Spokes and Gordon Parks

I studied architecture my first year in college. In my head architecture was a hopelessly romantic combination of the technical and the artistic – I would graft shape onto these machines for living, and possess the mechanical knowledge to make sure that whatever got built didn’t fall down. But in practice, it was a lot of late nights in front of a drafting table, followed by group critiques where my fellow colleagues would try to come up with the most creative ways of ripping each other’s work apart. On the upside, I learned how to take a punch.

That spring semester ended and I spent the summer working in a historical re-enactment camp in New Mexico. The camp was a replica of a 19th century logging camp, and didn’t have any running water or electricity. All of our food came in on a donkey. Showers were not a frequent occurrence.


I spent the summer reading Walt Whitman, learning to play banjo, and teaching kids how to climb spar poles and cut railroad ties with axes. One day my entire job was to build a fence by hand. I thought about it, dug the post holes, chopped down a few dead trees, shaped them appropriately, and pole by pole, bar by bar, made the fence. It was exactly how I was realizing I liked to work. Jump into the situation, ascertain the skills necessary to do the task, acquire them, and do it. And something more. There’s a Japanese word “shokunin,” that’s clumsily translated into ‘craftsman’ or ‘artisan.’ But a shokunin is really more of a lifestyle – there’s no final target, no final “thing” that’s created. You’re engaging in a vocation where pleasure is derived from continually improving doing the task you’re doing. I understood that a little more after building a fence.

By the end of the summer I’d fully decided that architecture wasn’t for me. My time in New Mexico had given me the perspective to more critically think about the architects I’d met and worked with. They all seemed too academic, too elitist. Their concept of buildings was pure and beautiful, but uncluttered by any of the people that had to live in them. The joy of creation remained at my core – perhaps I recognized it more now – but I found myself wanting to apply that joy into the telling of stories, not the building of buildings.

I went back to Florida for a week at the end of the summer to gather my things. It was a blur of visiting friends and family, and re-acquainting myself with the wonders of electricity. One evening a documentary came on. “Half Past Autumn” – a biopic of Gordon Parks.

In him I found how an aesthetic similar to mine – one that merged the narrative and the technical – could be focused and cast into almost anything. Parks was an autodidact. He grew up in rural Kansas as one of fifteen children, taught himself photography and became hugely influential in the 1940′s with the Farm Securities Administration (before being the first African American to shoot for Life). He composed pop and orchestral music, wrote over 15 novels and instructional books, directed the film Shaft, and cofounded Essence magazine.


In addition to an aesthetic, we shared a similar approach. He would dive in, focus on telling the story, and trust that his skill and maneuverability would carry him through the project. His willingness to experiment took him far. He was able to narratively tell stories about gangs in Chicago and the favelas of Brazil. That narrative focus naturally extended into film, and he relayed the story of his life in the Learning Tree, the first major Hollywood film to be directed by an African American (he also wrote and scored it). His work seemed to touch on almost every medium, every genre.

The credits rolled and I felt like I’d been introduced to a kindred spirit. I knew that even if I didn’t know exactly what I was going to focus my artistic energy on, my intent had merit. The intent was the hub of the wheel, and its eventual expression in a medium was the spoke. I knew architecture wasn’t my spoke. But I now knew that a strong core could be applied to almost any media, and that you didn’t have to just pick one.

And I could build my own wheel any damn way I cared to.



Echo Bloom - Red - Cover - Medium Red – officially released in the United States January 29th on deluxe colored LP, CD, MP3, and through streaming services. We’ll be playing Rockwood Music Hall’s Stage 2 on Tuesday, January 26th. Tickets are available online via Ticketfly


The next single off our upcoming record Red.

