Sam Evian’s round, warm sounds recalling Americana and Neo-Psychedelia induce a sense of nostalgia for the authenticity of production in the analog domain. Meticulous mixing techniques evoke a sense of homesickness; each song asks the listener to return home.
"Don't know what they do to me, but I know I've got a soul to come home to," he sings on "Sleep Easy," the first track of Premium, his first full-length album released in 2016 by Saddle Creek Records. The nine tracks detail the purity, softness, and confusion of moments spent alone. Evian's gentle voice and tender cadence guide listeners through the divine sonic landscape he creates with his music. Through his lyrics, Evian extends an invitation to his most intimate, personal musings.
Along with writing and recording his own music, Evian works as a producer at Figure 8 Studios in Brooklyn. A couple of months ago, he released Need You, a collaborative EP with fellow musician Chris Cohen recorded in Cohen's Los Angeles home studio over the span of five days.
by Natalie Soler
RARE CANDY: You’ve spent a lot of time on both sides of the recording booth, as both a producer at Figure 8 and an artist yourself. How have both of these experiences contributed to your development as a musician?
SAM EVIAN: Every time I sit down either to record people or to be recorded, it’s like practice, you know? I never repeat myself in the studio, or, at least I try not to. I make selective choices; I’ll mic a drum set differently, or use a different reverb on something every time. I constantly want to try and do something new and exciting that I can learn from. Doing that consistently over the last couple of years has given me enough confidence to embrace the mistakes that I make and try to curve them into something artistic. Often, mistakes are what make recordings special. You’ll hear that weird note in a chorus of a song and say, “What is that?”, and that’s what you remember about some songs. Embracing the inevitable struggle and turning it into an advantage has been what I’ve taken away from working in the studio and recording myself.
RC: How would you describe the environment at Figure 8?
SE: It’s extremely loving. It’s not what you would think of when you think of a typical recording studio. Sometimes they can be clinical, overly masculine, or filled with choices driven by egos that surround every corner of the studio. Figure 8 is kind of the opposite of that; it’s a haven for sensitive people to record music.
RC: Can you describe the experience of transitioning from writing for your band, Celestial Shore, to writing for your solo project?
SE: Celestial Shore was super fun to write for. I was really young, pretty new at the guitar, and excited about making cool, weird music with my friends.
RC: As most young musicians are.
SE: Yeah, and it was a really honest thing in that I was young and had just moved to New York. It was loud and unreasonable in so many ways—Celestial Shore is kind of impossible as a band.
RC: So the band is done?
SE: No, we actually just made a new record, but we toured a lot. Through that, I learned that I like playing quieter and having music feel watery, fluid, and less sporadic. The "Evian" content is easy for me to sing along to and on top of. I try to prioritize the melody more than anything else in the band. I want the melody to be strong and honest. Even a simple thing like being able to hear myself sing on stage is 1000% different than Celestial Shore.
RC: So you wouldn’t be able to hear yourself sing on stage at all with Celestial Shore?
SE: No way, never. (Laughs)
RC: What are the best and worst parts of living in Brooklyn? What was it like transitioning from growing up in North Carolina to living in New York City?
SE: The best parts are the fact that people that move here are, despite the odds, still heavily interested in making art and music and living interesting, noble lives involving bettering themselves. There’s a lot of smart people here doing that, even though New York is tremendously expensive and difficult, and it took me a long time to even have a bed to sleep in; I definitely paid the New York dues in an exciting, fun way. When I look back on it, it’s hilarious to think what it took to get me to the modest level of existence that I’m at.
RC: Where were you sleeping, if not in a bed?
SE: Practice spaces, couches, floors, weird lofts in deep Bushwick, just what everybody does when they’re twenty-one in New York and move here without a budget. I moved here with a thousand dollars and thought to myself, “this is fine,” and that was not enough.
RC: You worked your way up.
SE: I just built myself a desk for the first time ever.
RC: Was it from IKEA?
SE: I actually found a piece of wood on the street and literally made it into a big desk. It’s such a simple thing, having a good, clean desk to work at. I’m twenty-eight and I just got that, so I feel really excited about it and can appreciate that simple thing. In New York, you appreciate what you have; you appreciate the people that surround you, the opportunities you’re given to do what you love, and you suffer through the rest.
