Posted February, 2012
Photo by Gregg Roth
It’s pretty safe to say that anyone reading this right now knows someone who has been devastated by this meat grinder of an economy. You may have been directly impacted by it yourself. I know that I certainly have.
Fortunately, compared to many people I know and know about, I was only lightly affected. I know of bankruptcies and divorces. I know of PhD’s having to get jobs at Home Depot in order to survive. I’ve seen former managers in the high tech field wait tables in restaurants and think, “There but by the grace of God . . .” knowing that the person I saw didn’t deserve their lot in life. It just happened.
With that as an emotional backdrop, last month I reviewed an album (here) that resonated with me on so many levels. The album, Treehouse, is the latest album by singer, songwriter and fretless guitar hero, Ned Evett, and was written with huge chunks of his soul oozing from every note played and sung. As I wrote in my review of Treehouse, “Ned pours out his tale of emotional, vocational, financial and marital devastation in this 14 song autobiographical CD”.
I knew when I listened to it that I had to talk with this man. Contacts were made and a phone interview arranged with the man behind those heart-rending songs. Ned called me from his home in Nashville, Tennessee (aka, “the throne of God” – at least in the Patterson household it is). As me made introductory small talk, I asked him what brought him to Nashville.
“When I moved here a year ago, I got a place out by Adrian Belew’s studio because of the record. The record took nine days to record but it really took a couple of months to get everything done. I did demos and I wanted to be able to spend some time with Adrian prior to going into the studio. That’s one of the reasons I moved to Nashville.
“I really studied the music scene here to try and see where I fit on a performance level. There’s everything here – from the Ryman clear on down to The Family Wash in East Nashville. The scenes are all pretty different – the real commercial country stuff - which isn’t my bag. Then you have the alternative country thing but it’s totally my bag. And, then, you have experimental guys like Reeves Gabrels who lives here. So does Adrian Belew, as you know, as well as Bela Fleck and the Flecktones – it’s very diverse.”
His comments sparked an unplanned question in my mind. Nashville has the reputation among some in the music business – though the town is incredibly friendly – that it can be a bit tough to “fit in” – that, musically, it can be a bit cliquish. I’m not a musician nor do I live there (unfortunately) so I have no idea if that rap is earned or not. So, I asked Ned what his perception of the town was in that regard.
“I have not had a problem. Like you said, people are very friendly- it’s part of the culture and that’s nice. On a musical level, I’ve found people to be very welcoming. It’s been pretty positive for me. I don’t know why that is. I mean, I’m certainly an outsider musically. I mean, I play a strange guitar in a strange manner but I’m from here so I had reasons beyond the music business for moving here – just exploring and catching up with my roots. That helps. Perhaps if I had moved here exclusively just to try to become a Nashville star or something, then I might have a different opinion of it.”
We veered off with small talk about Dallas area venues – especially the beautiful and historic Granada Theater where Evett has played before. Ned shared that “it was great! I played there about a year ago. It was the first gig that I had been at – we were the support act for Joe Satriani and it was the first gig where people were actually hollering for us before we went on. People were, like, ‘Ned Triple Double! Ned Triple Double!’ (Triple Double being the name of Evett’s band). That was really cool. It was a great night.
“Interestingly enough, the gig before that was the Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles. We had two days to make the drive to Dallas. That’s a pretty healthy drive. Our van – which was a nice rig – broke down in New Mexico. We had to get it towed 200 miles. We had to rent another van. We literally pulled up into Dallas a half hour before we were to go on. Every available second went into getting to that show.”
Though I usually ask about tour plans later in an interview, since we were talking about the Granada Theater, I went ahead and asked if there were any tour plans in support of Treehouse.
“Tour plans. I don’t really have any tour plans, as such, to discuss yet. It’s still kind of early in the process. I don’t really have anything lined up. I love Texas, though. I love Austin. We played Houston at the House of Blues. Stephen Robinson – who’s an astronaut – is a friend of mine and he gave us a behind-the-scenes tour of the NASA Space Center – the whole band. That was killer! I can’t wait to come back to Texas. Also, my manager is from Texas – League City. So, yeah, I really enjoy Texas.”
