Love Letter To A Record: Philadelphia Grand Jury’s Simon Berckelman On Eels’ ‘Souljacker’

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Many of us can link a certain album to pivotal moments in our lives. Whether it’s the first record you bought with your own money, the chord you first learnt to play on guitar, the song that soundtracked your first kiss, the album that got you those awkward and painful pubescent years or the one that set off light bulbs in your brain and inspired you to take a big leap of faith into the unknown – music is often the catalyst for change in our lives and can even help shape who we become.

In this Love Letter To A Record series, Music Feeds asks artists to reflect on their relationship with music and share with us stories about the effect music has had on their lives.

Philadelphia Grand Jury – Eels, ‘Souljacker’ (2002)

So a recent and awesome New Yorker article on the origins of the magnificent creature the eel served to both horrify me and remind me that Eels are a really good band. Sure, I’m not psyched on their recent output and I have grown a lot as a person and music fan, but there was a time when the universe of Mark “E” Everett and mine seemed intertwined. Well at least, to me.

By the time Souljacker came about, Eels had made three other albums, each of which I excitedly acquired from Red Eye Records and devoured on my Discman. Breakthrough single ‘Novocaine For The Soul’ sounded amazing and the lyrics spoke to me, a teen with hormones going left right and centre and wondering about my origins. ‘Electro-Shock Blues’ was disturbingly sad and although I didn’t love it at the time, I recognised that E needed to say what he needed to say. ‘Daisies Of The Galaxy’ was a masterpiece of beautiful production, made under his house, featuring LA’s coolest musicians and producers. I think Tom Waits was involved. I was in love.

So, when Souljacker came out, with its lead single ‘Dog Faced Boy’ ’bout a circus freak whose mother refused to shave him, I was confused but intrigued. The world was in a post 9-11 crazy place, the USA was at war with terror and E and the Eels had grown their beards really long, as evidenced in the film clip made by mega-fan and pretty good filmmaker, Wim Wenders [Oscar-nominated director of Wings Of Desire, Paris, Texas & more]. Their press release said it was hard to travel with said beards.

I had fallen into a job at a local service station, where I pumped gas and checked oil and water for rich people in the fancy Sydney suburb of Mosman. I can remember women in SUVs slipping their credit cards out of a small crack at the top of their window, me covered in oil and petrol fumes, with the words of Souljacker going around in my head. One day I got to go home early when I was literally showered with petrol from a snapped bowser hose above. I felt like the dog-faced boy who “ma won’t shave” and after my escape from the clutches of local Christians earlier in the year, I also felt like I was in a position where “Jesus can’t save” me.

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Of course, the album has other great songs. In fact, the allmusic.com review notes, “Album opener ‘Dog Faced Boy’ exemplifies the weaker half of the album’s 12 tracks”, but for some reason that’s the one I remember. Souljacker parts I and II are both also awesome, ‘Woman Driving, Man Sleeping’ and ‘Fresh Feeling’ reminded me of being driven around by a girl I really liked but would never be with. It was all working for me.

Interestingly, when Aldous Hardingʼs newest album Designer came out, I immediately though that elements of the production reminded me of Eels. A flip around in the liner notes reveals that producer Jon Parish (also known for being PJ Harveyʼs right hand man) worked closely on both Souljacker and Designer. The use of strange, simple and beautiful elements all interweaved seems to be ‘ very Jon Parish, Aldous Harding and E thing.

Of course I don’t think it’s very hip to name-check Eels right now, they have kind of fallen out of fashion, but it’s interesting to see that it’s all related and that at the end of the day, being boldly yourself is the most important thing in art and that beautiful songs are timeless.

I bet there are people that think Eels suck, but I ‘m not one of them.

Aussie indie-soul-punk fusion legends Philadelphia Grand Jury have returned with their new single ‘Nervous Breakdown’ – produced and mixed by frontman Simon Berckelman (The Internet, Lime Cordiale, Dune Rats) and mastered by Brian Lucey (The Black Keys, Lana Del Ray).

Check it out below!

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