As for the transition, my situation was a little weird, since my parents are Yankees and I was born in upstate New York around Syracuse. The company my dad worked for moved to New Bern, North Carolina, a tiny town. It was shocking, especially in terms of the climate and culture. There were a lot of things to contend with. Taxes are pretty low in North Carolina, so the education isn’t that great in smaller towns. I went from being in New York state with access to new learning materials to having fifteen-year-old textbooks in fourth grade. That was a while ago when I was a kid, so I’m sure it has changed a little bit now. I couldn’t wait to leave for the longest time, but now that I’m gone I do miss the beauty of it. I grew up by the water; it’s green, it’s blue, and it’s gorgeous. The natural beauty is astounding, the culture is interesting, and I learned a lot about seeing racism and misogyny firsthand hidden under Southern charm.
RC: From what I know from people that live there, it seems that there are small, liberal pockets in North Carolina. There’s Raleigh, which is kind of liberal, and Asheville of course…
SE: Absolutely, Raleigh is the capital and there are three or more universities located there. You have Duke, NC State, and Chapel Hill all in that little zone, and there’s a lot of infrastructure there with startups, tech, banking, and other stuff. Smart people are moving there, so there is a small liberal enclave. Where I’m from in the Southern Outer Banks, called “Down East,” is out in the sticks and pretty gorgeous. It’s really out there though. I couldn’t wait to be gone. Growing up, I wasn’t into sports, and I played the saxophone. That’s how I got out of North Carolina. When I was sixteen, I went to this amazing place called the North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem. It was an amazing opportunity and I met Austin, my drummer, there—we were roommates. I’m so thankful for that experience. It changed my life.
RC: How did you get about to working with Cass McCombs? What’s it like to be in the studio with him?
SE: I met Cass through Dan Lead, who plays pedal steel in Cass’s band. I asked Dan to work on a record I was producing for Cassandra Jenkins. Dan played pedal steel on that record, and we became great friends. I met Cass at a show that Dan was playing at, and I went to this show with Shazad Ismaily, the owner of Figure 8. Shazad, in his charming, enigmatic way, approached Cass and asked him to come to the studio. It wasn’t in a weird way, he expressed loving his music in a very casual way. There’s something charming about Shazad in the way that he conducts his day to day interactions with people—he’s really honest, and you can tell that he’s coming from a good place. Cass thought it sounded fun and came over one night to do a song with me. It was super low key. It’s actually the last song on his record, titled “I’m a Shoe.” I didn’t think he was going to put it on the record. I thought we were just hanging out and doing a low key recording, so I suggested that since it was just for fun, we would use no headphones or isolation and everybody would be in the same room and we’ll do it all live, and just listen to each other and mix ourselves and do it like they did back in the day. So, we did that, and I made a rough mix that night, and it sounded pretty swampy, like a thick recording, whereas the rest of the record is very clean and crisp. Cass told me a couple of months later that he would put it on the record and that he really liked the rough mix I did that night, and now it’s on the record. I was a little embarrassed at first, since I didn’t spend time mixing it. It was a very casual thing, but now I think it’s cool. Cass is a really sweet, good guy who makes amazing music. He’s one of my favorite songwriters in the world. His songs are so compelling.
RC: What do you want listeners’ biggest takeaways to be from forthcoming EP Need You?
SE: I would hope that they feel comfortable listening to this music. I’ve always made music to give myself goosebumps—not that I give myself goosebumps, but when I produce other people or hear an interesting song on a record, I’ll either cry or have goosebumps. I really want that for other people, because it’s a beautiful experience to be moved by a sound and remember that you’re human and have emotions. You could be walking down the street, but in your head you’re somewhere else listening to something beautiful. I would love for people to have a slice of that. It’s kind of lofty, but it’s crazy for music to be that way for so many people, no matter what the music is. I love that you can never tell what anyone’s listening to until you ask them.
RC: There’s a very different outward and inward representation of everyone sonically.
SE: Absolutely, and I just want to make good tunes for people to have experiences with. It’s so rewarding to put out a record and see it have a life of its own beyond your control. My last record that I put out on Saddle Creek wasn’t huge or anything but I do feel that it’s out there in the world. Every now and then someone will write to me saying, “Hey, I was riding my bike and this song came on and I started crying. This song really hit me.” It’s so cool that someone had that fragile moment with a song and themselves beyond my control or doing. I’m looking forward to learning more about how a little body of work can grow and have its own existence in the world.
LISTEN HERE: http://www.samevian.com