In the realm of Australian pop music, a certain amount of modesty goes a long way. And what better way to avoid drawing attention to yourself than by going by a different name. It is an approach that has served singer-songwriter Bob Evans well, so well, in fact, that many people don’t realise the name actually belongs to one Kevin Mitchell, a man best known for his work with indie rock mainstays Jebediah.
While all this talk of name-swapping is enough to bring on an identity crisis, Bob Evans / Kevin Mitchell is a model of psychological stability. Preparing for his upcoming national tour in May, Bob Evans took some time out to chat with Cream about crises of a different sort: from the current state of the music industry to concerns about cultural cringe. Far from being all doom and gloom, however, the conversation also managed to take in topics as diverse as comedy and the idea of a ‘Perth sound’.
Story by Chris Prindiville
On a Tuesday morning in March, the sound of my phone ringing has me on edge. I am expecting a call from Bob Evans, one of the most respected names in the Aussie music industry. It is a discomfort, however, that disappears almost immediately when I hear the warm and friendly voice come through from the other end of the line. Bob Evans sounds like a man who has it all together.
Easing my way into the conversation, I mention how much I enjoyed the new EP (Zeroes to Heroes), a collection of infectiously catchy pop tunes, and its joyful embracing of a retro sound. Whereas some performers might take umbrage at such a comment, with its implication of creative larceny, Evans freely offers up the musical inspirations that continue to find a way into his own work. “I’m a total sucker for John Lennon’s solo stuff and the Beatles stuff. Lots of music from the ’60s and ’70s.”
Expanding on this idea of influence, our discussion moves on to growing up in Perth and how a sense of place might also feed into the music. “It’s an interesting idea. I mean Perth is a very unique place: it’s very isolated, and I think it’s true that there has been a lot of British influences [particularly in] pop music. My parents immigrated to Australia from England, and Perth was obviously a popular place to come for the Ten-pound Poms in the ’60s and ’70s… One of the most important things going on in Perth at the moment, you have to say, is Tame Impala, and they are steeped in ’60s British psychedelia.”
Considering Perth’s British heritage opens up the conversation to the wider problem of Australia’s cultural cringe. Evans expresses little doubt that this lack of confidence in our own stories and experiences is a problem that continues to plague the Australian music and artistic scene.
“Cultural cringe is still real and still exists. I’d like to think that it will disappear in my lifetime, but I have a feeling it probably won’t. The reason why I am pessimistic about that, is that when I look back at what was going in music in the ’80s, we’ve kind of gone backwards. The reason why I think that, is that back in the ’80s there was actually more celebration of Australian culture and the Australian way of life in our music.”
Though ever the optimist, Bob Evans is hopeful for the future and sees signs of the situation being slowly turned around. “I’m really heartened when I hear The Smith Street Band or a new Australian band who sounds like they are absolutely celebrating Australia; singing in a really strong Australian accent. And sounding like an Australian rock band should sound: sort of scruffy and dirty. And the kids seem to love them. That is definitely something to feel positive about.”
Some doubt creeps in, however, when we discuss the state of the worldwide music industry. With the rise of technology changing how we interact with music – most importantly how we consume it – artists are being forced to re-think the traditional business model. For Bob Evans, these kind of developments have come at a cost.
“I think that it’s inevitable, given how technology is evolving. I think it’s inevitable that in that environment you are going to find less people who are going to commit to an entire album from start to finish. Technology, modern life and society has encouraged that. People aren’t even buying records. People are buying singles. There’s a lot of that stuff that I think is really great. But there’s a lot of stuff that you think is a shame…”
He is mindful, though, to point out that music has always been incidental in most people’s lives, and the “massive music fans” are still out there and will continue to enjoy music in the old time-honoured ways.
With a low-key larrikin streak running through his conversation, it isn’t long before we find ourselves turning towards the funny side of life. Having interviewed a number of comedians on his own podcast (Thank Evans!), Bob sees humour as something to be embraced by musicians rather than dismissed.
“I think its super important that musicians feel they can use humour and still be taken seriously. It is such a significant part of the human experience. It doesn’t make sense to me that musicians wouldn’t use it, because it’s such a big part of life. I think there are some musicians who want to be taken seriously who are a little bit scared of using humour at all. There’s a lot of music out there, but there is nothing funny going on.”
Wrapping up our chat with some gentle ribbing about the noticeable absence of WA dates on the upcoming tour, I get assurances that loyal fans on the west coast have not been forgotten. In fact, the man himself reminds me that he will be coming our way later in April with that other side project of his, Jedediah (April 30, as part of In The Pines).
One thing is for certain: you will be kicking yourself if you don’t get out to one of his shows. And that’s the bottom line. Chris Prindiville
‘Zeroes to Heroes’ is out now. Check out new track ‘My Matilda’ above.
Bob Evans Lonesome Highways Tour:
THU 20 APR | FRONT BAR, CANBERRA ACT
FRI 21 APR | LIZOTTES, NEWCASTLE NSW
SAT 22 APR | HARDY’S BAY CLUB, CENTRAL COAST NSW
WED 03 MAY | CLARENDON GUEST HOUSE, KATOOMBA NSW
FRI 05 MAY | CAMELOT LOUNGE, SYDNEY NSW
SAT 06 MAY | BRASS MONKEY, CRONULLA NSW
SUN 07 MAY | HERITAGE HOTEL, BULLI NSW
THU 11 MAY | THE SPOTTED COW, TOOWOOMBA QLD
FRI 12 MAY | 5 CHURCH ST, BELLINGEN NSW
SAT 13 MAY | BLACK BEAR LODGE, BRISBANE QLD
THU 01 JUN | BAHA, RYE VIC
FRI 02 JUN | THE CROXTON FRONT BAR, MELBOURNE VIC
SAT 03 JUN | WORKERS CLUB, GEELONG VIC
THU 08 JUN | GRACE EMILY HOTEL, ADELAIDE SA
FRI 09 JUN | BRIDGE HOTEL, CASTLEMAINE VIC
Tickets available at www.bobevans.com.au.