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Interview: Mark Eitzel

By trailing his new album Hey Mr Ferryman with the single The Last Ten Years the possibility arises of a clever conceptual continuity link to Mark Eitzel’s last solo offering, 2013’s Don’t Be a Stranger. Its lead single, and coincidently, opening track, announced I love You But You’re Dead. Given The Last Ten Years tells of the ferryman who takes him to his rest has Eitzel been stuck in some form of limbo these last four years?

I wonder therefore how the afterlife has been treating him.

“Very well. Thank you very much,” says the voice on the other end of the line.

This is good to hear. In 2011, the singer, who is cherished for his association with the critically acclaimed but commercially unsuccessful late ‘80s/’90s band American Music Club, suffered a heart attack, and although Don’t Be a Stranger was released in the wake of his brush with mortality the songs preceded the event.

This time around, those, like your scribe, looking for clever commentary or overarching conceptual links on the topic of death in The Last Ten Years will be disappointed.

“I mean honestly, I’m not that bright,” is his bone-dry response. “It was simply the first song and that had to be the first song because it’s such a pop song.”

Was there no brooding on mortality?

“You know, you brood about mortality all the time,” he says dismissively.

“I wrote that chorus about 20-years ago actually and I just never forgot the chorus because it was so good - well, to me it was anyway - and kind of filled in the rest of the verses from there. Really that song is about just going out and getting drunk. That’s about it.”

Rather than the guide on the River Styx, the ferryman here is a barkeep to whom Eitzel hands all his cash. This dramatic treatment of casual hedonism serves as a neat illustration of his gifts as a songwriter.

“Sure,” he shrugs. “I mean it’s the life of the rocker, or something, I guess.”

Eitzel says he spent most of the time leading up to his latest solo album travelling, before moving to Los Angeles to be with his boyfriend, a television producer. Outside of music, it seems he’s become preoccupied with more mundane matters

“All I do is paint rooms and try to figure out how to grout properly,” he reveals.

Grouting, as in tiles and bathrooms?

“I’m terrible at it but I try,” he laughs.

Due to financial limitations, Eitzel intended his tenth solo album to be an acoustic one. However, a serendipitous encounter between his manager and former Suede guitar maestro Bernard Butler put paid to that notion. Once Butler heard the demos, not only did he agree to produce it he insisted it be electric.

“This came about because my manager and him go to the same daycare for their kids,” Eitzel explains. “And I just took a leap of faith. I thought I’ll just try it. I’m glad I did.”

Recorded over the course of ten intense days at Butler’s London studio, Hey Mr Ferryman also features him playing all the guitar, bass and keyboard parts.

“We didn’t pay him enough for a big record like this. It was just for him it was just artistic and I’m really happy we did not do an acoustic record,” says Eitzel.

The apotheoses of their musical marriage comes halfway through the record in the shape of In My Role As a Professional Singer and Ham. With a self-deprecating title that masks its serious intent, it provides an arresting moment on the album thanks to Butler embellishing it with just the right amount of portent.

“It’s just a small song but he made it sound like a very important one,” says Eitzel humbly. The song, says Eitzel, is the result of “having to listen to conservative rhetoric for the last twenty years.”

I suggest to him that now is a good time to have a record out as it affords him the opportunity to get out of America for a while to promote it in Europe.

“I just hope they let me back in,” he grumbles.

Naturally, Eitzel reckons his new president is a dictator.

“I think he’s a fascist,” he spits. “And I think the people that he’s put into power are all completely without merit. For instance, Steve Bannon is basically a white nationalist and now he’s running the Security Council. Really? Steve Bannon who has talked about bringing down the American government?”

But even touring has a price for the tetchy singer.

“Touring is 23-hours of misery for one hour of pleasure,” he muses. “So I want to get the tours behind me and try to pay back the record companies who spent money to make the record. That’s all I want to do.”

Mark Eitzel and band play Cyprus Avenue on Saturday 11.