Little Orange Room Sessions is a one-take, one-shot, “living-room”-style performance video series recorded in Eugene, Oregon. Each two-song session is recorded in the 125 square feet that I use for mixing, producing, and sometimes even recording entire albums. Little Orange Room Sessions grew out of my crazy love of music and mixing, a growing curiosity about film and cameras, and a deep-seated passion for performance and the art of song.
Session #17: Evan Thomas Way
Evan Thomas Way is a singer/songwriter based out of Portland, Oregon. He has fronted the indie psych-folk band The Parson Red Heads for the past 15 years and in 2019 released a new album titled Long Distance, credited to Evan Thomas Way and the Phasers. His Little Orange Room Session features a track from that album “Maybe Tomorrow” and a new and unreleased song called “Along For the Ride.” Evan recently took the time to answer some questions via email.
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LORS: You have a new album in the works with your band The Parson Red Heads. You guys have been playing music together for 10+ years. I’m curious how your newest album “Long Distance” which is credited to Evan Thomas Way & The Phasers came about. Has there always been a desire to go off and do your own thing, so to speak?
ETW: For probably the past 15 years, almost as long as the band (The Parson Red Heads) has been playing, I have now and then written a song that just didn’t seem to fit into what the Parsons are doing at the time or really what I felt I wanted to do WITH the Parsons. These songs I would just put aside, and play them when I did an occasional solo show here and there. Over the years, I’ve attempted maybe 2 or 3 separate times to record a solo record with a lot of those songs, and it just never went well – I’d always can it not too long into trying, because it didn’t feel right. A few years ago I was doing a week-long solo residency at a venue here in Portland called Al’s Den. I decided I wanted to have a backing band for a few of the nights, just to mix things up. But I wanted to do it in a way that I was really not used to – I didn’t want to rehearse much at all, I wanted us to come into those shows really loose and improvisational. So I asked Raymond Richards, who plays pedal steel and some keys for the Parsons, and my long time musical friends Alex Chapman (bass) and Adam Beam (drums, the only person who has ever sat in on drums for the Parsons drummer, my wife Brette, when she was too pregnant to play). And they were down! Those 3 shows ended and they went so well that Raymond suggested we jump into the studio and record the songs while they were fresh. It seemed like a great idea. By that time the songs spanned from songs I literally wrote when I was 17, to songs that I’d written a week before the residency (one of the songs on the record I wrote the night before we recorded it), and it felt like finally the time had come for these songs to be recorded properly. We went into the studio and recorded everything as live as possible, took about 4 or 5 days total, and we had a record … much, I think, to the surprise of all of us!
LORS: Does the writing process change when you’re working on a solo project or Phasers album vs a Red Head’s album? Do you sit down to write for specific projects or do things kind of happen organically? For example, a song with The Parson Red Heads may not be clicking live or in the studio like it should but you find it works well with a different set of musicians or vice versa.
ETW: I don’t write songs for specific projects at all – in fact I don’t know if I’ve ever actually “intentionally” written a song!!! I don’t really remember writing songs, but all I know is that something comes to my mind – usually a melody or a lyric – and I have to get it out, and then some time later … there is a song. But once the song is written, I almost always have a pretty strong sense of whether it’s more of a solo song or a Parsons song. Though I don’t think I could put that sense into words.
LORS: You played a new song during our session. Is there sort of a “getting to know it” process you like put a new song through to see how it holds up? Like does it have to succeed in a concert setting for it to see the light of day in a studio or does it vary from song to song?
ETW: I guess it varies from song to song, to some extent. For example, some Parsons songs don’t seem all that exciting until I try them out at a rehearsal with the band, and then once I hear what the band brings to it and out the energy changes with everyone playing it, they totally transform. Other songs I know, the moment I write them, that they are a keeper, even if I don’t know what the final recorded form will be. The new song that I played during our session is sort of a hybrid of those two things: the moment I wrote it, I knew it was a song I wanted to keep and for people to hear, but the moment I played it in rehearsal with the Phasers, it totally took a new shape that I hadn’t even envisioned before, and that was really exciting – it became a really different, beautiful, and exciting song when played with the full band.
LORS: Guy Clark sings, “Some days you write the song / some days the song writes you.” Which line best describes you?
ETW: Oh, the song writes me every time. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I do not remember writing at least 95% of my songs. It’s very likely more. I can’t explain it, but they just come out and the whole experience of writing them is gone. I hope that doesn’t make me sound crazy?
LORS: Any music you’re listening to (old or new) that I should put in my ear holes? Or any good books you’re currently reading or just finished?
ETW: I’m always listening to so much music!! The stuff at the top of the rotation right now … Nap Eyes “Snapshots of a Beginner” (they are one of my very favorite bands these days), Michael Nau “So On So On” (he just released it on Bandcamp, and it’s INCREDIBLE!!!), Parquet Courts “Wide Awake” (fell in love with them the moment I heard them, this is a masterpiece, and even though it isn’t “new”, it’s in extreme heavy rotation still) … oh, and for a good deep cut oldie, Eric Anderson’s “Blue River” … generally unknown, but a beautiful folk record from 1972. Worth multiple listens. Book-wise, I’m finishing up “Tough Guys Don’t Dance” by Norman Mailer, and I love it. I’m planning on re-reading some Haruki Murakami books next. I’ve read everything he’s written, he’s my very very favorite author … and I just feel like it’s time I go back to a few gems.