By Tony Porreco
This past Tuesday, Northern Virginia songwriter Derek Evry released his new EP Down to the Wire. By all indications, there’s a lot going through his head from the his chameleonic nature of the new release. The record features an impressive stylistic palate with tracks ranging from classic, straight ahead pop punk, Buddy Holly era protorock, pop metal and even a languid ballad approaching hotel lobby jazz. Combine this with a social media personality that can be characterized as “absolutely bananas”, and you’ve got a character study that would pique the interest of a veteran psychotherapist who’s heard it all before.
We sat down with Evry to discuss a number of different topics, including the making of Down to the Wire, his long lasting bromance with drummer Ben Tufts, and his vision for the DC music scene. Read the full interview after the jump.
You put a lot of time into developing a pretty funny and off the wall social media presence. That’s especially the case for your Vines. This personality is way more bizarre and twisted than the sentiments in your music, which are way more straightforward. What are your thoughts on that?
Well, I kind of break myself up into different people. In a way, you could call it multiple personalities but I’ve never been diagnosed with anything, but who knows. But at the same time I do have all of those feelings and those personas constantly and I kind of find that having various outlets lets me feel normal, if you will. I can be a little more grounded in reality if I can channel that energy somewhere, and I find that Vine is a great place for when I have a weird idea and it’s kinda kooky and I can get it out in 6 seconds, or Twitter. It’s kind of the same thing, just tweet a funny thing or a fucked up thing, or you know, just whatever I’m thinking and it doesn’t really matter because it’s a superficial thing, it’s the internet, it’s silly, who cares.
But the music I treat more like a time capsule, it’s what I’m thinking or feeling at the time. That’s where I put the ideas from my non-crazy self.
Ideas that maybe that don’t fit within the playpen of your music?
Yeah, you could say that. I feel like I can connect with more people on a serious level than on a comedy level. I think in my music, that’s the one place where I want to be taken seriously.
Talk to me about the recording of your new EP, Down to the Wire.
It took about 9 months. We started it around January or February of last year, trying to figure out what was going to go on the record and we had decided that we really didn’t have enough songs to try to do a full length.
Were there a handful more than the 6?
Oh yeah. We actually tracked 10 initially, but I didn’t feel like some of them were strong enough to put on a full length, and that’s kind of my biggest problem with full length albums. Yeah, there’s 4 or 5 songs that are really, really good and then the rest of it, “Skip, skip, skip.” And I don’t want to do that. I’d rather take a cue from a lot of the punk bands that I’m fond of where you just put out an EP or put out a single and as long as it’s good, there’s no reason why everything you do has to be like, “Well, here’s the full length! At that point you’re just cranking out a product, but are the songs good? And I think all 6 of these songs are really good. They’re all different.
You’re right, they are very different.
But I kind of like that. So this sort of turned into, almost from the beginning, more of a showcase of what we can do and how my songwriting is and everything that we’re capable of.
Anyway, we started recording with our friend and guitarist Aaron Mason who did the last record, and his studio is called Sound Masonry Recording. He’s based out of Ashburn. And we tracked drums at our friends’ Gus and Mojdeh’s, who own Epicure Café. And they also own this space out in Ashburn, it’s basically like a warehouse, and a year ago, it was pretty empty, it was huge, and we thought a really big room would be a really cool place to track drums, so we contacted them and asked if we could use their space. They love supporting music and they said, “Have fun. Go do whatever.”
So we tracked drums in this huge room and it was great. Everything else we did at Aaron’s house, bass, vocals, guitar, all that stuff.
What took the longest time was mixing. We started mixing in December, but then Ben [Tufts, drummer] and I had to leave for our tour with Miss Shevaughn and Yuma Wray, who I was playing bass for.
We wound up not finishing it before we left for tour, so we listened to a lot of mixes on the road and sending back broken emails and weird notes, and over the course of 3 months, we finished mixing it from the road, and by we, I mean Aaron. He did all of the work and we just said, “No. Yes. Do this.”
But then sometime around early May, we got it to where it sounded good and I said, “We have a deadline. We’ve got to get this out.” And a little before we left for tour is kind of when I decided to call this album Down to the Wire because it’s always about finding a message or a meaning in naming a record, and I thought, “Fuck it. All records are time capsules. This is a time capsule, and this one happened to be down to the wire.
There’s some very cool album art for this release. Who’s responsible for that?
That was actually all my friend Trip, this guy Elwood Madison. He’s an amazing artist. He used to work at IOTA Club and Café a few years ago. I just think that him and I work really well together, and we kind of get each other visually.
Where’d the cartoon snake come from?
I think initially there was a photo that he wanted to use of an old, run down building and there was a hole in the wall, and I think he drew the snake coming out of the hole through the wall, and I think he was looking for some type of a creature or some type of a thing that could make that hole and then I said, “I like the snake, let’s lose the picture” and just went from there.
What do you want to accomplish with this EP?
I would love to be able to play music full time. And I mean around the clock where all I have to do is wake up and play a show. I’m not there yet, but I’d like to be. So I don’t know, maybe there’s a really good chance that someone will hear it and like one song on it enough to check out some of my other stuff and want me to play in their town. If there’s enough need for that, I will.
