“We just like shit that sounds cool.” After a discussion about creativity with Jane Arnison and Julie Chance of Evvol at their home in Kreuzberg, Julie comes to this fair conclusion. That’s about right. It’s an obvious distillation of a band’s process and progress that is increasingly leaving many contemporaries in their wake. Sometimes the simplest statements make the most sense. There is plenty of quality electronic music with a queer sensibility around, but in recent months, two Evvol tracks and their accompanying videos – ‘Release Me’ and ‘Song For The Broken Hearted (Rollin’)’ – have landed like reset buttons.
As the behemoth structures of the music industry continue to fracture – labels, platforms, festivals, marketing strategies – there is simultaneously less and more likelihood of what is quality and what is interesting prevailing. Less, because the ability to sustain a career as a musician is under increasing economic pressure as the traditional support structures collapse. More, because the conduit between artist and audience has been removed of the types of interventionist gatekeepers that often-stymied artistic vision.
Within this maelstrom, ephemerality has become as pronounced in non-mainstream music as it once was in chart pop. Here today, gone tomorrow.
This accelerated cycle squeezes many artists towards unwanted fringes, but conversely, for those on the fringe, there appears to be a larger expanse within which they can operate. What was once considered avant-garde can find a sustained audience if it has the resilience to last. These contradictions keep manifesting.
How often now do listeners consume and appreciate music without the invisible hand of radio, label, press, manoeuvring us towards liking it? Yet how realistic is it to want artists to keep creating without the rewards those structures created? But there is a selfish sweet spot, one where you know the art being made is emerging from a place of truth and fun matched with the pursuit of creative excellence. No gimmicks. Just goodness.
Right now, Evvol’s output is mad satisfying. Evvol has been around for a while in band form. Julie is from Dublin, Jane from Australia. Their creative relation- ship continues to trace an increasingly interesting path- way. Their 2015 album ‘Eternalism’ ended on an anthem, ‘Four Steps From Home’, and it’s an album that propelled them forward into a different kind of artistic expanse, one devoid of the rudimentary industry structures of prescriptive release timelines and promotional tours.
Their sole gig in Ireland in 2018, for example, was a performance at Drop Everything on Inis Oirr. 2017 saw them play a show called Human Resonance at the Pop Kultur festival in Berlin; part gig, part visual, lighting and sonic experiment, part mediation on subjugation, incarceration and immigration, part immersive meditation. The band is evolving with a gravitational pull. The more they have freed themselves up creatively, the more things come to them.
When ‘Release Me’ hit at the end of May, it played a cat and mouse game with censorious video streaming platforms given how it depicts real women having real sex. In Dazed, the band talked about representations of queer sexuality with the director of the video Matt Lambert, and kindred spirit Peaches.
“On a personal level,” Julie said to Peaches, “when your album came out, and your videos came out, it was such an exciting thing because my main problem with different types of media is that I really don’t feel I see myself on the screen or see myself represented, how I fuck, or the people I hang around, it’s not represented enough. That was one of the biggest driving forces for us – wanting to have representation of our lives”. A couple of months later, Julie contributed a voiceover for what Peaches called her “first performance art experiment” at a gallery in Berlin.
When ‘Song For The Broken Hearted (Rollin’)’ was released, the simplicity of the video, choreographed with friends in Berlin, encapsulated much of the band’s aesthetic; playfulness underpinned by technical prowess. Sonically, the track is one of their best. There is both a power and a lightness to it.
“It’s the way that I’ve wanted to be able to put all the sounds together and have the impact, but also the depth and lushness all at once,” Jane says. “That, for me, has been a significant step up for us. But there’s more to go.”
“We prefer to talk about the music more, the process,” Julie says.
“But therein lies the issue,” Jane says. “It’s hard to put words to. The whole purpose of music as a language is that you can do away with the inadequacies of the spoken language. In one sense, while you would like to have the opportunity to talk about the process, when that becomes a conversation now, you realise the music to a certain extent has to speak for itself.”
Jane is right. Once you start talking not just about the hows of making art, but the whys, words tend to fail. There’s a certain amount of flailing around for anchors. In most of their interviews, the questions fielded to Evvol are about place [Berlin, Ireland, Australia], scenes [primarily how an artist’s physical and social environment often feels exotic to journalists keen to create a shorthand of place, time, context, coolness], their sexuality and relationship, and gender [at the time of the interview, Jane is preparing a talk on the problem with ‘#femaleproducer’].
Before we sat down to talk, Julie, who recently acquired a tattoo gun, tattooed ‘blue’ on my arm [I was listening to Joni Mitchell on the way to their flat]. She raises that album in relation to how art can reach an elevated level.
