Bob Evans is one of those enigmatic musicians who maintains a fine line between radio-ready indie pop bliss and warm, mysterious folk for rainy days. He’s a long time staple of the WA music scene, and known for a brimming-with-talent bromance with Josh Pyke. Now, he’s trekking across the country for his Lonesome Highways tour. Jai Price took some time to chat earlier this week.
With each ticket purchased for your Lonesome Highways tour, you’re giving away a six-track EP of unreleased material. What was the incentive behind that?
From my point of view, it’s something that I’ve been wanting to do for ages. I’ve been gathering all these recordings on my computer for so many years now, for ages I’ve wanted to do something with some of them. So finally, the opportunity presented itself, I thought I’d do some giveaways. For me it’s just about getting songs out there and I hope that people who have been following me for a long time will get a bit of a kick out of hearing these demos, and you know, it’s also a bit of an incentive for people to buy tickets as well.
On that note, what are some of the factors that decide whether tracks make or don’t make the cut on an album?
It could be all sorts of reasons. Sometimes, I sort of have a vision firmly set in my mind about the kind of record I’m making. That could be conceptually, or it could be a style or production thing, style of the song. Sometimes a song that I really, really like doesn’t make a record just because it doesn’t fit. I always want my Bob Evans records to have a sort of cohesive, almost conceptual kind of feel to them, so all the songs work together and the production ties everything together. Sometimes a song just doesn’t work within that context, you know?
A lot of the time a song will miss out because of that, and other times it’ll just be a case of- like with my last single, Car Boot Sale, I decided really early on that I just wanted to make a 10-track record. I wanted it to be really concise, and so songs missed out just because there wasn’t room. Another reason too, because maybe a song just has a really similar kind of rhythm or feel to another song and it’s like, you just don’t want two songs that sound really similar to each other on a record as well. It could be any of those reasons.
So what was the concept behind your most recent album, Car Boot Sale?
For Car Boot Sale, it was really about trying to kind of return back to the kind of style of the first couple of Bob records. I wanted to do this almost kind of baroque pop acoustic record, that was very direct, simple, vivid lyrics and just have that sort of, going back to a more organic sound. The record before that- Familiar Stranger– was a real departure, it was big, broad brushstrokes, you know. I was trying to make a cinematic record, really big and far reaching. Car Boot Sale was about bringing it all back home again. So to me, the last two records are quite different to each other.
So when your 2013 album Familiar Stranger released, according to your website, you drove yourself from gig to gig and sold your own merchandise after shows. Can we expect the same sort of deal things time around?
Yeah, this tour that I’m doing now is pretty similar. It’s the first solo tour I’ve done since the one you mentioned earlier- almost four years ago. I’ll be doing all the drive, travelling around myself, with very limited help or company, and yeah, it’s just a real intimate, cross-country sort of tour and like I said, I haven’t done it for a while, so I’m looking forward to it!
Sounds great! What do you enjoy the most about touring?
Man, it’s a funny thing because of the lifestyle of touring. I’ve been doing it pretty much full time since 1996 when I was 18, and I just haven’t stopped since then. So it’s become so an intrinsic part of my life that it just feels like the natural thing to do. I mean, I still enjoy it for other reasons, but I think the main thing about it is it just feels so natural to go out on tour, and it’s such an important part of my life that if I couldn’t do it I think I would go a little bit crazy. I enjoy the solitude of driving, I really like driving for hours on the road and having that solitude. I love going from place to place, I love country pubs, I romanticise the shit out of country pubs, I just love them, man. There’s something about them, I just love pulling up a stool at a country pub and having a beer. I also get a lot of satisfaction from being on stage and performing. When it goes well, it just makes me feel really bloody good. So, it’s just something that is so entwined in my life and how I get happiness, I can’t imagine doing anything else.
You answered this a bit in your last answer, but what made you decide to embark on a solo career?
Well, I suppose, I don’t know if I ever decided to embark on a solo career, it just kind of happened. I started doing solo shows because I was writing all these songs away from Jebediah that just did fit with Jebediah at all, kind of acoustic country-tinged songs. I guess I just had the urge to do a gig, play some of these songs just to see what it was like. The first one went well, so I booked another one and I was just doing that in Perth to nobody for like six years, that’s how long it took for me to think “maybe I’ve got enough songs to make a record”. I certainly didn’t rush into it, that’s for sure. I made the record, it didn’t get played on the radio, nothing much really happened, and then I was writing for my second album, and that’s when I got signed to EMI and the record ended up getting played on the radio. It took off and it was successful, and then all of a sudden I had a solo career.