I don’t think there’s really a finish line. In a business sense, this is just another product that I’m launching. In a musical sense, it’s just where I’m at. And on a personal level, this is everything that I love to do shoved into this easy package that I’m going to sell for $5.00.
One standout track for me is ‘Luck and Desire’. Is there a story behind that one?
That’s a song that I’ve been trying to release for years.
Since 2005. I just keep recording it and I kept trying to put it out but it never came out, whether it was because I was playing it with a band that breaks up and we don’t get the record finished or I just don’t feel like doing it. And I remember I was playing Ben [Tufts] some older stuff that I’d written and hadn’t done anything with when we were writing and he really liked that song, and he said, “Let’s just do something with it” and then we just kind of added a bridge and it made it different enough for me to feel like it had some new life.
It’s also a duet with Ryan Walker of The Beanstalk Library. What prompted that?
I really couldn’t imagine doing it the way that it originally was where it’s just me the whole time. That didn’t feel right. So making it a duet with Ryan just kind of happened out of necessity. We’d been pretty good friends for years now, but especially recently, it’s just been getting really, really tight. And I feel like him and I think a lot in the same ways as far as what we want to see in the local music scene.
When you say that you both think alike with respects to what you’d hope the DC music scene to be, what do you mean by that?
As of right now, we’re both of the opinion that there’s a lot of music happening that not a lot of people know about or that everyone should know about, and him and I have tried to do things in various capacities to shed some light on the local scene, and one of the things I’ve done is that I’ve put out a series of compilation albums —
Music Still Happens Here.
Right. We try to feature a lot of our friends, feature a lot of musicians we really, really like. We’re always trying to find new music, new bands, new songwriters. You know, the majority of the people that are playing in this area are so good and every time we go see them, the audience has consisted of mostly musicians, and I feel like, well, porn stars aren’t watching porn – I mean, they are, but they’re not the only people. Movie stars aren’t the only ones that go see movies. Why should musicians be the only people watching bands? I don’t understand why no one is willing to spend $5 or $10 to go see 3 or 4 amazing artists that live in their fucking backyard. What’s the problem? Why aren’t people doing that? Why not work on each others’ stuff? Why not perform with each other? Why not just do everything together?
That’s a phrase that’s been popping up a lot recently in the DC music scene.
“Do It Together”. It’s a slogan Paperhaus’ Alex Tebeleff’s been using to bring new levels of action and collaboration between DC musicians in a column he writes for Brightest Young Things.
Really? That’s cool because it’s true! Why not just do everything together? The more people that take action, the more people will take notice. If there’s one dude on stage with a guitar, that’s just one dude you can ignore. If there’s two people on stage, maybe you’ve gotta look. Three or four, who knows what will happen.
A different topic: How long have you and drummer Ben Tufts have been playing together?
Ben and I started playing together probably in 2011.
What’s your relationship like?
Well, there’s a lot of pictures floating around on the internet, especially on our Facebook pages of Ben and I doing cute, romantic things together: Sharing ice cream or holding hands or walking down the beach.
And we have gotten that close because we’ve been playing music together for almost 4 years, and though that’s not a very long time – I’ve been in relationships that are longer than that where we weren’t even that close – him and I have just sort of clicked musically. I met him probably in 2006. I used to work at this music venue in Fairfax called TT Reynolds that closed down in 2008 or so. But I had been going there for years, playing their open mic and hanging out, and then I started working there and then one thing led to another and him and I knew each other just because we both played music, and he was always there playing in bands. We weren’t complete strangers; we had a little bit of a rapport.
But it just totally clicked. Everything that I wanted, he was doing. Everywhere that I wanted him to go, he knew exactly that was, and he was already there.
And when I listen to him play with other people, I hear his playing: He definitely has a voice, I can tell when it’s him. I just can. There’s something about that where you can just listen to a fill and go, “Yeah, that’s John Bonham” or “That’s Tre Cool.” I can do that with Ben, and I can’t do that with a lot of other musicians.
What’s next for you in the immediate term?
I know that I’m going to be working on another Music Still Happens Here comp in July and then probably put it out in September or October. And then I’m definitely going to be doing a lot of playing. I’ve got to push this record, but not as hard as the last one. I’d rather just keep writing and put out something else. And what I really want to do involves the fact that I have a lot of chill songs that I don’t normally play and when I do play chill stuff, it’s usually just me solo so I really want to do an acoustic, live thing.
When you say chill stuff, do you mean kind of like ‘Everlasting’, the last song on Down to the Wire?
Kind of. I want to put out a live acoustic album. I want to do a live record, but I don’t want it to be my band playing my songs with a board mix and a couple of room mics, because that just sounds like a less produced record with a lot of flat notes.
Something that feels a little more personal?
Yeah, a lot more personal. And get a lot of my songwriter friends up there have them put a little different spin on my songs and put their own influence on it, maybe make it a whole string of duets, who knows? I’ve got all kinds of weird ideas. But above all, I really want to focus on the local community over the next year before I even attempt to track another record.
That’s very selfless of you.
I think so.
I don’t know if it’s selfless, I just feel like it has to be done. When I was growing up playing music in high school, there was no sense of community. There was no sense of scene. Now I feel like locally, the scene is taking a totally different direction. There are people that actively go out and see shows and I feel like there should be more of them. I really want to get more eyes on what’s happening around here.
I like that a lot.