Morning’s wasted on the picture on the wall
that slowly reappears the moments after dawn
Every day I see you looking back at me
at the boy I am and the man I couldn’t be

15 years I swung that hammer
Baby all I had was time
Evangeline, tell me it all was just a dream
You won’t believe what all the time has done to me

The man you loved so long ago’s all torn and faded
and there’s nothing left inside of him not full of hatred
but let’s make the best of what is left
I’m violent and I’m sad
they took the best years that I had
and left an empty shell
they picked off like a scab
I’m a child at 34
mopping up some liquor store
lying awake at night
afraid of dying alone

15 years I swung that hammer
Baby all I had was time
Evangeline, tell me it all was just a dream
You won’t believe what all the time has done to me

That afternoon you married me in that grove of pine trees
in my darkest hours that memory was all that saved me
so let’s make the best of what is left

Evangeline, tell me it all was just a dream
You won’t believe what all the time has done to me

If you’ve moved along I’d never think you less a person
but your heart still has a place for me of that I’m certain
so let’s make the best of what is left

Kyle Evans – Tenor Vocals, Acoustic Guitar, Piano, Tambourine, Tape Loops
Aviva Jaye – Alto Vocals
Josh Grove – Electric Guitar
Jason Mattis – Bass
Shareef Taher – Drums
Steve Sasso – Background Vocals
Jeffrey Young – Violin
Emily Price – Cello
Michael William Levine – Pedal Steel
Michael Gullo – Background Vocals
Anita Purcell – Background Vocals

Recorded and mixed by Chris D. Butler at Butler Recording, Bushwick, Brooklyn, NY
Additional Engineering: Garrett Frierson
Mastering: Carl Saff

My studio – a tour

I’m always really curious about how people organize their work environments, because (to me) it can reflect so closely what they’re working towards artistically (and if The medium is the message, then the context from which that message sprung is doubly important). I took a picture of my studio and labeled it below with more information about how everything fits together. My setup is fairly modular, and is always changing (right now it’s focused more on editing and demos, occasionally it veers more towards recording). Favorite workspaces? Hit me up in the comments and let me know.