When you get your copy of Treehouse (and for the life of me, I don’t know why you don’t already have it), you’ll notice on the cover of the enclosed booklet a picture of the most amazing tree house you’ve ever seen. That tree house is the famous creation of one Horace Burgess in Crossville, Tennessee, and it will blow your mind.
While I am obviously very impressed with that amazing creation, I asked Ned the obvious question: Why the “Treehouse” theme? I really wanted to know what the significance of a tree house was to him and the theme of the album.
“There’s a literal connection. Starting in 2009 I lived in a two bedroom apartment that was surrounded by 100 year old oak trees in Boise, Idaho. It was like living in a forest canopy at night when I opened up the windows and there would be squirrels chasing each other. It was tucked way off of Main Street and over a market. At night, the market closed and the traffic would die down and the sounds of the canopy would take over. I would just lie there, listening to that, dealing with a lot of stuff, obviously.
“That apartment, for me, became my first independently operated space following living with someone for 20 years. It had all my things in it - all my guitars. I rekindled my sculpting – my visual art, as well. For the first time, I combined something that I never felt there was a place for it before in my life.
“So, the ‘treehouse’ was a combination of my artistic stuff and my music. It always felt very tenuous in some ways but very alive. An actual tree house is that way, too. It’s attached to a living thing and that thing is always growing and, ultimately, that structure can’t last. It comes down when the tree dies or before. I liked the metaphor of the tree house – of impermanence.
“Prior to my period in ‘the tree house’ I had lost my job. I was able, briefly, as a contractor, to resuscitate and cobble together an income but it didn’t last. I was torpedoed a second time, and lost the tree house apartment. For a period of 5 months I was without a permanent address. I lived in my car for a couple of weeks, couch surfed. Then I was able to find a place to stay – I did a house-sitting gig for a while. I had a world tour with Joe Satriani lined up that took almost four months to complete. I had that on the calendar and I knew it was coming up so I basically sold all my possessions and put all of the things that I wanted to hold onto in storage. In October of that year (2010), I hit the road with him.
“When I came off the road, I lived in a hotel and then moved to Nashville on Valentine’s Day last year, came to Nashville, started to work with Adrian, recorded Treehouse and I’m still kind of catching up.”
In sharing common stories between us as to how life’s trials impacted us and our view of the world, Ned shared, “It’s actually very strange going through it. I went through a divorce after losing my job and divorce bestows a certain amount of surrender. I wound up surrendering in a way that a lot of people do. You let a lot of stuff slide and, coupled without having any sort of income it was pretty much it for me.
“People stepped in when they could. They helped out. There were situations where friends – as well intentioned as they were – what can they do? They can give encouragement but this recession was large enough that it really dwarfs people’s abilities to really help out.”
When artists create from their sense of trial and need, they often say that the process is – to use a word that is often overused - cathartic for them. I wondered if that was the case with Evett. He paused as he digested the question before very slowly and deliberately answering it.
“Yes, I definitely process emotion into my songwriting. I’ve been writing songs for a long time and that was not always the case. But, at some point, it became – with another overused phrase – a free source of therapy – and very healing. Once you tap into that, if you need that, it’s there for you – like a good friend. But, then, on Treehouse, Mars River Delta 2128 is certainly not a process of anything I went through.
“So, songwriting is very broad and can be so expansive. You can write about anything. The sky’s the limit. But, then, sometimes, at the end of the day, writing what’s in your heart and what you’re going through is what gets done. On Treehouse, I certainly wrote about a lot of stuff.”
I asked Ned a question that I recently asked Mitch Ryder: What has been the impact of this album on the relationships that the songs cover?
