Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit
Sam Evian ETL WEB credit Josh Goleman
Nine Songs
Sam Evian

Talking from his residential studio Flying Cloud, in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York, Sam Evian takes Rich Thane through the songs that have shaped his life and defined his musical DNA.

29 October 2021, 07:00 | Words by Rich Thane

“I always feel bittersweet when I'm putting a record out. Because it's like, I have this imaginary friend that I've been hanging out with for a year now. Just us two, you know, keeping each other company.”

It’s interesting the way New York native Sam Evian describes the relationship between himself and his music - as a friendship - because that’s exactly the way his art is transferred onto the listener. Time To Melt, the third full-length from the multi-instrumentalist and esteemed producer, feels like an old, familiar friend. From the gentle opening bars of first track “Freezee Pops”, Evian’s voice gently offers a welcoming hand over a soft acoustic strum and filmic strings, as he coos softly “you know what you’re in for”.

Initially conceived in the ‘before times’, Time To Melt sees Evian in his most playful and experimental mode yet. Mainly due to the fact that this record is his first full length recorded entirely at Flying Cloud - his home and residential studio - that he shares with his long-term partner and collaborator Hannah Cohen and two-year-old dog Jan. The freedom of not having the shackles of paying hourly studio rates and being tied to someone else’s clock have enabled him to “go down the rabbit hole and stretch out”.

This free and relaxed approach to making music found further inspiration from time spent in the family kitchen – Evian and Cohen both keen home cooks. “Hannah and I do a lot of our listening in the kitchen when we're cooking, and the kitchen sound system became a place that I would test mixes I was working on. Then I started to piece together this rough underlying idea, that in a base way I wanted the record to be a record that people could put on in the kitchen or a general social setting, where you're gathering and exchanging ideas and emotions and not necessarily just sitting there listening to music. So, the first half of the record is kind of sequenced in this way that’s like a DJ set or something. I was imagining that people could put it on and maybe just tune out a little bit, and then maybe circle back on headphones later and go a little deeper with it.”

The past twenty or so months have caused many a musician to face creative block - “I couldn't digest what was happening and turn it into art, that's for sure” - but luckily Evian “finished it mid lockdown, but I think if I hadn't had a framework to be working in, I would have been an absolute mess. Can you imagine starting a brand-new project right at the top of lockdown?! I was having a hard enough time as it is, keeping my head in the right kind of space to be working on art”.

It’s hard to think of a residential recording studio located in the Catskills without immediately thinking of Big Pink - the infamous club house come makeshift studio that Bob Dylan and The Band spent months of their lives hidden away recording hours and hours of material during the late 60s. This stress free approach of making music and becoming “room mates” with the artists in residence which, so far, have included Big Thief, Courtney Marie Andrews and Anna Burch (to name just a handful) has been at the back of Evian’s mind for some time.

“It's always been a plan to make a functional studio for other artists, as well as a space for me to produce records that I'm working on. I guess, what drove me to create this business plan was that I was producing and recording records in the city in a studio, which was great. But a lot of the artists I was working with, their budgets would get tapped out so quickly, eaten up by paying for studio time. It would become stressful and we wouldn't get to do all the things we wanted to do so. I realised that if I was going to make a go at making a living off of this I had to have my own space, where I could have people come in and not worry about an hourly rate.”

Evian’s approach to his home and professional life being a melting pot of collaboration bleeds through into his Nine Songs here. Truncated down massively after spending almost three hours musing over his picks, what follows is a story of a man who lives and breathes music in the best possible sense. These songs help to sketch out his life as producer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. Completely inspired and inspiring - much like Time To Melt - music is made to share with friends, and his Nine Songs choices go some way to defining Evian’s musical DNA.

“Lush Life” by John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman

EVIAN: “I was a saxophonist growing up. I spent a lot of time practicing horn, and I studied it with the intention of becoming a jazz saxophonist. So, I spent a lot of time worshiping John Coltrane and going through his catalogue. This recording has always stuck out to me. It's so tender and beautiful, and the quality of Johnny Hartman's voice is really interesting and rich.

“I think it's just one of the sweetest recordings of Coltrane. His playing, like Miles Davis and a lot of great jazz musicians, it changed all the time. He was going through phases where you could hear he was into different approaches and this one has such a beautiful flush approach. Also, you have the most amazing rhythm section of all time backing him up in Jimmy Garrison, McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones.

