If the opening track of the new Evangelicals record, The Evening Descends, is its overture, it makes perfect sense only through its nonsense. It's somehow a mission statement of the expansive, warped pop that is to come, stuttering out of the gates with odd vocal samples and squiggles of synths and alarm bells ringing like school's out for good. It's over all over the place, with that signature ADD weirdness that attracted attention to their debut So Gone still very much there, but with a more full band setup this time around, it's a slightly more chilled flight of fancy. Their new album The Evening Descends is a drive-in movie, nocturnal and brimming with a young excitement, filled with zombies and fake blood and a whole heap of camp cosmic shit.
This now four-piece hail from Norman, Oklahoma (home of famous weirdos The Flaming Lips), and it's not actually as weird a place as you might want to think, at least not as weird as many other small American towns. Actually, it probably is a pretty odd place, but talking to Josh Jones, 24, the main man behind their pop, it's clear that it's not a particularly forced sort of quirk; he's just into weird stuff. And that's cool, because I am too. It's especially great when it works out so well in the pop scheme of things. These songs are falling apart at the seams, reckless and willing to come off the rails at any moment, propelled by some spaced-out force. It all come pretty naturally to Jones; maybe the biggest defining factor of a small town is that you've gotta make your own fun.
I was checking out a few other interviews you've done lately, and it seems people are pretty keen on asking you about Norman and what it's like to live and make music there. So, okay, I'm going to go down that road too; is it a weird place?
Hmm, oh. Maybe yes and no. These days, especially in America, there's not a whole lot of different between one small town and the other. People often want to ask about Norman, like if it's a weird place, but I don't think its any stranger than most other small towns. In terms of the past eight years or so, I've had access to the internet and the outside world probably more so than musicians here that came before me. It doesn't feel particularly isolated. I'm not sure what kind of effect the place has, I mean, I've never lived in LA or New York, but there's a little bit less of a sense of wanting to be... cool. Most kids around here are aware of national trends but don't have to deal with it on a day-to-day level. Maybe you'd see it on the internet or something, but it's not as important to look cool or have a lot of money or whatever, so you can get away with just being yourself and making whatever music you want.
It must be such a great place to be making music, in that sense.
It's real easy. It's a great environment to make music; it's cheap to live here, you can have a car, a rehearsal spot, you can live pretty comfortably for not very much money compared to New York or whatever, where everything's a struggle. You get plenty of free time to make art.
It seems like another thing you guys get asked about a lot is the whole taking drugs thing. I think you made a rebuttal once saying people should try and live in some share house in Norman with 30 other people for $100 a week and live in some crazy conditions. Did you actually do that?
Ah well, that was more of just an idea I had that might be cool to try for people who are living in places like New York and are like "Fuck man, every thing's a struggle." So, move here; you don't have to work very much to survive -- it's easy to make music; with the internet, you have means of getting your work out there. You know, you don't live in New York and it's not as cool and there aren't as many cool parties, but so what, you're an artist, you're meant to be making music or painting anyway; fuck going to a party. I mean, people that live in New York don't go hanging out at MOMA everyday; the coolest things about living somewhere like that, you don't get to experience because you spend the whole time working.
Yeah, it's like in London, too, spending most of your time working some lousy job just so you can afford a few pints or to go to some show. Anyway, so as for the whole drugs thing again, I mean, I'm from a small town myself and when there's not a whole lot to do, taking drugs kind of becomes part of making your own fun. Maybe there's that assumption with you guys, but I think it mostly comes from the ADD, whacked-out sort of sound that you guys have.
Well, I've always been a bit confused about people wanting to talk about us taking drugs, but I've always been a bit confused by that. We're obviously not a middle-of-the-road mainstream FM radio sort of band, but there's so much more weird stuff that sounds way more druggy than us. Like when I listen to Xiu Xiu or Animal Collective, I always think stuff like that sounds like it's on drugs, but us compared to that, I think we seem relatively normal. We're singing about normal shit; there's guitars and there's drums. Maybe its just because I know the process behind it because we make it, but I think we sound pretty normal compared to Animal Collective or something like that.
The stuff that you guys draw from maybe has a similar thing going on; like really weird, whacked-out stuff like B-grade horror movies or Rocky Horror or carnivals or whatever; just really genuinely weird stuff.
Yeah, it seems like a bit of a cop-out to assume that in order to be imaginative or be into strange things that one needs drugs. I mean, life is strange enough without drugs.
Yeah, that's for sure. Drugs don't come into most strange art, I don't think -- at least not too overtly. Like Salvador Dali to name an obvious example.
I know, the times in my life where I have done drugs, I haven't accomplished anything because I've been too fucked up, you know [laughs].
Totally. I must say, though, I have been enjoying The Evening Descends a lot when I've been high. It seems to make a lot of sense that way.
I don't discourage that at all [laughs]. But yeah, if I get high, I just end up staring off into space and don't make any music at all. I'm painfully sober 99% of the time I'm making music.
Okay, yeah, the album is expansive enough without being on drugs. There's so much different stuff going on at the same time. It takes a lot of listens for your brain and ears to track down all of the different sounds and time changes and volume changes. I was thinking how hard it must be for you guys to actually get this down onto tape.
It takes a long time. And you never know really when a song is finished. It takes a long time, and its tough to know what needs to stay and what needs to go. There's a lot of editing.
Do you find you ever have a tendency to over-edit, from working like this?
It's true it is hard to be objective at a certain point. I like to play it for friends and family and get their opinions, so that's one way to avoid over-editing or beating a song into the ground. Sometimes I'll play a song to a friend and then work on it and play the new version to them, and they'll be like "what happened to that old version you showed me!"
How does it work now that you guys are a four-piece? Do you play songs live in the studio or is it more of a cut-and-paste sort of thing?
We use the computer to write so much that we're writing and recording at the same time, most of the time, for us. I would say our writing and recording process is pretty intertwined, and it's more like painting a picture or something. It all just sort of happens there at once.
It's a bit of a music journalist sort of thing to talk about, but the idea of space is quite striking to me in your music, particularly the new record. Like the last track, "Bloodstream" -- it's vast, it keeps going skywards. Are you guys conscious of this sort of space when your working?
We're not conscious of it at all. We've had a lot of people ask us about it, but I never even think about it actually when I'm writing. It's just working on instinct; it just kind of flops out that way. I don't really think about it ,but that's the way that people hear it. And that's an interesting thing -- if sometimes what you're making, you've heard it a million times and you've got no idea how its going to be perceived or how its going to sound to others.
Were there any particular things you were trying to be conscious of while making the new record?
One particular thing was that I had this idea that the whole record would take place at night. It's a very loose concept.
But it's easy to hear, too. It sounds pretty much like nighttime; not necessarily dark as such, but those strange moments at night or a drive-in movie or something.
That was the idea. Yeah there's definitely the whole zombie flick, B-movie kind of vibe on there too.
Also, it sounds like you guys are quite into glam as well.
Totally, I'm a big Marc Bolan fan, and I like a lot of that over-the-top sort of stuff. I'm not a big fan of hushed voice singers. I was involved with musical theater in high school, and I guess I've just always liked more over-the-top sort of stuff. We try not to take ourselves to seriously as well. There's some campy stuff in there for sure.