“The sad thing for me is a lot of people I wish would hear the record probably will never listen to it just because of having friends and falling out, things like that. That’s always hard. That’s always difficult. There’s not a lot of apologies going on in Treehouse and I’m not sure that I’ll ever get around to some of that. It’s not apologetic. I’m just chronicling my own take on it – my own emotional take.
“That being said, Just About Over This Time is told from the standpoint of the person slamming the door in your face and what they’re going through. I tell you what: If you had to have people sign a release to the songs about them, wow! I don’t think a lot of songs would ever get written.”
In my own experience, one of the results of the trials I went through was the conscious effort to relate better to everyone – my wife, my daughter, my family – to be a better friend. I asked Ned if his experiences have had an impact on how he relates to people.
“I lived in a really small town for a long time. I moved to Idaho ten years ago to start a family, work a middle class job and pursue music and it all kind of went up in a fire when the job left. I left town when my support system collapsed. Coming here to make Treehouse took me out of that situation and has given me a lot of time to think about the damage. To be honest with you, I don’t know where a lot of that stands.
“In a lot of ways, I’m still waiting to rebuild my life here. It’s a lot to let go of. I have family in Boise. I don’t want to just let go completely. So, how do you move on in your life and still keep hold of something that’s two thousand miles away? People move on with their lives. It’s like Einstein’s Theory of Relativity – a theory of emotional relativity, almost. Generally, people that are left behind have a different sense of things than those that shoot off – that are displaced – that economic displacement. The diaspora – that experience - is different than for the people that remain.”
Lest Evett be viewed as someone who feels that he’s the only one who has, and is, experiencing this economic and emotional roller coaster, he added, “As we both know, Randy, we’re talking about millions of people who have gone through this. The scope of it is big. I guess I didn’t realize that (before). That was one of my issues back in my scenario.”
Then, sharing more details about his own personal job loss, Ned said, “Most of the people I knew were unaffected by the economic downturn. They all had jobs. They were the ones that were selected to stay and I was not. I ran a commercial recording studio and I did commercial music and voice-over recording. It was a great gig. I had started with this company and it had grown. I had been there for almost ten years.
“Their core customers just stopped spending money. HP and Intel, companies like that all stopped spending money for a long time and affected a lot of people – not just me, of course. But I had bought into ‘this company is family and we’ll all hunker down’ and I had started to hunker down with everybody else. And, then, when you’re laid off while you’re trying to marshal your resources to push the company forward, it’s very difficult.
“I had pursued my music career on the side for a long time. In a lot of ways, it was a compliment to my ‘day job’ – as part of the culture of the company. I’m definitely a ‘fly-below-the-radar’ type of individual and I don’t ostentatiously shake my accomplishments in people’s faces but I had accomplished some things that were huge – that even the HP engineers and executives in Idaho were aware of. I had been on PBS television in 2004, so I was on national television and getting some praise. I always tried to keep that separate from my day gig and the company itself started to embrace that and celebrating my work/life balance. That felt really good. I was reluctant to combine those things so, when I was laid off, it was really, really difficult and I lost a lot.
“It really sucks when you feel that you’re not one of those resources that people need to in order to move forward. Plus, when they laid me off, they actually told everyone in the company – and it’s a large company of 300 employees –that I had quit – that I had voluntarily left. This was made known to me months later. I had noticed a distance in people – being very confused as to why I was leaving. It baffled me because I had worked with these people, in some cases, eight years or so. Finally, one of them said, ‘Why did you leave without saying goodbye?’ and I said that I was let go. I was let go the day before Thanksgiving and was out the door.
“They promised me contract work to kind of placate me. But, overall, I felt thrown out. Maybe they didn’t want to leave the impression that they were laying people off yet. I was one of the first people laid off. Later, they (the layoffs) came fast and they came deep. To go from being embraced and being part of the culture, which I did not want to do but eventually succumbed to, to go from that to being laid off, it’s hard.