“But I think it's the songwriting that really makes me come back to this song. Billy Strayhorn wrote it when he was 17, or so the story goes, and he's throwing down this language... you know, he wrote it in the 1930s! People were writing songs like "On the sunny side of the street / Get your coat and get your hat / Leave your worries at the doorstep" stuff like that. Whilst he was writing "Romance is mush / Stifling those who strive / I'll live a lush life in some small dive". You know... "There I'll be, while I rot with the rest of those whose lives are lonely, too". It's crazy! It's like proto Elliot Smith.

“I feel like I'm always learning from that song. It's such an epic profile of a down and out. A wino in a bar, waiting for life to go by. Lyrically, I guess it's not too dissimilar from a lot of other things that I like. When I first heard this record, when I was like 19 or 20, I think it planted a seed of songwriting in my jazz brain and helped me start to transition my concept of what music was going to be for me.”

BEST FIT: It's such a pivotal age, 19 years old... When you're still finding your musical feet a little bit.

“Yeah... A moody young man! A little frustrated with the saxophone, but still deeply immersed in the jazz world.”

Why the sax? Was that something that was forced upon you as a kid or did you choose to go down that path...

“I chose it. My parents are jazzers. They were gigging musicians when I was a kid. My dad's a guitarist and my mom's a singer. When I was in kindergarten, I had this toy plastic saxophone that I used to carry around with me all day and I really loved it. And so, when it came time to choose an instrument for band in sixth grade, I chose the saxophone and stuck with it until I was 22. And I was deep on the sax (laughs). I actually have a pretty interesting knowledge gap from those years, because I was just studying jazz. So, my mid to late 20s I think I was just filling in a lot of gaps. I was looking for music that I'd missed in that time period.

And then you hit 22 and became a rocker!

“Well, it actually sequences nicely into the next choice, because I hit that age, and I discovered Deerhoof. And then by way of Deerhoof, I discovered Chris Cohen.”

“Monad” by Chris Cohen

“Chris is such an interesting musician, such a sweet, sweet guy and a deep writer. I'd learned about him because he was playing in Deerhoof - a band that really helped me transition out of the jazz space and into rock and roll guitar music. Because it's easy to hear when you put on a Deerhoof record why someone who studied jazz might get off on all those crazy time signatures, fun melodies and arrangements.

“Anyway, Chris was touring with Deerhoof and then he left to do his own thing and started this band called The Curtains. He put out a record called Calamity, which I also really adore. It's got this naïve aesthetic to it, the quality of the recordings and the songwriting. It sounds simple when you first hear it, but then on deeper listens it's not simple at all. He then transitioned into going by his own name and he put out this record Overgrown Path in 2012. A lot of Chris Cohen heads would probably say it's a masterpiece. I put the first song from that record on my Nine Songs list because it's such a great introduction to Chris and that record. He's self-produced and he records everything in his own studio, and I followed his model to be honest, in self-recording and all of that.

“The songwriting is so beautiful. You can hear that he studied the American Songbook. He has this classic understanding of harmony and melody. Everything is arranged so beautifully and then you have this kind of 1970s psychedelic wash happening around it. It's like a Kevin Ayers or Robert Wyatt record or something.

“Lyrically he's so impressionistic and beautiful. When I put this record on, it gives me synesthesia. My senses get all crossed because I spent so much time with it when I was a certain age. I can smell walking down the East River in Brooklyn, listening to it in headphones. I can still picture my life back then when that record is hitting me in such a deep way.”

“Motion Pictures (For Carrie)” by Neil Young

“If you had asked me to pick Nine Songs three years ago, I would have picked a different Neil song. Because there's so much learning to be done and with Neil you can spend much of your life listening to his catalogue! But I would say in this period of my life, On The Beach is really speaking to me.

“I'd always known about this record and dabbled in it. But I got deep on it because of that podcast Cocaine and Rhinestones. The episode I'm talking about in particular is about The Kershaw Brothers. They're from Louisiana, and they grew up singing together, doing the close harmony, Everly Brothers thing. And they have a really storied, and super interesting career. They were super active as youngsters in the 1950s. But when the ‘60s came around, they were a little burnt out and weird.

“But somehow Neil found Rusty Kershaw. And whether or not he was just a mascot, or energy, or something, Rusty produced On The Beach. And it's like, there are these liner notes that the host of the podcast reads in the story that Rusty wrote, Neil had asked Rusty, or someone asked Rusty to write the liner notes for On The Beach and they're incredible. There's one segment where he's like, "Neil was just so sad and I started crawling around on the floor, like an alligator trying to make him happy".

