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Album Premiere: Long Distance by Evan Thomas Way & The Phasers

Evan Thomas Way
3 May 2019

Evan Thomas Way – Photo courtesy of Evan Thomas Way

Evan Thomas Way’s career as the frontman for the Parson Red Heads has made the warmth of his voice synonymous with the band’s hope-filled songs. This is why his new solo record is a surprise. While maintaining the layered guitar harmonies and the gentleness of his voice, the songs on his new album Long Distance are darker and more deeply personal.

The Big Takeover is thrilled to be hosting the premiere of Long Distance in its entirety, which comes out today, May 3rd, via Portland, OR-based Lung Records, owned and operated by David Beach.

The songs on the LP were written throughout Evan’s life and recorded secretly as a gift for his wife. Evan is joined by The PhasersRaymond Richards (who co-produced the record along with Evan, and plays electric guitar and pedal steel), Adam Beam (drums), and Alex Chapman (bass), with support from Michael Blake (keys), Eric Earley (organ), and Ben Latimer (saxophone). The result is an album of astonishing intimacy and nuance.

The lyrics walk the line between dogged hope and the weariness of daily life. They are the stories of those who are torn between giving up and pressing on. The album resists providing a definitive answer. “Don’t fall away,” Evan encourages his listeners – there’s a number on your life,” but later on the album he resigns himself to the realization that “all that was nonsense the moment I woke.” This honesty makes for an album of fragile transparency, giving space to the doubts that haunt us all.

The weight of these lyrics is buoyed by the album’s splendid music. The melodies are immediately approachable, some sounding like long-forgotten lullabies. Their simplicity is supported by the tight textures of the band. The guitar hooks are bright and layered with harmony. The organ and keys are rich in reverb. The organic textures of phasers provide a touch of psychedelic. Especially satisfying is when Ben Latimer’s saxophone winds its way around Evan’s falsetto in the songs “Gone” and “Change Your Mind.” The band’s self-described goal was “Neil Young by way of shoegaze.” It’s a sound they have mastered effortlessly.

Through both the honest emotions of an ordinary life and the comfort of melody and harmony, Evan has given his listeners an album with which to make sense of their own lives. His lyrics provide a voice for those who are hurting while his music is a comfort for those who are healing. Immediately accessible, yet unfolding the true strength of its songwriting and musicianship over subsequent listens, Long Distance is a subtle, but relevant treasure.

Evan Thomas Way generously took some time to delve into the meaning and backstory of each song on Long Distance:

“Don’t Surprise Me”
“Put simply, this song is about finding out that someone you love dearly is not at all the person you thought they were. This is a song of mourning, thinking about the person that you knew and lived life with, and how everything you had together changed when they changed. I think it’s a song that almost everyone can relate to – seems we’ve all had someone we love lose themselves, whether it be to substance abuse, the pursuit of success, the pursuit of power or popularity, and so on and so forth … there are so many things we can lose ourselves to, causing us to forget who we truly are and how to live well and love people well. It’s one of those strange songs that is sad, but still sounds upbeat and “fun”. I wondered if the content was a bit too heavy to start a record with, but in the end it felt like the right decision … I hope!”

“Maybe Tomorrow”
“This is a song that I’ve had for a LONG time – it’s probably 12 years old. It’s slightly morphed and changed over the years, but the lyrical and melodic core has remained the same. I’m really proud of this song. I don’t think the meaning is too hard to discern after a listen – the narrator of the song spends the song wishing and hoping that “tomorrow” everything in his life will be different, from the smallest thing to the biggest thing, that everything will just be completely changed when he wakes up. The narrator is, of course, me (I actually name myself in the song) – but I don’t actually spend all that much time wishing anything in my life was different. I am quite happy with my life! So don’t be fooled, the narrator might be me, but it’s a fictional me, an alternate reality me – honestly, MOST of these songs are narrated by an alternate reality me.”