The comment was made that we can’t let life’s events be poison in our lives. To that point, Ned added, “Honestly, the ‘poison’ kept me going for a long time. I’m coming to the end of it now. I can’t sustain it and, when I go back to draw upon it for some kind of strength or direction, I realize the futility of it. Fortunately, I have other things in my life that are much more positiveI have a very monastic, artistic kind of life. I’m staring at my guitars and my art work. I’m making a video right now for Bend Me off of Treehouse – I’m a stop sculptor/animator, as well. I built all of the characters out of clay. That’s all great.
“My timeline is moving forward. I can feel that and I’m thankful for that. I have some great people looking out for me like my manager, Sandra Prow, for one, who lives in London and Chris Kelly from Peavey, who lives in Austin; Carol Kaye, who’s Jeff Beck’s publicist in New York City and has been handling the record part quite well. I really like her.”
Shifting our conversation to his album, I asked Evett if he were to point to just one tune on Treehouse that he would want people to listen to, which one would it be?
“It’s funny, midway through the record, you have Bend Me and Bend Me is very positive. It’s at that point where you have the information and you’re willing to accept people telling you that it’s going to be okay. I think, in this world, that’s probably a very important point to reach. It’s like, ‘okay, I can’t just crater for the rest of my life.’ Most of us have individuals, friends and family that say that you’ve got to get yourself together. Bend Me is about that experience. It’s about going ‘Okay! Alright! I’ll listen to you and I’ll find that change within myself. I’m ready.’
Evett bringing up Bend Me provided me the perfect segue to ask him about a couple of other tunes that are on Treehouse. I first asked him what the back-story is on Nightmare and a Dream Come True.
“Nightmare and a Dream Come True is about when you live alone – particularly your first time out on your own – living alone for the first time in 20 years. You have a lot of dark nights of the soul because you don’t realize the comfort just being with somebody brings.
“I guess Nightmare is also about new people in your life, helping you through important things but you’re not sure yet who they are. It can vacillate between being very positive in your life and being very negative. Sometimes, when you’re estranged from your friends and your family, there’s a big vacuum and you tend to gravitate towards people you don’t know that well. They may be going through the same things you’re going through but that can be very disorienting.”
Another great tune from the album that I wanted to know more about was Say Goodbye For Both of Us.
“I had the chorus of the song before I had the verse. That’s sort of the nuts and bolts of the whole thing. It is autobiographical. I’m from out west. We’re all from rural America one way or another. We come from funny little towns with unpronounceable names. It’s hard to let go of people, too. In this day and age, it’s really hard to completely drop someone. They won’t stay gone. You can get rid of their cell information and stuff like that – you can lose people’s numbers on purpose but, eventually, they can track you down.
“Say Goodbye For Both of Us is also about ‘I’m going to do the right thing here and I’m going to stop contacting you and, then, you will stop contacting me and we’ll both get on with our lives’. Someone’s got to do it.”
The last tune that I asked Ned about was Why Can’t I Believe?
“Yes! Well, this is a very honest song. Belief in yourself, for some people, it’s just their condition. They believe in themselves no matter what. On a musical level, look at American Idol, look at the singers who think that they’re the best thing ever but they’re completely horrible. There’s that personality type, in the extreme, and then there are people who are extraordinarily talented who have a hard time feeling that they are. I sort of fall somewhere in the middle of that spectrum; that song is about that and about someone close to you who believes in you but you cannot let go of your own insecurity and see you the way they see you and how difficult that is.”
It’s clear that Ned Evett is listening more and more to those voices who say, “Yes, you are! Yes, you can!” and moving positively forward with his life and his career. His style, songwriting and musical mastery insure that we’ll be hearing a lot about this artist for years to come.
If you like listening to artists and songs who have lived what you have lived; experienced what you have experienced; felt the same kinds of pain that you have felt or are feeling; and who has articulated all of those feelings and experiences into great music, you will want to follow Ned Evett and purchase Treehouse. Believe me when I say that it will resonate with you. Listen to Treehouse and you’ll be a fan for life.