Bernard Temple was an all-American youth. Born into a working class family and ruled by a God-fearing father, both Bernard and his twin brother Lernard grew up in San Francisco where he proved his worth on the track and field until his graduation, when he was introduced to the seedy underbelly of the city’s burgeoning crack cocaine epidemic. Petty crime soon escalated to gang affiliations and following the collapse of his parents’ marriage Lernard and their mother relocated to Sacramento while Bernard’s reputation on the street grew from notoriety to a man to be feared. Accusations of violence and sexual assault began to reach the police in Hunters Point and as gang war broke out he allegedly became an enforcer for drug dealers, exacting brutal vengeance against those that crossed his employers. But his taste for blood would finally manifest itself at the age of twenty when, on 29 October 1988, he donned a hockey mask that he had purchased from a toy store and shot an ‘acquaintance’ in the back of the head.
While the media would make the inevitable connection between the hockey mask and the iconic killer from the Friday the 13th movies, the cause for the gang execution of Walter Mullins was revealed to be due to the suspected theft of narcotics. ‘Temple, wearing the Jason mask, walked up behind Mullins and pumped one well-aimed shot to the base of the back of his head – execution style, as they say in the daily newspaper reports – sending Mullins crashing, dead, to the sidewalk, fast-food containers spilling all around,’ described SF Weekly in a 1997 article when Temple was finally brought to trial. Yet what was even more shocking was the moniker that the young criminal had bestowed upon himself. ‘Bernard Temple, the twenty-eight-year-old son of a part-time minister who knows the Scripture by heart,’ the article continued, ‘calls himself the Soul-Jacker, because he believes that when he kills someone he acquires the soul of the victim and thereby makes himself stronger.’
Around the same time that Temple was forced to relive his crimes in the courtroom, somewhere outside of Los Angeles, a thirty-four-year-old musician called Mark Oliver Everett admitted himself into a meditation retreat following the suicide of his sister and the recent revelation that his mother was dying from lung cancer. Everett, known to his fans as E, the frontman of the acclaimed group Eels, had been writing material for what was to become their second album Electro-Shock Blues, a record which documented both his sister’s death and his own mental and emotional collapse. ‘She died right as the first Eels album was coming out,’ he explained to NPR in 2018. ‘I finally got to a point where something was happening with my life and it was this really exciting time and I think it was right as the album was coming out, or right before, she died and so it was just this really intense time for me. I don’t know how I got through that time.’
The personal tragedies were beginning to take their toll and so perhaps some time away from family, friends and the music industry was what E would need to come to terms with his life. One of E’s former girlfriends, who had served as inspiration for the Eels tracks Susan’s House and Beautiful Freak, had suggested the retreat, where he was to spend the next ten days without communication of any kind. Although E had never specified where he had visited in the early weeks of 1998, author Tim Grierson hinted that it was most likely the California Vipassana Centre, who describe their therapeutic process as being ‘for the total eradication of mental impurities and the resultant highest happiness of full liberation.’ Despite not being allowed to talk or write, E had been told the story of Bernard Temple by Sean Coleman, a close friend whom he had collaborated with on an earlier solo album. While some of his details would be inaccurate, describing Temple as a ‘serial killer,’ E became fascinated with the tale and, against the rules of the retreat, broke away from the group to develop the seed for what would become their fourth studio album, Souljacker.
‘I start to run these words through my head to a tune: ‘Souljacker can’t get my soul, ate my carcass in a black manhole, Souljacker can’t get my soul, he can shoot me up full of bullet holes, but the Souljacker can’t get my soul.’ I can’t stop running it through my head,’ he would later recall. ‘I need to get it out there so I can clear my mind. I want to call my answering machine back home and sing it onto the tape, but I’m not allowed to speak and there aren’t any phones, anyway. One morning while it’s still dark out I sneak into the outdoor bathroom across from our cabin. I have recently spotted the only writing utensils I’ve seen anywhere on the premises in this bathroom.’