So, aside from the fact that I was writing songs and going into the studio and making a record, I wasn’t actively pursuing a career, I was just writing songs and making records because that’s what made me happy. But I never expected Suburban Songbook to do as well as it did. I thought it was a good record and I thought it would do okay, but it did a lot better than I expected to. The career thing just kind of happened, you know, like with Jebediah, it just happened to us. We were just doing what we loved and the career thing just happened to us. I think that’s kind of when it comes to art, or the art industry, I think that’s how it happens for a lot of people, you know. You’re creating because that’s what you’re compelled to do and you love it, and then opportunities come along, so you take them because it means that you can keep doing what you love, and soon enough things kind of happen to you, and then one thing leads to another in a way, and then all of a sudden it’s like ‘shit, this is like my job now’.
What inspired your stage name?
Well, this is a very boring story, but basically, on the before I did my first show, my manager called me and said “what are you going to call yourself for this gig you’ve got coming up next week because we’ll put it in the gig guide and street press?”
I knew that I didn’t want to do the gig under my real name, I wanted it to be kind of secret, so I looked down and I was wearing a t-shirt that said ‘Bob Evans’ on it, and I said “I’ll be Bob Evans”, and I’ve just never changed it. So it literally just came from a t-shirt I was wearing; the first thing I saw when I looked around. I think that’s evidence in itself of the fact that I didn’t really set out to have a career, because otherwise I would have put a bit more thought into what I was going to call myself!
Has it grown on you over the years?
It has grown on me. Bob Evans feels like- if different parts of your personality were to have different names, well then that’s kind of what it’s like. Bob Evans is the name of this one part of me, it inhabits my psyche, you know. That’s kind of what it feels like.
So you have a podcast in which you speak with various Australian music industry icons. Do you have any memorable moments from those podcasts that you’d like to share?
Yeah, well I mean, most of the time they’re music industry people, but not always. I spoke to Will Schofield who’s played for the West Coast Eagles AFL team, and the last one I did was with Julia Zemiro. She isn’t a musician herself, but she hosts RocKwiz, the popular long-running music quiz show. I guess the idea is that everyone has some loose connection to music somehow, even if it’s just that they’re a fan.
The one I did with Julia Zemiro was pretty memorable, I’m just such a big fan of her work and she’s so good at what she does, and so funny, she cracks me up so much. So that was a real highlight. The West Coast Eagles one was cool, too, because I’m an Eagles fan, and I got to go down to Subiaco Oval and I got a full tour of all the rooms, I got to see all the facilities. I went out onto the ground and Will and I got to have a bit of a kick-to-kick on Subiaco Oval which was so cool, because that ground will soon be no more, because they’re going to have a new stadium built soon. I used to go and see Eagles games there, my dad used to take me there in the late-80s when they first joined the competition, and I watched the Eagles play there. Getting to go out there and have a kick was pretty awesome, and they presented me with a jumper and stuff with my surname on the back, so it was all pretty cool. The little West Coast Eagles fan, the kid in me, was pretty excited about that.
Yeah, it must have felt pretty surreal!
Yeah, it was just a cool thing that happened, one of those things that happens in life where you just go “wow, this is the best”, so cool.
Sounds like it. How do you strike a balance between work with Jebediah and work as Bob Evans?
I don’t know. I mean how do any of us balance our different roles in life? It’s just a juggling act. I just try to work as hard as I can and I try to make the most of every offer and opportunity that comes along. One day I’m doing Jeb stuff, next I’m doing Bob, I’m also a father of two kids. You know, you just stumble along. It’s a juggling act in that it really does feel like you’ve got all these balls that you’re trying to keep up in the air and you try not to fuck up and drop any of them. That’s really all I try to do. There’s no method to my madness, I just stumble along and try to keep my head above water, really.
Right. Your website bio states that you were looking at giving up on music in 2005, as “Jebediah ran out of steam”. Do you ever wonder what life would be like if you’d followed through on that?
No, not really (laughs)! But it’s true. I thought my run was basically over, you know? In this business, you’re only ever three months away from cleaning toilets. You don’t have job security, or financial security. At that time I just thought “look, this is this great golden run, and it’s coming to an end”, and I figured that I wasn’t going to give away playing music as such, but I definitely thought being able to do it as a full-time job maybe was over. You know, all the other guys in Jebediah had to go out and find jobs at that point in time and I figured that I might have to do the same thing. I just, was very lucky that the Bob Evans thing took off just when I needed it to.
Do I wonder? No, I don’t really spend a lot of time looking back thinking about ‘what if’s, it’s just, as anybody else reading this would know, you can spend as much time as you want thinking about ‘what if’s, but it doesn’t really achieve anything anyway. So yeah, rather than think about what I might have done, I spend more of my time just being really thankful and grateful that fate intervened and I didn’t have to give up on things, you know?
Yeah, sounds like a great outlook to have. So just to finish up, what’s your favourite pasta dish?
(Laughs) my favourite pasta dish? I do love pasta, I have to say, I am a big fan of pasta. Probably something like fettucine with chorizo sausage, tomato, basil, and a bit of lemon, that kind of thing. Something like that.
Sounds like a good combination! That was what I wanted to finish up with. Thanks a lot for your time, it was great to talk to you!
Thank you so much, cheers.