Echo-Bloom-HQ-NoLabels Echo-Bloom-HQ-WithLabels
  1. Glockenspiel
  2. Flight case for keyboard (never get an instrument without a decent case)
  3. Pick Puncher – like a hole punch, but in the shape of a guitar pick. A perfect way to make those unused loyalty cards useful.
  4. Fender Super Champ XD – most of my guitar recording is DI, and I take it to a studio later to reamp at a higher volume. I use an amp to both monitor and excite the guitar (reamping a guitar that wasn’t originally played with an amp in the room sounds pretty strange)
  5. Ibanez Artcore (6-string electric hollowbody). I traded an old microphone for this and a really weird amplifier (that I call the fart machine, which I’ll talk about later). The hollow body makes it really useful for getting feedback tones, which is mostly what I use it for.
  6. Seagull Excursion (12-string acoustic with stock onboard pickup). This pickup also has a tone control on the top with a tuner on it, which is super useful for a 12-string (oh, the tuning). Seagull is the budget model of Godin guitars, based out of Canada. I’ve used their guitars for a while (and endorse for them). When I needed an acoustic 12-string for a recording I called them up and they sent this over, and it’s gotten a ton of use both recording and live.
  7. Martin 000-15S (6-string acoustic). This is my primary acoustic guitar for recording, so I don’t keep a pickup in it. It came to me from Action Music in Falls Church, where I had an Excalibur-like moment when I started playing it.
  8. Squier Bass Guitar. This is a fabulously crappy bass I got about ten years ago (and have yet to change the strings on). The action is really high, which is great for getting those P-bass sounds, but the intonation is so bad that I only use it for demos.
  9. Mike Ramsey “Woody” Banjo (5-string, open-back banjo). Mike Ramsey makes ridiculously beautiful instruments out of his Chantrelle workshop in Pittsboro, NC. Its got a really nice, earthy tone when played without fingerpicks, and has been used on a bunch of recordings. Unfortunately it’s a little fragile, so I don’t take it out on the road.
  10. Seagull S6 Folk (6-string acoustic). This is my beater acoustic (as should be evident by the lacquer on the neck that’s been mostly worn off). I’ve got an LR Baggs Anthem pickup in there, which is decent, but still pretty synthetic. It’s a concertina-size, which is a bit smaller than the average dreadnought, but eliminates a lot of that boomy low-mid range you see in slightly larger acoustics.
  11. Fender ’72 Telecaster Thinline Replica (6-string electric). This is my primary recording and live electric guitar. My favorite thing about it is it’s versatility – it’s got dual humbuckers, so it can be really meaty or really twangy.
  12. Danelectro 12-String Semi-Hollow Electric. This is the most recent addition to the guitar arsenal, and is all chimey and wonderful. The pickup configuration is just right for that jangly Byrds’y thing, and so far I love it.
  13. SE Reflexion Filter, Mic stands, cables. The Reflexion Filter was the first of the portable acoustic treatment products, and I’ve found it really useful for recording small things at home or other weird places where you don’t have a ton of control over the room. Not perfect, but really useful for the right situation.
  14. Akai MPK-61 MIDI controller, wired up to control Pro Tools.
  15. Atruria Microbrute, wired into patch bay (that’s out of view behind the laptop). I use this for sketching out stuff, playing leads, and as an external effects unit that I bus random stuff to (and the internal patching system in it is really nice).
  16. Presonus Studiolive 14.0.2 – this is our brain when we’re on the road. All of our DI’s, microphones, MIDI, monitoring, etc. are routed through here, and we run a 16 track dump of each show. I want to integrate it into the studio setup, but haven’t yet had the time.
  17. Studiophile BX8 powered monitors – nothing flashy, but they do the job nicely.
  18. Glyph drives – my primary recording drive is a obile 3TB Glyph drive. I keep an exact replica that I carbon copy weekly for backup.
  19. The main brain of the studio – pretty vanilla Macbook Pro (running OSX 10.9, PT10, Max/MSP, etc.)
  20. Lexicon PCM-60 (rackmount reverb unit) – for those ridiculous mid-90′s reverb sounds
  21. RME Fireface 800 – solid soundcard with lots of I/O options, wonderful pres, and flexible routing.
  22. Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro – I’ve had these now for coming on 5 years, and wear them for several hours each day. They sound great and are phenomenally comfortable.
  23. Native Instruments Maschine. I run Native Instruments Komplete 8, which is incredibly useful for scoping out demos (their keyboard, string, and bass sounds are excellent) and doing more refined sound design. I’ve yet to get into Reaktor very much (most of my patching I just do in Max/MSP) but it’s on the list.
  24. Kaotica Eyeball – this was a giveaway for CMJ artists last year, and I honestly haven’t used it yet (though it looks awesome).
  25. Various percussion toys – a few tambourines, maracas, guiro, etc.
  26. Mason Jar guitar amp – a friend of mine gave me this, and it creates some really interesting sounds. It basically uses the glass section of the mason jar as a resonator for the amp, but I’ve found if you unscrew it and mess around with the position of the top, you can create some really interesting wah-like sounds.
  27. Tascam Portastudio 414 MK2 – I’m using this for some experiments right now. I was inspired from a video of the Nine Inch Nails keyboard played playing the tape machine like a mixer – could be an interesting way to get some guitar tones.
  28. Pioneer SR-202 – An old reverb unit I got off eBay for $40. It used to be part of component stereo systems, but it’s a great standalone reverb unit for weird shoegaze-y sounds.
  29. Ammo box of instrument strings. I’ve got a bunch of different instruments, and instead of running off to the guitar store every time I need to change out a string, I keep a reasonable backlog of stuff on-hand. Ammo boxes are great for this (and can be picked up at an army-navy store for ~$10). They’re waterproof, nicely constructed, and a good form factor.
  30. Fart Machine. This is a guitar amplifier I got off Craigslist recently that really is a reel-to-reel tape machine with a speaker in the side of it. It sounds absolutely awful, but in a really wonderful way (if all you want is good feedback tones, which is pretty much all I use it for).
Not pictured
  • Fender banjo. A beater, but useful for live stuff
  • 1930′s Playtime student model mandolin – used on a few recordings on Blue and Blue Shift
  • Autoharp
  • Charango – this really beautiful South American instrument popularized in the West by Paul Simon in the S&G song “El Condor Pasa”
  • Vox AC-30 guitar amplifier (which lives at the main studio, because it’s too big/loud for the house)
  • Various Guitar Pedals
1 Comment.

