Alt Revue Interview - Evan Sites - 'What, Me Worry?'
(Photo Credit Matt Albany)
Recently I had the opportunity to chat with my old friend and classmate, Evan Sites, about his new record 'What, Me Worry?' out Friday 8/16. Evan and I met my freshman year of college, when I accidentally sat next to him on the first day of our African American Studies class. The teacher asked us what brought us to take the class, and Evan responded “I’m just here for the breadth of knowledge” and I couldn’t help but laugh. During our more recent conversation, we were both fresh out of work, he in New York City and myself here in Columbus. He was sipping a tall glass of gin-and-something and I was subtly leaning out of view of the camera to stuff french fries in my mouth. This is a conversation with my friend.
Francis: Okay, this is your chance to plug this record, and to tell me a little bit about yourself, and what’s happening with this record.
Evan: Okay, what is there to know about me? I don’t think there’s much. This is the hardest part, everything else is easy.
F: Yea, hardest question first.
E: I don’t know, what is there to say? What is- what is there to be explained about myself? I don’t know that stuff. I’m just a nice young man, I live in brooklyn, and I am an accountant for bands. What else do I do. That's it?
F: What do you do in your free time?
E: I just play music, and then I drink alcohol.
F: So that's what you do in your free time?
E: That's what I do in my free time, I read books, and I sit in parks. That's pretty much all. I sit on public transportation a lot. I think that's most of my free time, is public transportation
F: Got it! So what's going on with this record on Friday?
E: It’s five songs. Um, they’re all about anxiety. I think it’s an anxiety that comes with having to make decisions that impact more than they used to. You know, when you're a kid and you make decisions, none of your- none of those decisions matter, or they're, like, very day to day. It’s like, ‘I'm not gonna hang out with this person today, I'm not going to do this, i’m not gonna do that.” where when you're older you’re like “alright well i need to move now’ or i have to go make, uh, bigger decisions. So, it's a lot of, like, it's about anxiety and, like, a lot of existential things. Yea, i think that's about it. I think it’s just a fear of- not even a fear, but like, the uncertainty of you twenty-somethings. I think everybody goes through that. You don’t really know what you're doing or why you're doing it, but you can't stay at home anymore.
F: Alright, so what’s a Midwest boy like you doing in the big city?
E: I tried to live in Ohio after college, and I couldn't find a job because i decided to go to school to be a sound guy, and the only people that have sound jobs in Ohio are old men who have had them for 100 years. So i would get up at, like, 10:30, and i would chug a pot of coffee, and I would just sit on indeed.com and apply for jobs I would never get. And then finally after, like, three months of that i was like ‘try and do this.’ You know, it’s gonna get harder and harder to live in New York, the older you get, especially moving there. So, it's like, if you’re going to do it, you're going to do it now. And I think that a lot of people move because they’re running from something, and that a lot of people move there because there is something missing, and I think that my problem was that I have way too much energy. And I think that, as much as i love doing nothing, Ohio is a lot of nothing. But it's good! It’s not a bad thing! But, while I'm young, I should go live somewhere where it’s loud all the time.
F: Do you think your Midwest roots have influenced this album?
E: Yeah, i mean, some of the songs started in Athens, Ohio. so i have very specific moments of certain songs- i mean, only two of the songs were written back then, or at least started. But I think it is always there, I think I'm getting a little, uh, more cynical, but I try to stay as self-aware of that, and I still smile at strangers and help people on the street if they ask me for help. And, wave, and stuff, which i don't think most New Yorkers do. So I think that there's self-awareness that I try to keep as Ohio-y. I don't know, there's some hopefulness that New Yorkers don’t have,that Ohioans definitely do. New Yorkers are very ‘this is what is today, this is what is tomorrow.” Ohioans are very, not dramatic, but they are very hopeful, they're very excitable. They get excited about things. ‘Oh, this weekend we’re gonna go to the brewery, that's so nice! So exciting!’ where New Yorkers are like ‘that's what i’m doing this weekend, what are you doing this weekend?’ it’s very matter-of-fact, so I like to think that i try to stay weird with the hopeful in my music, but otherwise I don't know.
F: Do you think there's any New York City influences in your music?
E: yes, it might be that matter-of-factness. I think as i start to live here longer and longer, I try to cut to the chase a little bit more. I’ve noticed that about myself, and the music that I'm making now compared to the music that I made in college is probably a little more direct. I’m not trying to find fancy ways to say- I used to think of music as ‘this is my point’ I don't want to hit the point directly, so i’ll tiptoe around the point and try to be mysterious or clever, no i think that you can be direct and still be clever, and i think that's the difference. I think New York makes you more direct, you kinda don't have the time to dance around the obvious. It’s not cute. It’s ‘this is my point, I'm going to beat it to death like a dead horse.
