by Tatiana Ryckman
My fear when I heard Eli Mardock of Eagle Seagull was releasing a new EP, NE Sorrow is Born, was that no lyrics could compare to the lines sprinkled throughout Eagle Seagull’s self-titled album.
What becomes clear with this new project, though, is that the songs are more than individual components of lyrics, guitar parts or drums. They're performances in themselves. The orchestration on tracks such as “The World Yawns” and the dreamy swells of Mardock’s distinctive voice on “You Should Have Seen Your Face” seem to be made in part by choreography. There’s a chord of poise in each detail that commands attention.
While the aesthetic on NE Sorrow is Born seems a surprising departure from Eagle Seagull, Mardock says this shift has been a long time coming, and it's a welcome change for both he and his wife, Carrie, who was in Eagle Seagull and sings on the new album. Plus, Mardock has had some time to take a look at himself, and talks about his personal changes below.
Mardock released NE Sorrow is Born today through his own label Spider and I Records. Stream it here, and download it via his website. The EP was also released on Amazon and many other digital retailers as well. See Mardock in concert this Saturday at his Maha Festival Showcase, a free concert at Duffy's Tavern in Lincoln starting at 8 p.m. with Masses, Classes, Gus & Call and Thunder Power.
Hear Nebraska: How would you describe the difference between Eagle Seagull and your current project?
Eli Mardock: Eagle Seagull was like breathing in. This new stuff is like breathing out. My energy is different, it's much more positive. I really struggled with depression, paranoia and rode some pretty wild ego trips as well. I've really had to ... have a good, hard, honest look in the mirror. And I no longer saw the messiah in the mirror — I just saw a deeply unhappy person who could be a real fucking asshole sometimes. Maybe the biggest difference between Eagle Seagull and the Eli Mardock stuff is that, even though the Eli Mardock stuff is more or less a solo effort, it's less self-centered and more philosophical than the Eagle Seagull stuff ever was.
I performed, recorded, arranged and produced pretty much every sound on the album (except, of course, for the parts Carrie sings. Also, the totally brilliant/genius Andrew Tyler played the drums on six tracks). But there were no creative battles, no compromises, no butting of heads. I really don't miss those battles. And they happen in any/every band. I guess I'm saying I just don't miss being in a band. The greatest freedom in the world is freedom from the opinions of others.
I'm not sure I'm finished with Eagle Seagull. Not yet. I feel like I have a few more Eagle Seagull albums in me. You know, I'm not saying this is definitely happening, but it's something that's been on my mind. I know Carrie is into the idea. I think Ian Aeillo (who worked with me on the first Eagle Seagull record) is intrigued by the idea as well. We'll see what happens I guess.
photo by Kmeron
HN: It's interesting that you want to revisit Eagle Seagull as a project since you seem so glad to be done with it as a band. What would that look like?
EM: I'm finished making music with that particular group of people. I'm not necessarily finished with that project. That's all. Eagle Seagull was always my baby, my project, and I think there's more I'd like to do with it. And if I do release another Eagle Seagull record, there will definitely be a new band and some touring. And I think the lineup would be something pretty flexible.
HN: Your wife has been in both bands with you. How has that affected songwriting, and has going from bandmates to husband and wife changed they way you make music together?
EM: Carrie is just really honest with me. She cuts through the bullshit quick. She's kind of like my oracle or something I guess — I consult her about everything. And she's always had an effect on my songwriting. She's always been a muse. There were Eagle Seagull songs that were directly about her. There's a song on my new album that was inspired by her. I don't think anything has changed in that regard. Now she just inspires me 24/7.
We were best friends as bandmates. We're best friends now. That hasn't changed at all. Carrie has started to take over a lot of the business aspects of our music, though. She's the only one of us that really has the ability or patience to effectively handle all that stuff.
We're just two people in love with each other. That's it. It's really simple. We're in love. And when we make music together, that strength, trust and belief in each other is there, and it's really powerful.
photo by Kmeron
HN: Because you're now playing under your own name, do you think you’ll keep a consistent lineup in the band or will it be flexible? If so, how do you think that will shape the music?
EM: It'll be a pretty flexible lineup, at least for now. I've had to change drummers fairly regularly just based on availability. So it's just a basic necessity. Also, I don't want to be limited in any way. I just spent the past five years beholden to a group of people, and I'm really enjoying the flexibility of playing with whomever I feel like playing with. Everyone brings different qualities to the table and that's always fun to see.
As far as how it shapes the music, my hope is that it doesn't too much. I'm not really interested in anyone writing new parts or anything like that. The parts are written, they're there on the record. I just want players who can perform them flawlessly and bring some good energy to the band.
And it's been really, really fun so far. Playing with my current band has been fantastic, I love 'em. They're just really awesome people and great players, too.
photo by Kmeron
HN: It's interesting that both your band and Icky Blossoms are out playing music before releasing your first albums, and still both group's shows seemed well attended and appreciated when you played at SXSW. What do you attribute that to?
EM: Both the Icky Blossoms show and mine were really well supported by Nebraskans. That was pretty cool to see. I think that's just how the Nebraska scene rolls — people are genuinely supportive of each other. And they're just a great band. It's cool that people are starting to take notice elsewhere. They've totally earned it.
When I first started playing solo, it was really tough. Nobody came to my shows. I mean nobody. It was like starting over from scratch. It's been a tough, uphill battle, and there were definitely times when it was difficult to stay positive. And so, to be at this point where there are people coming to shows again, it's just really amazing.
I owe so much to Carrie, the old friends that stuck with me, and the new friends that have shown me so much love and support. They really helped me stay focused and positive through some tough times.
HN: You sound like you're generally happier now, working alone, but it was tough to get going. What have you learned from the experience as a person?
EM: I think there's one line that sums it all up: I get by with a little help from my friends.
Tatiana Ryckman is a Hear Nebraska contributor. She lives in Austin, Texas, but loves Nebraska like you wouldn't believe. Reach her at email@example.com.