Profile: James & Evander
The moment I heard James & Evander for the first time, I knew I’d stumbled upon something great. Synth pop has never been as prevalent as it is right now, but J&E have carved their own dreamy niche directly into it. They recently released their debut LP, Bummer Pop last week on Velvet Blue Music and again left us something that took our breath away. So what motivates these two to make such brilliant music? Jesus? Satan? Hard drugs and alcohol? Cats? We may never know… unless we ask them. I sat down with James & Evander to discuss who they were and what they were doing in my living room…
Violent Success: Even though Bummer Pop is your first full-length, it’s not our first impression of you. How long have you been working on it and how does it differ from your EPs?
James & Evander: The biggest difference on Bummer Pop is that all but one of the songs has our vocals on them. When we started making music together (over five years ago now), we were solely an instrumental outfit, but eventually we decided to start trying to add our voice to the songs we were making. Really, it was a matter of building up enough confidence and a lot of trial and error. We are constantly working on music, so we’ve always got 20 to 30 songs kind of floating around in different stages, some being just loops and raw ideas, and some much more fleshed out. Towards the end of last year we sat down and decided which of these songs we wanted to finish for the album and from basically December to February, we did nothing but work on the record—writing lyrics, coming up with riff and melodies, and just figuring out what the hell to do with all this music! A few of these songs were really really old, and we decided to resurrect them for the album. One in particular, “What Else Is New?”, we started while in college, during the sessions that eventually became The Awkward Turtle EP (our first record). It took a long time to get that one right, but once we found a drummer who could play with the song like we had heard it in our heads, we got really excited about the song again. We think it was worth the wait. Also, the guitar riff on “I Don’t Mind” is something Glenn has been strumming since he was a freshman in high school, so we ended up reaching pretty far back for that one!
VS: Is there a theme that runs through the album?
J&E: Honestly, we didn’t set out with any particular concept in mind, just sort of let the songs take shape as we went. As we started putting the final pieces of the record together, it became pretty clear that our songs and sounds were kind of bummed out, dealing with themes like fucking up relationships, not knowing what to do with ourselves, or just being unsure about the future—pretty standard stuff. That combined with the sort of stoney, subdued sound we love, it just struck us that we had made a bunch of bummed-out synth-pop songs, hence Bummer Pop. It’s worth noting though, that we actually are pretty happy people! Just for some reason when we sit down to reflect on things, it comes out a bit on the somber side.
VS: Is there a specific part of it that you’re particularly proud of?
J&E: Writing lyrics was a real challenge, but it ended up being an interesting and fun growing/learning experience. In the end, we feel like we ended up with lyrics that are hopefully relatable, but also true to how we feel. It was really important for us to have lyrics we could stand by, that actually reflected our personalities and wasn’t just us saying shit just to say it. We’re also really proud of (and not to mention grateful-to) the community of musicians who helped us see these songs through to the end, they are the “&” of James & Evander.
VS: Some people have criticized electronic artists’ live shows as ‘just pressing play’. Is there something that you do live to challenge that perception?
J&E: First of all, we’d like to suggest that, for the most part, those people’s opinions are perhaps a little short-sighted and a bit uninformed! But with that said, we do try our best to create a live atmosphere for our shows. We basically cart out half of our studio—a Juno 106, a Moog Voyager, a Casio MT-70, guitar and amp—along with our Ableton rig/laptop. And, of course, we sing live as well. It’s never perfect, so there’s no question that we’re actually playing!
VS: I agree. So being that you’re a duo, you have the advantage of playing smaller spaces. What’s been the most unusual spot you’ve played?
J&E: We played a dorm room lounge once, that was pretty unusual. Neither of us went to a traditional college, so it was funny to get a glimpse into that world. And they kept all the lights on! It was so bright, which isn’t always the most conducive setting for letting it all out while performing. Once, we even DJed a 50 year old’s birthday party to make some extra cash. We got asked if we brought any classical music to the party…we didn’t. But we played plenty of Stevie Wonder, and that seemed to go over pretty well!
VS: Nice. How did you come up with the artwork for the new record?
J&E: Our visual arts expertise don’t really go beyond taking pictures of cats (although Adam’s library of cat pictures is legendary around these parts), so we tapped our incredibly talented friend Liz Pavlovic and asked her to design the album art for us. She came up with something entirely unexpected, but we absolutely loved it in the end.
VS: Who are some of your biggest influences?
J&E: Our own Oakland/East Bay community of musicians has been an invaluable inspiration with some amazing music going on all around us right now: shortcircles, Yalls, Parentz, Elephant & Castle, Some Ember, Kouta, and many, many, more. We regularly visit and dig in record stores for new and old music, and Glenn is constantly scouring the internet for tracks (he runs a blog/label called Mapzzz, and contributes to a number of websites including XLR8r), so he’s always playing the stuff he finds for anyone who’s interested. We live in a house with our good friend Matt (who makes music as shortcircles), and there is rarely a moment where someone isn’t working on or listening to music, and that probably influences us regardless of if we realize it or not. Oh, and weed, lots of weed.
VS: Well, that ends this portion of the interview. How do you think you did so far? How does that make you feel?
J&E: It’s a little strange to revisit this stuff. Honestly, we gave a lot of time, energy, and thought to the record in that three month period, kind of unloaded all we could, so it’s a bit bizarre to rethink about it all with some space. Also, we’re probably not high enough, let’s fix that!
VS: I noticed that you actually have stage names, which I think more people should. How did your name come about?
J&E: Incidentally, we both used to give out fake names at parties and such during our different high school experiences. Somehow, we both shared that story, and it just made sense as the band name. We don’t have personas or anything that go with them, that’d be way too much work. Also, I’m sure we didn’t foresee that we’d still be making music under those names years later, but somehow it’s managed to stick.
VS: Have you taken classes in music or were you entirely self-taught?
J&E: We’re both trained in music production (went to audio school together, that’s how we met), but neither of us have any real training in music. Adam took some guitar lessons here and there in his life, and Glenn took a handful of piano lessons at some point, but for the most part, we’re just winging it. Really, we’re more interested in sounds than notes and chords per say, but we’ve picked up a lot along the way.
VS: You are not famous, no one knows who you are and you haven’t made much money. How do you plan to change all this?
J&E: Thanks for the reminder! At this point, there is no plan to become rich and famous. Most likely, if we wanted to make a bunch of money and have our names all over the place, we should probably be making a different sort of music! For now, we’re pretty content to make music that we really like and that at least some people out there seem to respond to. We’ve also got a gazillion projects happening at any and all points in time! In addition to J&E, we both have other musical endeavors we work on/play in (shortcircles, Hoodcats, Benefits, Glenn Jackson, Empty Pockets, Steezy Ray Vibes, etc.) and Adam works with bands from home and in recording studios while Glenn is a music journalist of sorts, and recently launched his record label West In Dust.
VS: Thanks very much for making time for us today. Is there any message you’d like to send to your fans?
J&E: Thanks for being our fans! We’d probably make this music whether anyone was listening or not, but it’s such a tremendous feeling to know that someone else enjoys it too! Also, the Big Beat Manifesto seems an apt note to end on, it goes, “Big beats are the best, get high all the time.” Word.