F: Do you think living in New York has made you more of a confident musician?
E: Um, I think getting older has. I didn't start playing guitar until I was 18. I’ve been playing the drums since I was 3, and then i know how to play a couple chords on the keyboard, and I learned how to play bass when I was, like, 16 or 17, but i never really picked up a guitar until college. So I think it’s getting older, and if you go outside in new york you're gonna spend $20 for sure.. So I think playing the guitar is such an easy way to stay inside and not send $20, and it's a great way to- you now, you're going and going in New York, so when i come home, especially to cool down and to decompress i find myself- I can watch TV, and in this day and age everybody reaching for phones all the time, I find that instead of mindlessly staring at a screen, i can just play the guitar and watch a different screen. I just have this nervous energy, but I probably play the guitar for an hour every day just because that's what I do right before bed to kind of turn my brain off.
F: I'm surprised you're not playing right now.
E: I was earlier, but now we’re talking on the phone!
F: So where do you think your love of music comes from?
E: I think it’s my parents. I can't remember a moment where there wasn't music playing in that house. So my dad would listen to music all weekend. They've always been super supportive, and there's always been instruments everywhere, and there still is! My dad is a total gear head, he gets new stuff all the time. And my mom has a very simple sense of musicality in that she likes things that are just ‘good’ like she has this weird music taste that's just so direct. When I was growing up, she used to have these mixed cassettes called ‘Boogie Tapes’ and it was just 60s and 70s R&B and soul music, and that's what she would listen to. That, and Tom Petty was like all she listened to. Tom petty’s a big one in our house. So I think it just comes from them. There's never been a time where music has not been the focal point of whatever it is that I'm doing.
F: Can you tell me a little bit about the writing process for 'What, Me Worry?' was like?
E: so, it started out, there's been a lot of starts and stops- there was going to be a second East of Youth album but then i decided to move so we didn't do it, but there were some extra songs, and when we would play out, wed play the new songs, and people seemed to like them generally, or didn't know that they were new at least. So then I moved and Adam (Rich) and i just kept trying. Every 6 months it felt like we were like ‘should we try again?’ and we’d start up again, and we'll send the same eight demos back and forth, and then it would stop for a year, and we’d be like ‘lets try again.’ and again, and again, and again. I put out an EP a year ago, maybe? Two years ago? I think it might be two now- with Matt Albany, my roommate, his record, and i was like ‘wow, i don't have any new music to my name.’ so, I started working on stuff, and then just stopped again. I think that it's a symptom of having too much to do, and its- your brain is a muscle and if you stop doing something, it’s really hard to do it. So I was hitting a wall where I would work on a song for a week straight, that's all I would do, and it gets to a point where you really just have to finish strong, and i would just drop it. And so, this record has been starting and stopping for the last year. At one point it was gonna be called, like. ‘The Failures EP’ and every song title was gonna be a famous failure. So like, the 3DO was a famous failed thing- I forget all the other ones but it was mapped out of all these famous flops, things that just didn't work, and the only holdover from that is that there's a song called ‘New Coke’ which is about Coke making New Coke, but I just liked that name so much that it stayed. So i just kept working on stuff, and then I met Luke Demuro through work, and he went to school for audio too, and he's way more talented than I am, and I was like, ‘can you just make sure that i finish this? Can you just babysit me?’ so, once I had someone who was holding me accountable, I kinda just sat down, and- i’m sure he hates this, but once you’ve revved me up, it's really hard to get me to stop. So we’ll do a day long together recording and finishing stuff on a Saturday, and then by Tuesday he had found out that i had redone all the parts. Once I get going, it's really easy for me to keep going. Most of it was recorded in my bedroom here in Queens, and we would just record on Saturdays or like after work in weird sessions where we could just focus. “Can I Come Over?” started in 2013, and then it went through like a bunch of different versions, up until this last one. And then “New Coke” was probably written in 2017. Age Sex Location (a/s/l) was written pretty quickly, probably in January of this year. “Small Talk” was written probably two weeks before I gave Adam Rich the album to mix. It was written in a day, it was probably recorded in two. And “Stranger Tides” has also been sitting around for a minute. I think those are all five. There were two or three other songs that were on the docket, some of them were old, some of them were new, one was gonna be really