When E returned home from his meditation, he had begun to develop the concept for an album which would portray as assortment of outrageous characters. Soon afterwards, Eels – then consisting of E, long-time drummer Butch and bassist Adam Siegel – had reconvened in a studio for rehearsals in preparation for their upcoming tour and it was during these sessions that Souljacker Part I would begin to take shape. The song told the story of a young couple, Johnny and Mary, brother and sister who indulge in their incestuous love affair in a ‘trailer park of broken hearts.’ Souljacker Part I was first previewed on the subsequent Electro-Shock tour and recorded during the sessions for their next album, Daisies of the Galaxy, the following spring.
On 25 September 1998 Eels appeared on the British music show Top of the Pops to perform their latest single Last Stop: This Town, which had been released barely two weeks earlier. Introduced by television personality Jayne Middlemiss, Eels treated the audience to a stripped-down rendition of the song, with the host later describing them as ‘absolutely fantastic.’ Behind the scenes, E made the acquaintance of a young musician called John Parish, whose work with PJ Harvey had brought him minor acclaim. Parish was a fan of Eels but, despite their joint publisher’s suggestion that they should work together, neither E nor Parish had any interest in collaborating at that time.
He does know what he wants and is not scared to say it
‘E and I met at Top of the Pops,’ Parish told Amplifier. ‘We got on and talked about doing something together sometime. After Eels had recorded Daisies of the Galaxy, E started working on his rock record and thought I might be the right person to drag in. I went over to L.A. for a week and we wrote Dog Faced Boy and Teenage Witch…He’s not really difficult, no. He does know what he wants and is not scared to say it. I actually find that position very easy to work with, as you know exactly where you are. I suppose if you had opposing views as to how to approach things, then you might find him difficult.’
In an interview with Under the Radar E elaborated further, ‘He was a big fan of Electro-Shock Blues, which had just come out and we got to talking backstage and I really liked him. Someone had previously mentioned us working together and at the time I didn’t think it was such a great idea. Then I realised after recording Souljacker Part I that I wanted to do more songs like that. I thought he’d be a great collaborator for that type of stuff. We kept meeting up in different towns while on tour and hang out and eventually we started to work through the mail. He would come up with something in his basement in Bristol and he would send it to my basement in L.A. then he came over and we did a bunch of stuff here.’
Almost six weeks later they crossed paths again in Boston, Massachusetts. When Parish finished his set with Harvey he made his way to a nearby venue called Bill’s Bar & Lounge, where Eels were about to take to the stage. Following the show the two spoke once again and, while no concrete plans were set, they agreed that they would work together in the near future. It would be a year before a plan was set in motion, by which point E had completed work on Daisies of the Galaxy and was preparing to release its first single, Mr. E’s Beautiful Blues. Parish received a disc through the mail that featured recordings of Souljacker Part I and Jungle Telegraph, with an invitation from E that he visit Los Angeles to discuss their long-overdue collaboration.
Taking a rough mix of music he had been developing, Parish flew from Bristol to Los Feliz in California, where he presented E with his instrumental track. When he returned the following morning Parish was surprised to discover that E had already written lyrics for the song, now titled Dog Faced Boy. ‘I knew a woman who had told me about how she had very hairy arms when she was a kid and the school kids would tease her and call her Gorilla Girl,’ documented E in his memoir. ‘She would beg her fundamental Christian mother to shave her arms but her mother refused. Gorilla Girl grew up to be very pretty and had the last laugh. For the song, changed it to a boy with facial hair, like they used to have at circus freak shows, so I could sing it more convincingly in the first person. I got so into the character that I started to grow a long, wild beard. I also got a very short haircut. The combination looked unwittingly like a devout Muslim.’
Impressed with the result, Parish returned home to England to work on new ideas and in January 2001 he arrived back in Los Angeles with several more tracks, which would eventually become What is This Note?, That’s Not Really Funny and World of Shit. Following on from the relatively upbeat nature of Daisies of the Galaxy, E found that his new creative spurt saw him exploring all manner of bizarre and unpleasant subjects, often taking inspiration from those around him. Bus Stop Boxer was a reference to a tale he had been told by a studio engineer who, as a child, was dropped off at random bus stops and ordered by his father to beat up whatever youth was nearby. While Souljacker Part I explored incest another song, Jungle Telegraph, told of a man who, after a drug deal gone wrong ends in murder, escapes from the city and takes refuge in the wild.