“They were all getting really high, because Rusty's girlfriend was making these weed infused honey drops. She would just cook weed and honey and then she would walk around with a big pot and be spooning this stuff into everyone's mouths. And it had an opium effect on the whole session. And so, when you read stories about it, they were all just high out of their gourds, making this like super fragmented, really strange record!

“It's so bare, and so half-baked in this beautiful way. It's super bleak and warm at the same time. The cool thing about "Motion Pictures" is there's this story where they were just sitting next to each other on a bench and Rusty was like “Roll the tape”. And they just played this song down, there are mistakes and there's just weirdness, but it's so beautiful and the instrumentation is just Neil, someone playing slide and Rusty playing fiddle. It just casts a spell, and so, I've been in this spell.”

“Tears in the Typing Pool” by Broadcast

“I didn't find out about Broadcast until Trish (Keenan) died of pneumonia in 2011. I loved the production and I love that kind of Stereolab UK vibe that they embraced. You have this jazz drummer playing guitar music and I think the guys that were doing the production were doing such cool things on early digital recording gear you know, and making it sound so warm and timeless.

“And so, for me, just getting into production and learning how to record, it was inspiring to hear the world that they created - and Trish's voice is just so haunting, beautiful and special. This song "Tears In The Typing Pool" - I think it rewrote a lot of my musical DNA just by me living in that song for that while.”

“Long, Long, Long” by The Beatles

BEST FIT: Can you pinpoint the moment that The Beatles first appeared in your life?

EVIAN: “Absolutely, yeah! It was Help! that I had in second grade that I got to play on my boombox and I was obsessed. My dad was a big Beatles fan, he saw them at Shea Stadium. The Beatles were there with me my whole childhood. I grew up hearing stories about them from my parents and we would learn Beatles songs together and hang out and listen to them. And so, whenever I go home, I always pick up the guitar and my dad and I just strum through whatever song we can remember. But I chose "Long, Long, Long" because that's a George song. And I love George, he's my favourite one (laughs).

I was gonna say, you definitely strike me as a George guy versus any of the other Beatles. I think you can hear that in a lot of your guitar playing. Did you know George based the chord sequence of this tune on Bob Dylan's "Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands"?

“That is cool. And that totally makes sense. I can hear that... I didn't know that though.”

And also, further to that, one thing that I love that kind of brings it back to yourself is that production wise on this track, he was massively influenced by The Band's Music From Big Pink. Which is cool because (Big Pink) is literally on your back yard...

“That makes sense too and you can kind of hear that. Yeah, it's right out there somewhere (laughs). I'm going to take you there when you come visit. I think The White Album has kind of cursed me in a way, because I did become devout with it and I think it sculpted my view of what a record could be maybe in too extreme of a way. I feel like I have trouble getting to a place with a record where it all sounds consistent, that's always a goal of mine, and I feel like I've never hit it. And with The White Album, The Beatles are defining what an eclectic record is. Every song is so different and out there and experimental.”

“Irene” by Caetano Veloso

EVIAN: “This was my gateway into Caetano’s catalogue and Brazilian / Tropicalia music in general. Hannah and I listen pretty much exclusively to this kind of music these days. This song is such a wonderful introduction to the music that was happening in Brazil in the 1960s, just in terms of the studio arrangements and the vocal, and the tenderness of it all.

“A lot of people would say Portuguese is the most beautiful language. It lends itself so well to melody; it's so soft and lush and cosy sounding.”

BEST FIT: You can definitely hear the influence it’s had on Time To Melt.

“Absolutely, I really adore it. There's just so much depth. It's so cool, because you have these big studio sounds, the same thing they were doing in America in the ‘60s, like in Nashville. They're using orchestras and lots of studio musicians in the room playing lots of different parts and having an arranger and a producer, but they were subverting it in the coolest way. They just turned everything upside down. And in the most magical, experimental way, but it still sounds like pop music and it was so successful.

“I also just love the way they use fuzz guitars. You can hear a fuzz guitar playing the same line as a saxophone and it's like, 'Oh, yeah, they use a fuzz guitar because it was like an early synthesizer for horns' and not because it was a big Jimi Hendrix-esque solo. They used all these cool studio tricks that we can all still learn from. It's such a rich world, and we're still so ignorant and I need to discover more, but it's been a fun journey so far.”

