Here to challenge our perceptions of reality, multi-verses, and how we experience the past, present, and future; meet the Underwater Peoples' co-founder Evan Brody's musical alter ego, Evan Ønly. Self-described to us as the character of, “a fictional archivist from a near dystopian future; he explores a past of which he and his peers have no first-hand memory.” Preparing the No Matter What EP for release in February, the former pop chic of the new wave gets an even newer lease of fantasy and wonder with production reinforcement from Kurt Feldman of the Pains of Being Pure at Heart and Ice Choir. Having already rolled away the electro new romanticism of, “The Stone“, we bring you the premiere of the extended player's lead off song, “Shadows”.
Evan Ønly turns back the clock from 2014 to somewhere around 1984, give or take a few days and months. “Shadows” exists in a whole new world, where the past presents vague premonitions for the future in the way that that the unconscious world of dreams impacts and informs the conscious waking state. Evan's delivery in conjunction with the mix tunes the song's frequency toward a drifting quality that straddles the spaces between time and the spawning origins of visions experienced whilst fast asleep. “Into my hand, just hold on tight, find the will to keep up the fight, so bring me close, close to your heart, turn to daylight from the dawn, discover light, find out what's right, keep intention in your sight, wake up to dawn, and move beyond…” Lifting the blinds, the song's lyrics sound like aphorisms and quips uttered from sleep that swim in the sweet slumblerland synths that coat the the muted guitars in the dream chasing worlds of “Shadows” and materialized realities. As everything drifts on, the song moves toward the awakened consciousness as the accumulation of feelings, thoughts, and perceptions are held on to closely as the dream concludes. While these former events and understood sensory becomes forgotten by the opened eyes, that luster of lucidity becomes projected like a silhouette on the wall at the congregational dawning of daylight.
Evan talked with us and walks us through the parallel lines between fiction and reality, the blurred spaces between past, present, and future, process notes, collaborative notes, what's on the Underwater Peoples' stereos, and what's next from one of our favorite imprints.
Is the pop figure of Evan Ønly like not just your alter ego, or say even central ego, but is this the indie new romantic iconic star that you had always wanted but never got until you did something about it?
Growing up, many of the musicians I admired cultivated an exaggerated sense of wonder and fantasy in their art. They blended fiction and reality, and didn't feel the need to spell everything out, nor did people expect them to. Evan Ønly is a vehicle I created to use music and storytelling to challenge perceptions of reality, multi-verses, and how we experience the past, present, and future. He is a fictional archivist from a near dystopian future; he explores a past of which he and his peers have no first-hand memory. Through these archetypes, we can allow ourselves to use the music and Evan Ønly's story as a vehicle to explore our unconscious and subconscious minds and emotions, as well as our real and imagined histories. Music has always held this transformative power — a vessel for us to project and relate to. It's exciting for me to be able to take part in that tradition, using my own music as Evan Ønly to evolve the language of the form, as well as create new paths for listeners to connect to music overall.
When did you and The Pains/Ice Choir dude Kurt Feldman first begin working on making this 80s pop/dream pop/dream team a reality?
I first met Kurt through mutual friends, members of the band Big Troubles, in late 2011. After seeing him play a show at Glasslands as Ice Choir I was excited to see someone making pristine, synth-focused pop music. Later we released his debut LP on Underwater Peoples, and Kurt and I discussed the idea of him producing my next record. After a couple of 'getting to know you' sessions, we started writing and recording together the materials that would eventually become the debut EP.
What insights into the Evan Ønly songwriting and rendering process can you gleam, especially pertaining to the creation of the No Matter What EP?
Each of these songs have their own story. For “Shadows,” my friend Ian Drennan suggested that I take time away from the guitar, and focus writing songs on the keyboard. It’s not my main instrument, but was hoping to reinvigorate the creative trail. After finding a chord structure and vocal melody I liked, I recorded the demo in a day or so. I brought the “Shadows” demo to Kurt and explained to him what I was attempting to achieve with it. Kurt, being the very talented man he is, really helped to fill out the song from top to bottom. Among other parts, he co-wrote and played the bass part on this song —and it is immaculate.
So we're getting all sentimental on the ultra-smooth “Shadows”, is this like your strangers in the night moment of elusive and aloof emotions? I can seriously hear this seeping out of a late 70s/early 80s transistor radio to soothe post-disco hangovers and headaches, ha ha.
“Shadows” is about dreams. Dreams are elusive by nature. We go to sleep hoping to have them, we wake up ønly to forget them. Freud said that,'The interpretation of dreams is the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind.' “Shadows'” intent is to bring the listener on a surreal journey, with the goal of figuring out how we find and create our dreams — and not all dreams are of the nighttime variety.
The beginning of the chorus on “Shadows”, and that big outro really sell it and throws off the sense of time placement. But even on the more boisterous “Take Me Back”, it feels like your hitting on and making something more than just analogous synth pop revival. It's like whatever book-ending of past meets present affinities are met together as a kind time-out-of-mind canvas to draw and etch upon.
I want to create a world that can reference the past and how it impacts the future. A world that you can be a part of and take with you. A world that allows for growth, experimentation, and exploration.
What's been playing on the Underwater Peoples stereos this month?
Chris & Cosey — Songs Of Love & Lust
Sneaker Pimps — Becoming X
Keith Hudson — Imbidimts Furnace
Matsuo Ono — Roots of Electronic Sound
The Bats — Daddy's Highway
Penguin Cafe Orchestra — s/t
Marshall Crenshaw — s/t
Bill LaBounty — s/t
What else should we be looking out for from Underwater Peoples and elsewhere this year?
Debut LP from Melted Toys.
Picture disc EP from Three Legged Race (Robert Beatty).
7″ single from Free Time.
Evan Ønly's No Matter What EP will be available February 18 from Underwater Peoples.