He's back with the old gang

Times Staff Writer

It seemed like a natural progression when, in 1995, American Music Club broke up and Mark Eitzel embarked on a solo career. According to Rolling Stone magazine, Eitzel was among America's best songwriters -- an indie rock poet with a warm intellect and wounded heart whose quietly powerful songs drew heaps of praise, if only minor commercial success, over the course of seven albums.

Going it alone, however, "was really depressing," said Eitzel, whose sad-sack leanings continued to win him kudos as a solo artist. "You have a gang, a group of people you're around, and then you lose the gang."

As well known for his emotional volatility and onstage meltdowns as he is for penning some of the most gut-wrenchingly personal songs in modern rock, Eitzel had quit the group numerous times in its tumultuous 12-year history. But, he said, AMC's end was due to the departure of pedal steel player Bruce Kaphan, along with money and management issues.

Eight years and as many solo records later, the 44-year-old singer-songwriter has come full circle. Abandoning his work as Mark Eitzel, he reformed American Music Club earlier this year with its original lineup -- Vudi on guitar, Dan Pearson on bass and Tim Vaughn on drums. The group will play Spaceland the first four Mondays in December.

"It just seemed like the right time to do it," Eitzel said of AMC's reassembly. "I never really wanted to break up the band in the first place."

In August, the group played its first show in its hometown of San Francisco, a performance Eitzel jokingly called "a slop fest." Portions of the performance -- the first AMC recording in 10 years -- will be available on Eitzel's Web site (www.Mark Eitzel.com) once he "fixes it up."

Playing with his old band, the notoriously mope-prone singer said he "feels great. Democracy is messy, but it's a good thing. When you're a songwriter and you're in a band, the band is your first audience. It really raises the bar on the songwriting to have a great filter like they are because you can really feel it when they think it's [bad]."

For Eitzel, who writes both lyrics and music for the band, that bar is already high. He writes three or four hours each day, tweaking, then rewriting songs until they're "pregnant with meaning."

"It's a trick to write a great song where people don't even know it's a great song; something is just resonating in them. That's why I work on them so hard, because I like that feeling," he said.

"When I hear a song that's got lots of depth, I never understand it the first time," he continued. "You just hear the chorus and think it's pretty and then it's like, oh my God, it's about 18 things. That's my favorite thing in the world."

Eitzel's lyrics have traditionally focused on the personal -- his struggles with alcoholism, the difficulties and disappointments of navigating a modern-day life. But the music he's written for the record AMC is currently recording, "You Better Watch What You Say," is something of a departure in its focus on politics -- a subject Eitzel has typically avoided but was inspired to address as a result of his frustration with the Bush administration.

"I couldn't help it. I'm sick of this country. It doesn't represent me at all," said Eitzel, who admitted it's been difficult to write about politics because "it has to come from your own experience. You can't suddenly be Rage Against the Machine."

AMC is a far cry from Rage, though lately it's had more in common with L.A.'s left-leaning, hip-hop, metal group than one would imagine. This fall, the band's newfound interest in politics extended beyond words into direct action. The quartet played a series of benefit shows for Matt Gonzales, San Francisco's Green Party mayoral candidate.

AMC's new album is currently without a label or release date, but, Eitzel said, it's their best work yet.

"Isn't that what every old rocker says?"

Susan Carpenter can be contacted at susan.carpenter@latimes.com.


American Music Club

Where: Spaceland, 1717 Silver Lake Blvd., Los Angeles

When: Monday and Dec. 8, 15, 22; doors open at 8:30 p.m.

Cost: Free

Info: (323) 661-4380 or www.ClubSpaceland.com

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