By Thomas Conner
© Chicago Sun-Times
Speaking with Mark Eitzel, it's always surprising how cheery he is. His music, and that of his band, American Music Club, is soft and sad, stirring and smoky. "Brooding" is an overused adjective for it. He's often written off as a grump, a depressive. And while he certainly has a record of behavior and lyrics to convict him of those charges, he's more often a smiling, self-deprecating goofball.
"It's a real bore," Eitzel says of the assumptions about him. "People think I'm so morose, but I'm not. My music honestly is a reflection of what I see in people's eyes. Which, yeah, is morose. In San Francisco, take the bus — I mean, c'mon, it's morose. Unless someone's yelling 'Cracker!' at you, which happens every time I ride the bus."
And soon he's laughing and spitting out two other facts that are still a surprise about him.
"Yes, I'm turning 50, but I'm a gay man, so I can say I'm perpetually 29." He laughs some more. Really. "I'm a middle-aged gay man, which is one step away from being a grande dame."
It's not usually the same personality that sighs through supple songs such as "All My Love," "Decibels and Little Pills" and "I Know That's Not Really You" on American Music Club's latest album, the second since they reunited a few years ago, "The Golden Age."
There are also two songs aimed at his heralded hometown: "All the Lost Souls Welcome You to San Francisco" and "The Grand Duchess of San Francisco." (Not the grande dame, ahem.) Always a booster for the City by the Bay, these two San Fran titles may have been a reaction against the city in which "The Golden Age" was actually recorded: Los Angeles.
"I'm not one of those San Franciscans who hates L.A., though. I love L.A.," Eitzel says. "That's a big thing: Everyone in L.A. hates San Francisco and vice versa. It's a bore. I have a lot of friends down there ... but I'm not gonna live there. I need city. I need a downtown that's not full of stupid violent people and one I can walk across. I don't want to always be driving, driving, driving."
But surely the change of locale altered his songwriting perspective, as has happened for countless rock bands who relocate to an L.A. studio, from Steely Dan to Folk Implosion.
"Well, with Steely Dan, my God, that much coke use would change anyone," Eitzel says. More laughing. "And, sure, it had its effect. I wrote my first song there beside a kidney-shaped swimming pool with a view of the city. You can't help but love it. It's a mirage on sand. It's completely fake. But it's great. And I like having stupid conversations, really. L.A. is comforting that way. You don't have to think too hard."
Eitzel spent his last two solo albums twiddling knobs more than strumming guitars, especially the disc "Candy Ass," which is not his most beloved outing.
"That was never supposed to come out," he says. "I did it for the money, honestly. I kinda hate it. I was rushed and I didn't use the good stuff."
American Music Club will never slip down the electronic slope, he promises. "AMC is very much a guitar band. Nothing else."
But Eitzel is still stretching his musical experience. He's writing a musical.
"I'm collaborating with [British playwright] Simon Stephens," Eitzel says. "It's going really well. It's a non-narrative kind of musical, a little bit odd. The songs and the action go together in a very elliptical way. We tried some of them out on some opera aficionados, and they hated it, which is good. They can suck on my big f—-in' butt. You can print that."
He's really laughing now.
AMERICAN MUSIC CLUB
- 10:30 p.m. Saturday
- Schubas, 3159 N. Southport
- Tickets, $15
- (773) 525-2508
These online "clips" reproduce a self-selection of my journalism (music etc) during the last 20+ years. It's a lotta stuff, but it only scratches the surface. I do not currently possess the time or resources to digitize the whole body of work. These posts are simply a bunch of pretty great days at the office.