Emerging as the solo project for Jebadiah frontman Kevin Mitchell back at the turn of the millennium, beloved folk pop troubadour Bob Evans has since gone on to conjure five (and soon to be six) studio albums, weaving winsome acoustic melodics with folksy modern charm. And while his ARIA award-winning alter ego has continually brewed charm with Beatles-esque harmonies and stripped-back arrangements, it's on his impending sixth full length release Tomorrowland that the Bob Evans adventure sparks into new territory, with the electric guitar and upbeat fervour reigning supreme against the harsh backdrop of the Victorian COVID-19 lockdown that dogged its creation.
Self-financing an album amid a pandemic and measured stylistic shifts may not bring to mind the most ideal mode of operation for any creative artist; but Bob Evans and indeed Kevin Mitchell himself has never been one to stagnate in the face of professional and personal hurdles, and in honour of his latest album (and freshly announced tour), we grabbed some time with the man himself to chat creative processes, industry shifts and some memories from his illustrious career. Interview below.
TIANA SPETER: Hey, thanks so much for taking the time to have a chat today. While it’s been a rough lead-up into 2021, there’s certainly been more and more things to look forward to as we edge further away from last year; and one of those things just so happens to be that your sixth full-length album ‘Tomorrowland’ is officially releasing on April 16. You’re no stranger to the whole album process by any means, but how does it feel to finally be approaching this release in particular after such a brutal 2020?
BOB EVANS: It’s a greater sense of relief and pride I think than normal. I guess because the process of actually self financing this record and making it all happen was a challenge in itself and the COVID19 hit and we had to navigate our way through that. So this album was born out of far more challenging circumstances than perhaps I’ve ever experienced, so for that reason, all the emotions around it’s release are just amplified. Plus, I think it’s really good and I want people to hear it.
TIANA: I believe that conjuring ‘Tomorrowland’ was not without its own unique woes, with the initial recording coming to a close the day after all of your gigs were cancelled, and just a few weeks before you were plunged into Victoria’s lengthy lockdown…and yet the entire album has this overall airy joy pumping throughout it. Was there an overarching plan for ‘Tomorrowland’ when you first began this new album journey? Do you find with each new album that the whole process is a well-oiled machine at this point?
BOB: The process is not a well oiled machine unfortunately. Every album is difficult to make, from its starting point. I need to write a huge amount of songs over a long period to get a dozen for the record. I did have a vision for this record early on though which I stuck to til the end and I think the album is all the better for it. I wanted to make a rock leaning album, played live by my touring band, all of us in a room together, minimal editing. I also wanted to bring in some new musical elements from the stuff I’d been listening to and try and pull them into a Bob Evans context. Specific things, like Chorus effected guitars and 80’s synths and reverbs. I wanted to lean away from the cute, Beatles-y, heavily crafted acoustic albums that I’ve made in the past. I wanted to make an album that represented me as I am now, a 43 year old man. I think the “airy joy” you describe comes from that unmistakable electric energy that you can only get from the sound of a band playing live together. I never could have achieved that on my own or with session musicians recording their separate parts piece by piece.
TIANA: And while ‘Tomorrowland’ is utterly bursting with shimmering rock, Australiana tinges and a heap of heartfelt narratives, there’s also noticeably a lot more electric guitar than some previous Bob Evans releases. Was this an active decision to inject more electric noodling into the album, or just a natural stylistic progression?
BOB: I wanted to make a rock album so it was definitely an active decision but at the same time it is also a completely natural stylistic progression because I think all of my Bob Evans records have been very much a response to the one before it. On my last album, ‘Car Boot Sale’, I was wanting to return to an earlier style and sound of mine, which was in itself a response to the album before that. I scratched that itch and was ready to do something different, take a few risks, push forward more.
TIANA: And to appease my guitar-loving mates, last I read, your main electric guitar was a 1969 Fender Jag, is that still what you’re rocking on ‘Tomorrowland’?
BOB: I actually only use that ‘69 Fender Jag for Jebediah shows. On this album I played a Rickenbacker through a little Fender Blues Junior amp. That was my set up for pretty much all the songs. I might have used some others for specific things like overdubs, but while we were tracking the songs live, it was the Ricky through the Blues Junior every time.