cool! It was influenced by my good buddy Wicca Phase Springs Eternal where it was gonna be me playing this guitar part with these weird drum machines, but then I realized the production i needed was so specific, and it needed to be a lot nicer and cleaner than my bedroom could do? So it was scrapped, but that was another song that was worked on for awhile. And then, like I said, two weeks before it was done i wrote “Small Talk” in one morning and i thought ‘this is it, this is fun!’ so I finished “Small Talk” but something was missing, end every time I finish a record i call David Butler, this kid I went to high school with, and he's this insane piano player, he's probably the most talented person ive ever met. We made soundtracks together in high school where we would just improvise- it was always about improvisation, and he'd play these piano parts while I played drums, and then i would go back later and add other instruments. So, he did the same thing for Matt’s record, when we made the first jam Skate EP, I pretty much just sent him the song, and an hour later I had these two organ parts and these insane piano parts. And it was the same thing with this record. I sent it to him and I think by the end of the next day he had sent me, like, eight keyboard parts. And we couldn't even use all of them but we wanted to. This dude is just so talented! So we sent those to Adam Rich, and Adam Rich cleaned them up because I like having Adam Rich involved. I feel like he gets me and he puts up with me. That's what made East of Youth really fun was that i would come and i’d be like ‘alright, i had, like, four cups of coffee and this is what were gonna do’ and he'd be like ‘alright, if that's what you think we should do’ or he'd be like ‘hey, lets not do that one’ so Adam Rich has stopped me from doing a lot OG dumb stuff in music.
F: So, all the tracks on the record are amazing and full of all your Evan-ness. My favorite is “Can I Come Over?” do you have a favorite?
E: I like “a/s/l’ i think that's the most ‘me’ song maybe next to “Can I Come Over?” I think I like it because there's that word section where there's just a bunch of feedback? I like doing stuff like that. It’s funny, because “a/s/l” four years ago, the instrumental and the verse? I tried to get Matt Albany to use it as a Jam Skate song and then it just kinda hung around. It’s a hyper specific thing, it used to be just I'm drunk and I'm thinking of you’ and then as we got further into technology it was like ‘I'm drunk and I'm thinking of you and i’m calling you’ and now the arctic monkeys have that album that has three songs about drunk texting somebody. And i heard hear- a mutual friend of mine was like ‘do you remember so-and-so? Well he reached out to this girl we went to high school with and was trying to get in her DM’s’ and i was thinking ‘why they live four states away?” It's the idea that you can long for somebody in any sort of moment and then you can just get right in there, you can force your face and your name into someones phone and it’s so fascinating to me. And I like that song so much because I feel like that's a full thought. Not that the other songs aren't, but it's the most focused thought i had on the record.
F: Were there any that were more fun or painful to write?
E: “Can I Come Over?” was probably the most fun just because that song is really goofy with the guitars. ‘Suicide cyclist’ is a line my mom said. We went to Paris once, on a family vacation, and we were on a bus going to the cemetery where Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison are buried and these bicyclists were super close tot he bus and my mom called them ‘suicide cyclists’ and i thought it was profound! And then, “Small Talk” was fun because it just happened so fast. “Stranger Tides” took the longest because it’s not 100% in my vocal range and it's a little bit of a downer. That song is particular was the hardest to play drums to. Everything was done in my apartment, in my room, except the drums. We went to this kid who used to work with me, his practice room. He had two mics and we just mic'd the drums, and i think i did everything in about two hours. I gave the guy 40 bucks and a case of beer to just let me hang out, and i felt that after two hours I had to get out of there. But it too the longest not for any particular reason but it is the longest song on the record. It also has the most guitar on the records in that song.
F: Are there any other artists that inspire you to create music the way that you do?
E: Jeff Tweedy does. It’s Dylan, and Petty, they're numero uno. David Berman, who just died. He was a big one for me. I'm a lyricist/songwriter first kind of guy, and it's the kind of people that, you just hear their words and your brain tingles. My goal is to try and get as good as those people one day. Pavement, Stephen Malkmus in general is really big for me. Warren Zevon, its all song writers, like John Prine and stuff. In terms of bands, Spoon is pretty good. It;s guitar bands. I listen to a lot of 60s and 70s R&B and i listen to hip-hop but i don't think that influences me to a degree that I'm conscious of.
F: You’ve mentioned Jam Skate and East of Youth a couple times- do you want to elaborate on those projects?