‘For some tracks, I wrote and recorded much of the music at home in Bristol. E then added lyrics and other stuff when I came over to L.A. last January,’ said Parish. ‘Some tracks were already finished before I got involved, some we wrote together in his studio. We both work fast. The bulk of the album was written, recorded and mixed in three weeks. Our working day had to contain at least an hour’s croquet, which either myself or Butch would win. We took a day off to attend Jennifer Jason Leigh’s surprise birthday party. I knocked a full glass of wine into her bowl of ornamental wooden carved plantains.’
With Siegel having performed bass on Souljacker Part I, which had been recorded almost a year earlier, E and Butch had surrounded themselves with a new group of musicians. While Parish would perform several different instruments, including a melodica and stylophone, bass would be handled by Koool G Murder, a Los Angeles-based hip hop DJ and guitarist who would co-write the song Fresh Feeling with E. Joe Gore, an alumnus of UCLA who leant his guitar skills to two tracks. Programming on six of the twelve songs that would make their way onto the album were handled by Ryan Boesch, whose experience as an engineer and mixer with the likes of Lit and Foo Fighters would come into practice on several songs.
‘I sequenced twelve of the songs into an album and called it Souljacker,’ stated E. ‘I felt like what we had was what I wanted it to be: a dynamic, loud, vital record that may have appeared to be ‘dark’ but was really about the sanctity of the human spirit. The record company, however, didn’t share my opinion about the record. It was crushing to hear that they weren’t thrilled with it. They had a hard time getting used to my new sound and wanted, like the last time, songs they felt were obvious hits for the radio. I didn’t know what that was anymore, if I ever did. I just wanted it to be good. Besides the record company not being crazy about Souljacker, a lot of our existing fans from the past didn’t seem too crazy about it at first either, based on the Reading Festival experience and some others like it. That’s the thing about fans. If they like one thing you do and you don’t do the same thing again, they can feel let down.’
Now it’s back to its full glory
Souljacker Part I was released through DreamWorks on 10 September 2001, one day before terrorist attacks in New York changed the world forever. In an interview with L.A. Weekly the following year he explained some of the issues that his new facial hair had caused in the post-9/11 climate. ‘After 11 September I got so much extra attention at the airport and I got so tired of the cavity searches,’ he claimed. ‘But now it’s back to its full glory. I like life with the beard; it does change your life in some interesting, subtle ways, like when you go to the bank and the security guard flips the safety off of his gun.’
Reviews for Souljacker were mostly positive when it was released a few days later, with NME saying, ‘Souljacker’s songs rock harder than most of E’s nu-metal enemies. But what’s really terrifying is that E’s just warming up. The next album will be a killer – and probably feature one on backing vocals.’ Drowned in Sound added, ‘This is by no means an essential album, if one could really exist. It is, however, a great addition to the Eels’ already strong back-catalogue and an album you will surely come back to again and again whenever you forget the potency of a cocktail of childhood sweethearts, dog-faced boys and nasty guitars.’
The tragedy that would surround Mark Oliver Everett and the influence that this had on his music was often reflected in the reviews and articles that accompanied the release of each Eels album. Electro-Shock Blues had depicted the singer at his most vulnerable, while Daisies of the Galaxy and shown him as an optimist, but the death and misery that Everett had been subjected to gave the group of a melancholy reputation. ‘It’s a strange jacket to wear because I didn’t ask to be the Tragic Guy,’ he told the Financial Times. ‘I had tragedy thrust upon me. But it was all so long ago. I don’t wake up in the morning, brush my teeth, look in the mirror and say, ‘Good morning, Tragic Guy!’ I tend to look at it in the opposite way: I’m the guy that lived through all that. It’s a really positive thing that I’m still here after all that.’