Since he's written movingly about his family dying around him, Mark Oliver Everett understands why his band Eels is often described as a purveyor of depressing indie rock 'n' roll. Yet that would be missing the point of his work.
His music is ultimately open-hearted and life-affirming, a celebration of perseverance.
"Calling it a depressing band is like reviewing a movie that has a very heavy beginning but also has a happy ending — and you're only reviewing half of the movie," said Everett, who goes by the moniker "E'' and is coming off the first extended break of his career.
He's had some awful experiences, "but I'm a genuinely happy person now," he said. "I love my life and I'm so glad that I get to be an example for people."
The shorthand: With preoccupied parents, Everett and his beloved older sister largely raised themselves. At 19, he found the body of his father — the quantum physicist Hugh Everett, who had died from a heart attack. Everett's sister succumbed to demons and died of suicide. Just as his music career began, he nursed his mother as she died of lung cancer. Add a cousin who died on a hijacked plane on Sept. 11, 2001, and it's a mythic tale of misfortune.
Everett dealt with it through his art, most notably on the late-1990s album "Electro-Shock Blues" and in one of the best rock autobiographies, "Things the Grandchildren Should Know." Eels music has been featured in several films, including "American Beauty," the three "Shrek" movies and HBO's "The Jinx."
It would be easy to succumb to bitterness, but Everett doesn't. His band's album, "The Deconstruction," is the latest evidence, where on the song "Premonition," he sings that "it's not the weight that you carry, it's how you carry it." He embraces change in "Today is the Day" and togetherness on "Sweet Scorched Earth." He compares a relationship to a cathedral, where "all pain and fear is on the other side" and "nothing can hurt us here."
He's not whistling a happy tune; his attitude is hard won. He feels the time is right for some compassion and kindness.
"It's something the world needs so badly right now," he said. "It's also a note to self. I feel like the world needs more of that and so do I."
Everett stepped off a music career treadmill four years ago, unsure when or if he would be back.
"If you do any one thing too much in your life it becomes apparent that you have to stop," he said. "Normal people take vacations and get away here and there. I just never did that. I was too one-sided and I was forced to stop."
During that period he did some acting, notably on Judd Apatow's Netflix series, "Love." He was married, and divorced, and became the father of a now 1-year-old son. It has been a wonderful surprise; Everett figured fatherhood would pass him by. "Things the Grandchildren Should Know" was, at the time, an ironic title.
He worked on music when the mood struck during his time off, but with no timetable, and returned when he had enough new material for an album.
"It's so fun and exciting to be back at it now after a big palate-cleanser, if you will," he said.