“Life”
“This is another song that I’ve had for quite some time. When I originally wrote it, it had something like 8 verses. I had to trim it down to something reasonable – it was hard, because the melody and pacing makes it so easy to write lyrics to! But I had to have self control. It’s about – wait for it – LIFE. Don’t know how else to really describe it. It’s a song about being alive. My wife says this song is like my “Send in the Clowns” or “Being Alive”. So I guess to her it sounds like a musical theater song? I’m taking it as a compliment because I love both of those songs!”

“Long Distance”
“This is another song narrated by “alternate reality me”. I wrote it right after moving to Portland from LA, and you can hear traces of that experience in it, I think. It’s about moving and life changing – doesn’t have to be literally moving to a different city or state. It can be more just about life changing, and suddenly feeling out of sorts and drifting. It’s about trying to rise above that feeling, to become grounded again and start living again. It’s definitely one of my favorite songs from the record to play live.”

“Don’t Fall Away”
“This is a very personal song for me. This is NOT from the perspective of “alternate Evan”, but actually very much the real me. I wrote this song for a friend who was just throwing his life away, running from everything he knew, seemingly doing everything he could to tear his life and the people he loved apart. In a way it’s a song related to “Don’t Surprise Me” – but in this song, instead of just mourning how the person I love had changed, this song is pleading them to come back, to heal and reconcile, because they still have value and purpose. It’s really one of the more confessional / true to life songs on the record. One of the last lines in the song is “So hold on to what will last / The truth remains, while all things pass away / And I never could say this to your face” – and it’s true, I never actually did have this conversation with my friend in person, only through song.”

“Gone”
““Gone” is a very simple song … both in content and in execution. It’s only two chords, the whole time. Luckily, the band’s performance on it makes it so much more interesting and dynamic than a song with the same two chords over and over could potentially be. The Phasers helped me turn a potentially very boring song into a really engaging and exciting song (in my opinion). When Ben (Latimer, on saxophone) finished recording his solo sections on this song, I think everyone in the control room at the studio burst into applause … or maybe tears … I can’t quite remember. Maybe it applause while crying.”

“Hope”
“I wrote this song the night before the LAST day we recorded. The plan was that I was going to pop into the studio and do a few final overdubs, and one acoustic song (“Seventeen”). Then suddenly this song came out of me at the last minute, and I texted Raymond (Richards, producer / engineer of the album and member of the Phasers) warning him we were gonna need to record one additional song. It’s a really important song for the album: I recorded this album quickly and in some amount of secrecy as a surprise gift for my wife – I won’t go into all the meanings and intent behind that, we can leave it at that. But this song is simply about her, and about us, and it’s my song of love and devotion for her.”

“Change Your Mind”
“This song can be taken a few different ways. I think some people will hear it and think that it’s a song about a messed up relationship, with the narrator being the wounded and defeated party in the relationship. But that’s not quite how I hear it. I don’t know if it was my intent when I wrote it (I don’t remember writing ANY songs, including this one … my memories of writing songs disappear almost immediately, it’s really strange) – but this is now how I interpret the lyrics to this song: this song is a prayer, in a way. It is someone talking to God and basically giving God permission to do whatever He pleases – change people, change the world, end the world, take people away in a cloud or in a storm, leave people here to pursue and discover Him further … it a song basically telling God “Your will be done”.”

“Fire at the end of the Line”
“So proud of how this song turned out. We tracked this live in the studio, guitar, drums, bass, pedal steel, vocals. The only thing overdubbed was one track of the solo at the end, and the piano, so you can really hear a true performance of a band playing off of each other and interacting, which I think is just the best.”

“Seventeen”
“I wrote the song “Seventeen” when I as seventeen, and first debuted it at a high school talent show. It was a much different song back then, and was much much worse. But I knew the seed of the idea was legitimate, and worth keeping around. I finally got around to tweaking it and in some ways re-writing it, and sure enough, there was a good song buried in there! I think it’s a powerful idea, this song being written by a seventeen year old, and actually growing in power and depth of meaning as it is sung by that same 17 year old, 17 years later. This was the first and only take of the song – just me and the acoustic guitar. When the last chord rang out, Raymond turned on the talk-back mic and said “I think we’re done!”“

TOUR DATE
MAY 6 – MON – Mississippi Studios – Portland, OR – with Matt Dorrien

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