“Amelia” by Joni Mitchell

“So, I mentioned that my parents are jazz musicians. My mom always loved Joni and all of her records, but I think they really loved the later side of Joni, when she started playing with Jaco Pastorius and Pat Metheny and employing these jazz fusion musicians to back her up. And so, the first Joni record I heard and got into was this record Hejira. I spent so long existing with Joni in that way and then later I got into Blue, Court and Spark and the classic Joni stuff that everybody writes books about. But I still always come back to Hejira.

"Like, what do you say about Joni?! She's like Miles Davis. She changes every with record and she doesn't repeat herself and she's constantly exploring. Her character is so playful and creative and it's like she's showing us what it means to be an artist, like ‘Fuck everything else’, you know? And I just love that about her. She can define a genre and then completely abandon it.”

“If You Want Me to Stay” by Sly & The Family Stone

BEST FIT: It feels like arguably, out of all the tunes that you've picked, this feels like it could be the blueprint for Time To Melt, in terms of how it makes you feel when you listen to it.

EVIAN: “I would say that is probably accurate, or maybe just Sly Stone in general (laughs). I listened to a lot of Sly and I will never grow tired of his records. I had a hard time choosing which song to include and I thought about including a couple, but I picked this one off the album Fresh because it was what brought me into Sly's world I think.

“He is an amazing blueprint for anyone who is trying to produce their own music. Sly is the man. "Hot Fun In The Summertime" was actually the first Sly Stone song I ever heard back in high school, then I didn't circle back to him until I was in my mid 20s and started getting into his real studio work.”

“Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on my Shoulder)” by The Beach Boys

BEST FIT: Side A of Pet Sounds - perhaps the most perfect opening side of any record of all time...?!

EVIAN: “It might be one of the best sequenced records of all time. It's a lesson on how to sequence a record, for sure.”

“The way this ties in with my life is that this was the first physical media that I owned. It was on tape, I had it on my Walkman and I used to just blast it when I was in second grade. I would listen to it on the bus on the way to school and I would listen to it on the way home - any spare moment I had it would be with Pet Sounds. There was a little volume roller on the side, it would be on 10 and my mom would be like ‘You have to turn it down, you're doing damage’, but I couldn't stop. It was so rich, and I would have it so fucking loud all the time! I used to just walk around all day with until the tape literally disintegrated.

“The story is so compelling of the band, and Brian and his life; quitting the touring business and going to the studio to do this record, blowing everyone's mind and reinventing so many things. I mean, this song, just from a musical perspective, harmonically is maybe the most fascinating to me. It's like opera, like Wagner, or something. Or, it also sounds like Beethoven to me, at certain times Brian was probably on that tip, you know?

100%. And also I think Pet Sounds is so in engrained into our DNA, because of “God Only Knows” and “Wouldn't It Be Nice”. It's like the Beatles catalogue. Those songs are just part of our being, they're in our blood. But when you really dive deep into Pet Sounds it's crazy - it was made in 1966! To have that studio trickery and that vision at that time is just unreal to think about.

“I remember hearing a story about Brian. He was driving somewhere and “Strawberry Fields Forever” came on the radio, and he had a total meltdown. He had to pull off the road and he just started screaming. Because, you know obviously, he was competing with them, but then he did Pet Sounds and it's like...!

I know! That was the thing, it was like a constant game of ping pong. You have Pet Sounds, and then The Beatles with Revolver, and then Dylan threw Blonde on Blonde into the mix and everyone's just trying to outdo each other! They all just completely inspiring one another. It must have been such an incredible time to be alive. Everything was unchartered and new. And now we spend our entire lives looking back and comparing everything to what's gone before.

“Yep, I try not to dwell on it too much but I'm pretty jealous! You could argue that it's probably one of the best times to be alive as a human.”

“Oh, the last Beach Boys memory I have. I tried to move to LA once, did I tell you that? When I was 21, I tried to move to LA and I got an internship for Blue Microphones. It was before the New York music scene had moved to LA and LA was still kind of a weird town of struggling actors and beat musicians like J Dilla.

"Anyway, it was a weird time in LA is my point, it's hard to meet people and it is hard to go out and not drive home super drunk because there was no Uber yet, it was quite lonely. I lived in this really weird building in West Hollywood and I would drive to the top of the parking garage. You could see the LA skyline and the hills at night, and I would sometimes be on acid or whatever, and sit in my car and listen to Pet Sounds. It was always this crazy envelope that truly comforted me in a really strange time in my life.”

Time to Melt is out now via Fat Possum
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