meeting someone from Love Tractor or something ) and unbelievably my own brother's group, Lucky Pierre later, PRICK (Nothing/Interscope) was scheduled to follow our set. Said sibling, Kevin, was to have even a worse day than I, when later while singing he'd ingest a bumblebee w/ stinger sending him, mid-verse, first to the canvas for an eight-count and then off to the hospital on some breathing apparatus.
Of course, before any of that, Kevin wished us well ... as his lead player tuned my guitar. Then the Eels mounted the stage to enthusiastic applause. When the first chords didn't drive them from the courtyard ... and they seemed to be staying through the opener ... I thought maybe we'd found the audience our previous few gigs had not.
John was hilarious, his welding mask rising and falling across his face and eyes, as he struggled out a guitar solo. Davy all but disappeared behind 2 sets of flapping pants, rubber-glove hands with steel test-tube fingers, rat traps clipped everywhere like giant clothespins, and his lyric sheets swirling about the yard. The audience was stunned by the spectacle and entertained by the songs. Then, even before my high E string had a chance to go flat ... the plug was pulled, so unceremoniously! I was sure it was just some technical difficulty soon to be remedied. It was not. We'd actually been off the air for ten minutes, I was told, replaced by PSA's and some old Beatles sides. And before we had a chance to vent spleen, the stage was being cleared for the next band.
If violence followed, it was probably John; but I don't remember any. Davy was too disgusted ... and I needed another drink.
Sure, it was no fitting finale for the Electric Eels, but there was precious little evidence things would ever get any better. So we called it a wrap.
5. What was a typical Eels rehearsal like?
B. Rehearsals tended to remind me of Oscar and Felix's poker night, or Ralph and Norton's lodge meetings, ... or maybe like what the Woman Haters Club was to Larry, Curly and Moe. It defined us for a time when we were all for one. It was a place where you could get a big friendly bear hug from John more often even than a punch in the face. If that sounds like heaven on earth, well then that's what it was.
Sure, we had problems like any band; Davy would start the song on a different count almost every time, drop beats in the measure, measures to the bridge ... just the kinda shit that would drive a drummer like Anton Fier right outta his fuckin' mind. People like Crocus from Pere Ubu would come around to get ideas and guys like Dead Boy Cheetah Chrome would check us out to make sure we weren't gettin' as good as him. Then after, we'd wade through the empty Schlitz quarts to the elevator and home to bed (after a nightcap at the 'London Grill' ). An' up the next day to do it all again.
6. Who wrote the music and lyrics for the band?
B. Seems to me the three of us pretty much contributed about a third each. Davy wrote his songs by singing at me or John, usually seperately, and we'd comp along some chords to his melody. Most times, John and I came in with complete songs of our own, Davy would add stuff and get rid of words he wouldn't be caught dead singing ... usually on mine. All in all, I think the only songs thrown out were Davy's and that was because he was continually rewriting his own stuff to the point where it was never finished.
7. Why did the band move to Columbus?
B. There were two reasons we moved from an unreceptive city to an even more unreceptive city self-hate, and because John was going to art school there. Fortunately, I met my wife at the school, so it was worth the trip.Turns out that I don't regret having lived anywhere and Columbus is no exception; it wasn't like we moved to a dry county!
8. What led to your leaving the band?
B. John Morton did these really hilarious impressions: I can hear him now, reading my little verse-response to your question ... as Richard Burton:
"I left the band as everyone will do,
in their time,
leave something or someone loved.
After a fight.
First with a joyous feeling of freedom
but later pain of the parting
and any future without the thing is ... unimaginable!"
Seriously, it was always hard leaving the band, which I did at least a few times. But sometimes the friction between John and me made a damn good fire ... and other times we were at such cross-purposes that I occasionally had to take the waters.
9. Did the Eels do any shows in cities other than Cleveland of Columbus?
B I don't believe so.
10. What kind of statement were the Eels trying to make with their "Art Terrorist" approach?
B. If "art terrorism" is the term given to our agressive attacks on the oppressive rules and banal expressions of a bourgeois milieu, then it can't be called an "approach". It was our raison d'etre; who we were individually we were collectively as a band. Unlike today, when "approaches", gimmicks and branding strategies are employed toward a desired effect (i.e. increasing one's noteriety / audience), our actions had intrinsic merit because the outcomes were unknown. Once the consequences were registered they became part of the experiment, which then concluded or triggered another cause and effect cycle. It was a test. For us, as much as what we challenged, it was about being open to reactions and inventing worthy responses.
Anybody can sell you something once they find out what you wanna hear them say, but who has the fuckin' guts and the goddam intellectual curiosity to do something nobody's ever done before just to see what the fuck happens!? Too few, alas.
11. The last Eels gig at the Case-Western campus was described as having ended in violence. What happened, exactly?
B. ( see answer #4 )
12. Describe the post-Eels band Men from UNCLE. What were the Men from UNCLE like in comparison to the Eels?
B Eric, I don't think I was in the Men from Uncle, although there were some transitory names and lineups surrounding the almost-as-ephemeral Cool Marriage Counselors which I formed with Davy. These late 70s groups of ours (mine and Dave's) sounded nothing like the Eels .... and only the B-Sharps lasted longer than a blip. They were some fun ... but no wet panties!
13. What do you think of the punk rock movement? Did the Eels see themselves as having anything to do with the early Punk movement in New York (with bands like Suicide, Television, Patti Smith, etc.)?
B. I missed the punk movement. What happened?