Sam Evian on “Plunge” | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Tuesday, May 21st, 2024  

Sam Evian on “Plunge”

In the Empathy Space

Apr 24, 2024 Web Exclusive Photography by CJ Harvey Bookmark and Share


Sitting amongst all his gear in what used to be a bare barn, Sam Evian is showing Under the Radar Flying Cloud Studios. Evian and his partner, Hannah Cohen, started building the recording studio (near Woodstock, NY) over four years ago after buying property in the Catskill Mountains. Moving away from Brooklyn gave Evian a new lease on life, and more space for his creative recording endeavors.

“It’s nice to stretch out and not have to worry about making noise at odd hours,” says Evian, 35, who was born in Syracuse, NY. “‘I’m not your average city slicker, coming to drive up the real estate costs. I hit a wall in the city because it is tough to find a space that you can really own.”

Evian’s fourth album, Plunge, came out on March 22, but it seems as if most of his recent focus is going into music that he records for other people. Artists from all over come to his plot on Bush Kill Creek: Blonde Redhead for their latest LP, Sit Down for Dinner; Palehound for Eye of the Bat; Helena Deland for Goodnight Summerland; Big Thief for Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You; Katie Von Schleicher; Cass McCombs for Tip of the Sphere; Anna Burch for If You’re Dreaming; Widowspeak for Plum; and, of course, he just finished Cohen’s new album.

The recording process is more manic and chaotic when Evian is tracking his own music, but every album he works on is skin that he grew and shed. “For someone else, I treat the studio like a hospitality business,” says Evian. “It’s 90-percent hospitality, 10-percent fixing broken stuff. I leave no stone unturned as far as making people happy and comfortable. It translates into so many aspects of the work—there’s bedside manner, trying to be supportive, neutral and creative at any given moment when someone is trying to get through a song, trying to bare their soul. It’s almost like being a therapist. In that way, it’s almost a version of myself, but when it’s just my record, I can put that aside.”

Evian is always trying his best, continually considering his peers and relationships. “Every album is a version of me, an imprint of me, a document of techniques and experimentation,” he says. “But I’m not super repetitive, I try to keep it interesting, fun and unique.”

For Plunge, Evian didn’t play much guitar at first, lending the duty out to others while he played mostly bass. He didn’t want replication of ideas, desiring his songs to be lifted up by others. He didn’t over-edit his vocals, he let loose more this time, projecting more. He’s getting older, his voice is changing, and he’s singing louder.

Big Thief’s Adrianne Lenker, who Evian considers a sibling, pushed him to sing live to tape. In a way, Lenker blessed the Plunge session (hear her solo on “Why Does It Take So Long”), which happened after a giant, cathartic New Year’s Eve party as 2022 became 2023. “The studio was finished, I phoned everyone to come through and celebrate,” says Evian. “Adrianne is sweet, tender, and has an amazing ethic in terms of recording practice. She lived with us for most of summer 2020 after doing the Big Thief record. She’s her own incomparable self.”

Also consecrating Plunge was El Kempner of Palehound. Evian met Kempner and Lenker around the same time (2013), saying, “I was always trying to be an older brother, and our relationship has always been like that. Palehound showed up on the scene at a wonderful time when you could see or play a show every other night [in Brooklyn]. Palehound was doing DIY hard, and they were so young; I was in awe of them.” Working on Eye of the Bat brought the loyalty full circle.

As usual, fantastic music of all facets continues to be produced, and Evian has become a steady hand. “When you build a studio space, you never know who is going to crawl in and out of the woodwork,” he says. “We’re making a document, and if the document is captured in one moment of three minutes, you get pure essence—it can be really special to hear it. The energy translates, you can tell when the bass and drums were played at the same time—they have this locked-in momentum. And you can tell when a vocal is wild and scrappy.”

Evian mentions Sly and the Family Stone’s There’s a Riot Goin On as an example of live recording, saying, “you can hear [Sly Stone] punching in and out, the bleed shooting up—he’s sitting in a room with the vocal mic as the band plays. That’s the little indication of being captured in a special moment.” Evian tries to push the music into a raw, vulnerable space, where the artist might be scared, “but excited to put the take down. I hope it translates into a worthy listening experience.”