I almost lost my voice a month ago.

I’m at the mercy of my voice. Which I know sounds extreme. But what I mean is that my voice is, to me, like a paintbrush or a hammer. It’s a tool I’m dependent on, but one that I can’t see. If that tool isn’t in good shape, everything musically grinds to a halt. Which is very different than the mechanical problems a guitar player or a cellist has – if they have an issue with their instrument it can be seen – and if it can’t be repaired, it can at least be replaced. But you can’t see your vocal chords (unless I guess you have a lot of mirrors?). And if you screw it up, you definitely can’t replace it.

Which was brought into vivid focus for me recently.

After a rehearsal a month ago I felt a sharp pain in my voice. I sing *loud*, so the occasional hoarseness after a spate of shows isn’t uncommon for me. When we did our recent European tour, we played 27 shows in 28 days, and we were all pretty fried vocally after. But this felt different, and it didn’t go away. I tried vocal rest, hot tea, cold tea, lukewarm tea, not singing, only singing softly in the shower – the pain persisted. I was worried that I had done something that had caused irreperable harm to my vocal chords. Which, as I’m sure you can imagine, was pretty terrifying.

With each passing day I grew more nervous. Music is my life, and I’ve ordered my career around singing. Absent that centralized core, the options looked bleak. Perhaps I would become a jazz pianist, or focus more on electronic music, or work more on production. Perhaps miming? Marcel Marceau undoubtedly isn’t remembered for his singing voice, and Bowie was a mime, so it couldn’t be all bad.

After a couple weeks, I figured that something needed to be done, so I looked around for a recommendation for an ear, nose, and throat doctor who specialized in singers. Which was how I found myself in the waiting room of Dr. Kessler, surrounded by the effusive praises sharpied onto the record covers lining the waiting room – everyone from Mariah Carey to Engelbert Humperdink. Some choice quotes:
  • “Thanks for keeping me on the field” – Justin Timberlake
  • “You’re the best Dr. K” – Madonna
  • “Justin Bieber” – Justin Bieber
This was my first medical experience outside of the typical turn-your-head-and-cough-type situation (fortunately), and as we went through the history of the situation I found myself examining the doctor. Dr. K is impeccably groomed, far more tan than a New York December would naturally allow, and a warm and genuinely friendly man. He spoke efficiently and economically, but not quickly. The initial array of throat swabs and visual examinations provided an unclear picture, and he cleared his throat and said “Well, I just hope we can fix this.”. I felt my throat tighten.

Dr. K’s main weapon of choice is a metal endoscopic wand about a foot long. The device has an incredibly small video camera on the end of it that is used to examine the vocal chords directly. He tilted my head to a specific angle, I opened my mouth, and he inserted the scope into the back of my throat. “Now try to sing and hold a note” he said. At which point I did the best that one can do while a foot-long screwdriver is in their throat.

He then sat back, looked at the video screen, and smiled.

And I felt the cumulative weight of the stress I’d been carrying over the past three weeks melt away.

There wasn’t any damage. I had, Dr. Kessler informed be, an acute, stress-induced case of acid reflux that was bathing the back of my throat in acid. This caused a bunch of irritation, and the consistent pain I had felt. I could treat it mostly over the counter.