E: Sure, so East of Youth was a guitar pop duo from Athens, Ohio. it was me and Adam Rich and someone once described as Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way” with me barking over top of it.’ which i thought was the nicest way anyone had ever described my music at that time. Jam Skate is this project that my roommate does. It's sort of Jonathan Richmond-y, it's very whimsical.
So, Matt essentially writes the song and he brings it to me and we just record it, and that's my favorite thing to work on because I'm a fan of him, he's probably one of my top three favorite people, so it's like a fan getting to work on a thing that he knows that he will love?
F: Do you have any intentions of touring this music that you're putting out on Friday?
E: There is a band being assembled to do some Brooklyn shows, and then the second week of October there will be a show- it's gonna be me and Adam Rich and our good friend Chris Price who always plays drums when we play out. I play drums on all the records but if you can have someone who is better than you play, you should always do that. So, we’re gonna play a show, and we’re gonna play a couple East of Youth songs but mostly it's gonna be songs from this record. Oh, and David Butler who plays keys said he would join in, so i'm excited to come back home. I don't get to come home very often and it will be very nice to play with those nice boys.
F: Any alma mater (Ohio University) shows?
E: no but i should though! I need an excuse to go back
F: You could play The Union
E: I'd love to play The Union, ‘cause it was burnt down when i left
F: They rebuilt it to all its glory and more
E: But if I come back, I've gotta do Baker on a Wednesday night
F: Yes, open mic night! So, do you think there's room for growth in your musical style?
E: I think there's room to get less sloppy. We’ve done one record, we saw what worked, what didn't. I think Luke and I are more comfortable. This next record, a lot of the songs are already written. But i’m also prone to having sudden and massive idea changes. But now we've been working together for a little bit and we’re in the swing of things, it's more streamlined. We’ve got a little better equipment, I think we know what we’re doing a little more. I think it’s just going to get tighter. The next record were about to record, i feel a lot more focused. The record afterwards is also pretty far into being written and it's probably my best stuff. It’s gonna be weird and wild and I'm super excited for it.
F: What do you want any listeners, old or new, to know about your music?
E: that its real genuine! I mean it. I really am anxious all the time. And it's just about being genuine. I think we’re all getting so meta and everyone in the world is so smart and snarky, it's really incredible and i mean that. But also, we’re getting further and further away from being genuine and being able to like something for the right reasons. Like, how many songs are meme songs now? I have no problems with it, I get it, I think people are just going to gravitate towards being genuine again, hopefully.
F: What have you been listening to?
E: Let me look… Album of the Year: Purple Mountains. Rest in peace. It was my album of the year before he died and it's a pretty incredible record. The new Freddy Gibbs/ Madlib record has never left my spotify. “The Basement Tapes!” I stayed at Big Pink, where Bob Dylan and The Band recorded that, that's pretty much not moving. Um, im trying to listen to Steely Dan records that aren't the famous ones? Which has been pretty great. This is just proving that I'm an old man. Let me try to find something young and hip… oh, this new Tyler the Creator album is pretty good. It's been a pretty great year for music over all!
F: i agree! So, this is my favorite question ever! What's your dream lineup?
E: ooh this is hard. I want to play to less than 200 people. Okay, i want Ringo on drums, that dude, he’ll know exactly what to play. This is tough...
F: Who is your opening act?
E: I've got to think about this…Alright, my opening band is The Wet Darlings- my favorite band that has ever been a band in Columbus, they were literally my favorite band. Not together anymore and it bums me out. They would absolutely open, i don't care where it would be. Maybe at The Newport. U2 played there, Weezer on the Pinkerton tour, Rush played there, and Nirvana played there. Bands that are way too big for that space these days. Okay, who’s playing bass….. Okay, i want Alex Chilton to sing, that's important to me. I want Courtney Barnett to play guitar…. This is such a good question… okay, i’m playing drums. I’m replacing ringo. I would argue that I should have been in The Beatles. And it doesn't make any sense but i want Geddy Lee to play bass. I'm just trying to think of classic bass players and that's the guy. That would be the weirdest band, I would love it.
F: What kind of merch would you sell?
E: Tote bags. Not weed grinders, that looks trashy. Definitely doing tote bags. We’re doing skate decks. Oh, you know were doing skate decks. We’re doing socks. More than one pair, that's such a bummer when you roll up and they have socks but they only have one pair. And then, uh, i want to have some record that you can't just buy online. And a classic tour t-shirt: logo on the front, tour dates on the back. Bam. Done.