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Although chosen for its deliberately nondescript qualities, in retrospect the name American Music Club was the perfect moniker for the lauded San Francisco-based band led by singer/songwriter Mark Eitzel: over the course of seven acclaimed albums, the group tied together the disparate strands of the American musical fabric — rock, folk, country, punk, even lounge schmaltz — into a remarkably distinct and riveting whole, creating a brilliant and cohesive body of work dappled by moments of haunting beauty and impenetrable darkness.
Although born in California, Eitzel spent his formative years in Great Britain and Ohio before returning to the Bay Area in 1980 with the punk band the Naked Skinnies. After the band’s break-up, he founded American Music Club in 1983 with guitarist Vudi, bassist Dan Pearson, keyboardist Brad Johnson and drummer Matt Norelli. Despite the skill and diversity of the other members, Eitzel quickly became the group’s focal point: an evocative vocalist and gutter poet capable of composing songs of disquieting honesty and intensity.
Their 1985 debut, The Restless Stranger, offers a rough outline of their increasingly eclectic sound, and firmly established Eitzel’s worldview, a harrowing vision of life as seen through the bottom of a shot glass. 1987’s Engine honed the formula: the addition of producer Tom Mallon as a fulltime member expanded the group’s sonic palette, while Eitzel’s songs achieved new levels of intimacy as compositions like “Outside This Bar” and “Gary’s Song” grappled with the realities of the drinking life.
American Music Club earned a solid cult following on the strength of 1988’s California, a brilliant collection highlighted by the shimmering country and folk accoutrements which couched fractured love songs like “Firefly” and “Western Sky; ” “Blue and Grey Shirt,” Eitzel’s most heartfelt and powerful composition to date, was the first in a series of devastating chronicles of friends lost to the AIDS epidemic. Their next LP, 1989’s United Kingdom, appeared only in the nation which lent the record its name: another superb collection drawing on leftover material and live tracks, it featured “The Hula Maiden,” the first recorded fruits of Eitzel’s growing fascination with lounge crooning.
After a solo acoustic Eitzel release, 1991’s Songs of Love: Live in London, American Music Club emerged with its masterpiece, Everclear, a remarkable song cycle released to phenomenal critical acclaim. Still, the lavish praise heaped on Everclear finally made the major labels take notice, and a bidding war ensued. After months of negotiations, AMC — now consisting of Eitzel, Vudi, Pearson, multi-instrumentalist Bruce Kaphan and drummer Tim Mooney — signed with Reprise in the U.S. and Virgin throughout the rest of the world, and entered the studio with acclaimed producer Mitchell Froom.
The result, 1993’s Mercury, was a typically iconoclastic effort featuring unwieldy song titles like “What Godzilla Said to God When His Name Wasn’t Found in the Book of Life” and “The Hopes and Dreams of Heaven’s 10,000 Whores” resting uneasily against lush, obtuse gems like “If I Had a Hammer,” “Apology for an Accident” and “Johnny Mathis’ Feet.” Despite glowing reviews, Mercury fared poorly on the charts, and earned virtually no recognition from radio or MTV. In 1994, AMC issued San Francisco, an erratic collection which precariously balanced stark, moving confessions like “Fearless” and “The Thorn in My Side Is Gone” alongside slick pop constructs such as “Wish the World Away” and “Can You Help Me.” When San Francisco failed to connect, American Music Club finally dissolved; in 1996, Eitzel issued his proper solo debut 60 Watt Silver Lining, a collection of torch songs. At the end of the year, he and producer Peter Buck of R.E.M. returned to the studio to record 1997’s West.
In 2003, American Music Club were reunited to record a new album, Love Songs For Patriots. The new album, their first in 10 years, has been called their best record yet. Rave reviews came in from Uncut, Mojo, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, Q, and many others, and the band embarked on a major world tour starting in October 2004 lasting into 2005.
After the 2005 release of Eitzel’s latest solo album, Candy Ass, AMC reconvened to begin work on their most recent album, The Golden Age.
Mark goes on about the latest record:
It is produced by expert producer Dave Trumfio at his studio called King Size. We are very excited by this….
The overall sound is lighter than on previous AMC recordings.
Of course there are many reasons why. 1) AMC refutes the label of ‘Emo Pioneers’. For the record they hate Emo and have never been on the soundtrack for any W.B. network show. (yet) 2) Dark music is for people who are healthy enough to take it – and AMC want to appeal to all people – including the sick. 3) Mark Eitzel comments: “What will my neighbors in my retirement community think? How will I charm the nurse that tends to me? I want to fill my mouth with sugar and spit it on everyone when I talk. I want to cover the world with chocolate cake icing.”
Yes there is a song about the World Trade Center.
But such controversy is nothing new for this ‘Right On’ political band. Sean (bass) is a right leaning liberal texan who hates NPR and is the proud owner of a Segway. Vudi (guitar) dreams of an imperialist world of powdered wigs and waltz’s in ballrooms. Mark (vocals) is a gay communist who once wrote an article: ‘How Secure Will Your House Be During The Apocalypse’. Steve (drums) only plays in this band because the end times are upon us, so why not.
The new album should be released in early 2008. When the ice and snow is thick and heavy. When your winter depression finally kicks in. No Christmas or New Years to look forward to – just the iron grip of the cold and the bleak endless news reports on the death we bring to the middle east and to ourselves. Perfect. Merge did much market research and focus group after focus group said this would be the perfect time to release our new record. Of course it will be. After that we tour and bring our own version of American Freedom to a waiting and willing world.