“If you go back to Joni Mitchell, when you hear a song, any song on that album, ‘Blue’, it must be touched by the divine. How does somebody come up with those melodies? The chord progressions? The lyrics to match? The feelings, the whole package? Imagine writing a song like that?
“When I studied photography and was studying different documentary photographers, a lot of them brought out a few books, and my teacher used to say, ‘You know, there’s really only one good book in every photographer’. I think that about artists. There’s only really one amazing album. You have what came before that album, and what came after, but nothing will ever touch that album. The other albums are ‘something else’. Joni Mitchell has other great albums, but nothing touches ‘Blue’, let’s say.”
Jane adds to that sentiment, “‘Grizzly Bear, ‘Veckatimest’. Amazing, never reached that point again. Because you change the bar. And once you raise the bar to that place, you create this new form of texture and expression, then the listener has that expectation. So, if you give them the same amount of brilliance again, it’s like, ‘Oh, I’ve already heard that’.”
“How can you create that again?” Julie asks. “This is where we talk about divine intervention. They were somewhere, she was somewhere, and all the elements worked.”
“It is the magic culmination of circumstance,” Jane adds.
Trying to create the perfect circumstances is something any creative person must try countless variables to achieve. Working at a certain point in the day. Adjusting or changing an environment. Gravitating towards other art for inspiration. Drinking. Not drinking. Going out. Staying in. Talking to certain people. Avoiding others. Going for a walk. Getting up early. Meditating.
The world is full of lessons and tactics and inspirational quotes and Oblique Strategies and courses and how-tos.
“The way to give the most chance for that magic to happen is to make sure that the technical skill-based stuff is taken care of,” Jane says. “And give and allow for time that is free, with absolutely no feeling of pressure in terms of time and content. That certainly works best for us. That’s when our work is good. When we try to fit it in around stuff, try to put stuff together around deadlines, it’s always shit.”
What Evvol is now capturing is acting as an inspiration to others. Anna Calvi cited the video for ‘Release Me’ when she went on to work with Matt Lambert on her video for ‘Hunter’. After MIKEY worked with Jane, who is also a producer and engineer outside of the band, on their EP ‘Paths’, they said of Jane, “I always felt like my idea was never valued… she really gave me a confidence boost and trust in my own musicality”.
There is a sense that as Evvol’s creative partnership has progressed, it has become creatively freer. It’s a lesson for artists who allow external pressures to impact their flow.
“We aren’t taking things as seriously. Nothing matters,” Julie says of this progression. That ‘letting go’ has ended up creating more impactful art. It’s an instructive approach.
“And therein lies the dichotomy of the interplay of energy,” Jane says, “The more you hold tight, you’re more restricted, the less free things are. When you let things go, you have more capacity for people to interpret them in their own way and to be part of the experience. It’s interesting. The fine balance – taking something really seriously, but also understanding that one of the important things in honouring the thing you take seriously is to let it go and not control it. If you want to master something, part of the mastery is to let it go.”
“You won’t last as a band… It’s too much pressure. If you don’t have your own confidence you look to things like, ‘What do the bloggers think? What does this website think? What does my mate think of us? What do people at the gig think?’. You’ll go off your head.”
Jane says Julie has a talent for going with her gut, and prioritising intuition in decision-making. Julie says she sometimes finds it hard to imagine an initial idea as a bigger thing further down the line, and can be too quick to say no. Yet over time, that gut instinct works – “I just trust that feeling more than ever” along with Jane’s capacity to project how something could sound as it develops.
Evvol’s progression offers a lesson for artists feeling their way through an industry that often presents wayward guides and dodgy maps. But for Evvol, success, whatever that means, has to be forged through independence.
“We like the same things, and we know we have really great taste. There is that, on a purely aesthetic level,” Jane says.
“The other side to that is that we’re fiercely independent women in a misogynistic industry. We haven’t had a lot of pressure from people trying to influence us because we know our reputation speaks for itself. We are under- ground. We’re not having commercial labels wanting to work with us because they intuitively know we would be hard to deal with.
“I think that we have an uncompromising voice. Those who would seek to control us within the industry know not to fuck with us. We are very independent. We control the whole process. We had one experience way back when we worked with a producer and he was shit. We learned after that our ideas and my ability as a producer is fucking better than most of the ‘professionals’ out there, so we’ll just do it ourselves. We’ve done it ourselves ever since.”
“Obviously we’re dykes, we love women, we love women’s stories, that kind of narrative, that’s front and centre,” Jane says of what influences their approach to art. “Female empowerment. Independence. Rebellion. We are unashamedly hedonistic. There is a huge amount of hedonism in both of our psyches, and in our music.”
“We don’t give a fuck,” Julie adds. “But we want to achieve things. We both have drive. We are empathetic to our fellow humans. We care. That’s all part of it.”