TIANA: There have been some glimpses already into ‘Tomorrowland’, including ‘Concrete Heart’ and ‘Born Yesterday’ out and about in the world…and it was interesting to read you speak about the inspiration in particular behind ‘Concrete Heart’ and some social media interactions. Does writing and performing under this Bob Evans moniker allow for more ways to freely explore real elements from your own personal life in a creative setting? How much of Bob is creatively influenced by Kevin, and vice versa?
BOB: It’s a funny one. I think writing as Bob I do feel a greater sense of freedom in a way, as when I’m writing for Jebediah I’m consciously trying to write for them as well, to write things that can represent all of us, not just me. Obviously as Bob I don’t have that hanging around in my head and I can indulge any kind of whim or fancy I choose without worrying about trying to convince other people to come with me.
TIANA: As someone who has been so intrinsically involved in the Aussie music world for decades now, what has changed the least in your opinion in the music industry since you first started making and performing music? Obviously so much change has taken place with social media, streaming and so on; but what has instead remained steadfast after all this time?
BOB: There is one thing that is EXACTLY the same today as it was in 1995 and has been for every single year in between and that is the sound of a rehearsal studio on a Wednesday night. There will be a young metal band blasting out of one room and next door to them there will be a covers band rehearsing for a wedding playing jukebox hits and next door to them will be a band that can’t play their instruments and are missing a bass player and so on and so forth. The sounds coming from all the different rooms all mix and meld together into this thick, soupy, audio melange which is sometimes kind of awful but still strangely comforting.
TIANA: I know it’s been a rough slog waiting for live music to return, particularly after the blow you were dealt with your gigs disintegrating around the creation of ‘Tomorrowland’ last year…but I believe you’re also poised to tour your brand new sonic baby alongside the release, which is extremely exciting news indeed. What can fans expect from a Bob Evans live show in 2021? Any new things you’ve had time to plan with all this COVID nonsense stalling live shenanigans?
BOB: Yeah, I’m really excited about touring again although because we are still on shaky ground it’s just too risky to try and book a full band tour throughout many states, so I will be travelling solo for the most part. I think most of this record will translate pretty well so I’ll play half of it I reckon and then the other half will be older songs that kind of fit in with the newer ones. There will be full band shows in the future, especially in Melbourne where we are all based but while we are still in an environment of reduced venue capacities and the threat of snap border closures and lock downs, travelling solo is the safest way to ensure the tours success.
TIANA: And on the topic of live shows, is there a particular song on ‘Tomorrowland’ you just absolutely cannot wait to bust out onstage in the not-too-distant future?
BOB: Well I’ve already played Born Yesterday a few times live and I really love it but I can’t wait to play it with the full band of course. To be honest, what I’d really love to be able to do is play the whole album from start to finish with a full band, brass section and backing singers. That would be the dream.
TIANA: And to close us out today, such an insane amount of gigs and tours you’ve clocked up over the years, is there a particularly memorable live show moment that sticks out for you after all this time, whether it was memorably good, bad or downright hilarious? E.g. any Spinal Tap getting lost backstage moments or a moment onstage that took your breath away?
BOB: Jebediah were playing the main stage of the Big Day Out in either ‘99 or 2000. We did both years so I can’t exactly remember which one it was. Anyway, we were in Melbourne at the showgrounds. It was a typical Melbourne summer’s day, overcast with a little rain. At some point during our set all the power went out. We were mid song and suddenly all the sound went out apart from Brett who kept banging on the drums until he realised the sound wasn’t coming back. I couldn’t talk to the crowd cos the microphones were out. Everything that was powered by electricity was gone. We ended up playing leap frog on stage for a while and then got the crowd singing the national anthem, I guess cos it was the only song I could think of at the time that everyone would know. Thankfully the power came back after how long, I’m not too sure. Probably a matter of minutes but it felt a lot longer.
THE BRAND NEW ALBUM TOMORROWLAND FROM BOB EVANS IS OFFICIALLY OUT IN THE WORLD RIGHT NOW. FOR MORE INFO HEAD HERE, AND FOR UPCOMING TOUR INFO, KEEP SCROLLING!
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BY TIANA SPETER