As far as a song finding itself during production, it all depends on where it’s being played, who is playing it, and when it is being played. “It can happen when you put it down, or when you improvise, or when it gets tumbled around, being put down and picked up, again, changing the key,” Evian says. “For me, the best songs are the ones that I wrote within a span of five minutes.”

One of Evian’s favorite podcasts is A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs. Host Andrew Hickey looks at 500 songs that shaped history between 1938 and 1999, and Evian suggests the “Hey Joe” episode. “Jimi Hendrix popularized that song, but it existed in many versions before that,” he says; the podcast makes Evian think hard about the life of a song. “I want to see a song go through different phases, get passed around. In the ’50s and ’60s, it was commonplace for songs to be covered, giving it a chance at another life. Hickey goes on different tangents, speaking at length of history and context. It’s a full 360.”

The hallmark of Flying Cloud Studios is the 1974 MCI 16-track console from Florida that was rebuilt. It has the classic American sound, traditional warmth. We ask about Evian’s guitars, but he says he is “not too picky.” Fender sent him a cheap bass five years ago, and he used it for Plunge. He has a collection of keyboards and other borrowed equipment accumulated over the years. “I love instruments with a soul, and soul is not expensive,” he says.

Evian loves The Beatles, and when asked about the influence on his music, he laughs. “They’re my wholly mecca, I grew up with The Beatles, and jazz,” he says. “My dad and I would kick around Beatles tunes, and Help! was the first LP I ever bought; the Red and Blue collections, too. We have a history. I have never grown tired of their catalog—it’s rich, beautiful and full of surprises and creativity.”

Plunge leans into a Paul McCartney space of early jazz influence, which the harmonic perspective is defined by. Evian’s father is a jazz guitarist, and his mother was a jazz singer; his parents were gigging when he was growing up. “As soon as I stopped crying and being an uncontrollable baby, I would be at their gigs,” Evian says. “I started playing saxophone in sixth grade, and when I could carry a tune, I played with my parents. We kind of had a family band going, which was a cool way to grow up and learn.”

Evian’s music is a reflection of his environment, and the territory around his property is optimum plunging territory. The creek is waste-high, and that’s Evian’s spot. Plunge or any other of his recent engineering projects would not have been made in a city.

“I have a fear of losing joy in the creativity of the work that I do, and I am not in danger of that now, but burnout is real,” Evian says. “There’s no weekends, no limit in what I will do to make this stuff happen. The studio is an empathy space. We say truths, act gracious, and help each other flourish. I’ve learned so much about humanity here…like I said, kinda like being a therapist. I am trying to get people to sing from the heart. They have to be comfortable and happy to do it.”

www.samevian.com

Sam Evian 2024 North American Tour Dates:

4/24: Montreal, QC - Le Ritz PDB
4/25: Boston, MA - Brighton Music Hall
4/26: New York, NY - Music Hall of Williamsburg
4/27: Washington, D.C. - The Atlantis
4/28: Philadelphia, PA - Johnny Brenda’s
4/30: Toronto, ON - TBD
5/2: Chicago, IL - Lincoln Hall
5/3: Milwaukee, WI - Vivarium
5/4: Minneapolis, MN - 7th Street Entry
5/5: Davenport, IA - Raccoon Motel
5/7: Denver, CO - Globe Hall
5/9: Salt Lake City, UT - Urban Lounge
5/10: Boise, ID - Neurolux
5/11: Portland, OR - Wonder Ballroom
5/13: Seattle, WA - Madame Lou’s
5/15: San Francisco, CA - The Chapel
5/17: Los Angeles, CA - Lodge Room
5/18: Los Angeles, CA - Lodge Room
5/21: Austin, TX - Antone’s
5/22: Denton, TX - Rubber Gloves
5/24: Nashville, TN - The Blue Room
5/25: Asheville, NC - Eulogy
5/26: Carrboro, NC - Cat’s Cradle

* All U.S. dates with Hannah Cohen as support

Read our The End interview with Evian from 2021.

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