CL: The stories of these people are at times heartbreaking, but you always treat them with the utmost empathy. Did you find yourself relating to these people when working on the songs?
Eli: I have to admit that I wasn't thinking about empathy at all in the beginning. The first couple of songs were adapted from interviews in Vogue and Bazaar Magazine with famous fashion/celebrity types, like Gwyneth and Donatella Versace, people who are maybe a little eccentric and removed from reality. They'd say outrageous, crazy things that only make sense to other famous fashion/celebrity types, it was easy to make fun of them, and the songs were easy to write. But even with the Gwyneth song, when she said "I drank like crazy when the kids were babies," yes, I can relate to that. Anyone who has kids can relate to that! So there was still a tiny bit of truth amidst the delusion.
Later on I decided to start using non-celebrity interviews with people who weren't super successful or powerful, and a lot of those were on the grim side. There were a lot of themes that would pop up, loneliness, regrets, fears about being broke, all things that I had tried to write about myself in the past but couldn't really pull off. I feel like the people in those interviews were able to say things that I had wanted to say for a long time but couldn't figure out how to do it. So yes, I definitely relate, and it was also a "I wish I had thought of that" kinda deal.
CL: You are one of the most prolific artists I know, but this your first true "solo" record. How was the experience for you, as someone so accustomed to working in a band environment?
Eli: Actually I've done a bunch of solo records over the years, it's just that I either never released them publicly, or I just threw them up on my Bandcamp page and didn't really tell anyone. In the past I'd go and make a little "solo" record on my own if I needed to write a bunch of new songs in a hurry, and then any of those songs would be up for grabs for whatever band I played in. There's an old solo record that has early versions of about half the songs that ended up on Our Tears Have Wings by The Monolators, for instance. Obliteration City is the same thing, some of the songs have already been re-made by two of the bands I play in. This is the first time that one my solo records has come out on a label, though, and the first time that I've put as much effort into the production on a solo record as I would on a "band" record.
CL: What active projects are you currently involved in?
Eli: I'm in two active bands now with my wife Mary. One is Dawn of Sequins, which evolved out of our old band, Monolators, except it's just the two of us instead of a full band. We use drum machines and backing tracks, and Mary plays saxophone and sings and writes more of the songs than before. We put out an album in 2013 on the Vanity Projects label and are almost done recording the follow-up. I'm not sure what it will be called, but it will be out in 2017, and on that album there will be Dawn of Sequins versions of a couple of the songs from Obliteration City.
The second band is called Madame Headdress, which is a sax/flute/tap dancing/choral singing group. We used to have a band called Cobra Lilies, which was sort of folk-y, there were 12-13 members, and along with singing and playing we'd do elaborate dancing and roller skating routines. When that band broke up some of the Lilies reformed as Madame Headdress. We're finishing up an album for Madame Headdress that should also come out in 2017 on the Mental Illness Recordings label. I think it's currently called Vouvray, named for our favorite kind of wine to drink at rehearsal. It's got sax/flute/tap dancing versions of the Donatella and Gwyneth songs from Obliteration City. MH also recently made an all-piñata video for an anti-Trump song called "Cats Against Trump" that came out pretty well.
Mary and I also do what we call "Mini-Bands," which are temporary bands we form with friends to write and record records. Then we play a single show and break up. We have lots of people we'd like to play music with, but nobody we know has time to commit to more bands than the ones they're already in, including ourselves, so this is a way to do something that is low on the commitment scale. We've done two of these records in the past year or so and have plans for more, including with [cough cough] some of the Chain Letter Collective staff, I believe?
Finally, I also play in my friend Tom's band, Shirley Rolls, and there's a new record in progress for the Rolls, as well.
CL: When you write, do you write for a specific project?
Eli: Sometimes. Especially for the mini-bands, Mary and I might say "we need to write a couple of songs for X band," and then we'll try to come up with something that sounds like it will fit. Mostly I'll just write something that interests me and then we try to find a home for it.
CL: Let's briefly revisit the past. You and Mary were an integral part of creating the scene that so many big East Side bands came out of, Henry Clay People and Airborne Toxic Event to name a couple. Were you aware of this at the time? Do you think back to 2001 when Monolators was just getting started and recall wanting to start some sort of scene?
Eli: In the beginning I don't think we had any plan other than trying to find places to play. When we started in 2002 we played absolutely anywhere we possibly could, all over Los Angeles, mostly at places that are long gone now, and I look back at a lot of those shows and think "what were we thinking???" It was kind of chaotic. Sometimes we'd meet bands that we liked, and yes, we'd make friends with them and go to each others' shows. Later on, when we started being able to book shows at Mr. T's Bowl and Pehrspace, we did consciously try to give shows to other bands that were having a hard time finding places to play, but I think that was the extent of our influence on the East Side scene. We were just trying to help our friends out and play whenever we could.