I gave him my profuse thanks, signed some forms, and in about 15 minutes found myself walking down Broadway towards Columbus Circle, dodging students entering Julliard on the start of their own journeys. I wandered around town for a little bit, looking at the buildings, trying to soak it all in.

That morning I thought I might never sing again. Now I felt like I’d been given something back – like I’d been remade whole. But as I think about it now, I know that I would have been fine regardless of the outcome of that visit. I would have made new tools to work with. The house of song that I am building would have been constructed out of different materials but would have become equally beautiful.

I would have made a great damn mime.


The first single off our upcoming record Red.

It’s been
seven months since
I heard my baby
on the phone

the receiver
listening to the

Operator get me Caroline
I gotta talk with my baby tonight
I promised her that it would be all right
Operator get me Caroline

bone in my body
wants to only
be with you

But I
get no answer
just the answer
ing machine

Operator get me Caroline
I gotta talk with my baby tonight
I promised her that it would be all right
Operator get me Caroline

Oh my
darling Carrie
you’re so very
far from me

Oh my
darling Carrie
only sixteen
months old

Operator get me Caroline
I gotta talk with my baby tonight
I promised everything would be all right
Operator get me Caroline

Kyle Evans – Tenor Vocals, Optigan, Wurlitzer, Electric Guitar, Tape Loops
Aviva Jaye – Alto Vocals
Steve Sasso – Tenor Vocals, Banjo, Tambourine
Josh Grove – Electric Guitar
Jason Mattis – Bass
Shareef Taher – Drums
Jeffrey Young – Violin
Emily Price – Cello

Recorded and mixed by Chris D. Butler at Butler Recording, Bushwick, Brooklyn, NY
Additional Engineering: Garrett Frierson
Mastering: Carl Saff

22 Sep – Radio Jade / Grusewsky – Emden, DE

It’s easy to forget how, absent cell phones, navigation instantly snaps back into 1978. This isn’t to say we got *lost* while we were going to Emden – more like we took a 4 hour detour and ended up back in Bremen. It all started so innocently – Jason’s girlfriend Jen had just got into Bremen to tag along for the last week of the tour, so they took one car with Aviva, and Steve, Josh, and I took the other. We caravanned to a radio station about an hour and a half away and did a performance/interview with those guys (we also found out that Echo Bloom can squeeze into a space the size of an elevator and still be able to play). Got some lunch, had a generally wonderful time at the vintage guitar store nextdoor, and then split up to head to Emden. An hour and a half I had the sneaking suspicion we weren’t heading in the right direction, and after further reflection realized that we’d almost made it back to Bremen (and hour and a half going the wrong way).

So we white-knuckled it over to Emden, which is practically in Denmark, and made it in about half an hour before we needed to play. The venue owner was completely lovely and ran home to make us some food while we frantically setup. We ended up playing to a room filled with a mixture of old drunken sailors and college students. A bit of an off night, but the benefit of doing a long tour is that if one night isn’t fantastic, all you have to do is wait until the next.

21 Sep – Kulturambulanz – Bremen, DE / Katakomben – Achim, DE

This was one of our two gig days, which are particularly grueling. The day started very strangely at Kulturambulanz, which we learned was a performing arts space associated with a hospital in the Bremen area. The staff there were a little worked up about our sound level (which we thought QUITE moderate) so we eventually had to turn down nearly to the point of inaudibility. We played for a room filled with folks either visiting loved ones at the hospital or people who were guests at the hospital themselves. So while it was a supremely weird gig (I don’t think Jason was really even on) hopefully we brought some peace to some people. And there was a gigantic field of weird stone spheres that we got to play in.

Katakomben was that evening and a bar show. Drunk Germans are a lot more fun to play for than drunk Americans. Drunk Americans don’t really pay attention and talk the whole time, whereas drunk Germans are just a little punchier. The crowd was great (this was also the evening where I had a baked potato with fried potatoes as a garnish). IMAG0180 IMAG0173