A friend of mine recommended the Evenings EP North Dorm to me about a year ago, and I haven’t stopped listening to it since. Now there’s a full album out; the Evenings sophomore outing Lately dropped last month, and you can stream it from here. The music has a moody, eclectic vibe; unconventional beats merge to form a hazy tapestry of sounds better described as an experience than an album. The mastermind behind Lately is Nathan Broaddus, a twenty-one-year-old college student from Charlottesville, Virginia. We talked to him about why instrumental music has the power to be a unique and personal experience for each person that hears it.
Jorgen: Lately is your second release, right? I first heard your EP North Dorm about a year ago. Have you been working on Lately ever since then? How do you spend your days?
Evenings: Yeah, Lately is number two. I started working on Lately around February of this year, but I didn’t really get going on it until around May, unfortunately. I was going to school and trying to finish [the record]. It just wasn’t working until the summer came around. I had a lot more time to work on the record. Now I’m back in school again. Hopefully this’ll be my last year.
Jorgen: What are you studying?
Evenings: Music. And some French.
Jorgen: You’ll have to excuse an “old folk” freak; what’s the writing process like for you? I mean, you’re hardly working with the classic pop format.
Evenings: Hah. Yeah, I don’t have a real concrete writing process, but it seems like I’ll usually come up with some little piece of a song that I like. It could be a guitar part or a piano progression, or I could just be messing with some synth and come up with something that sounds good to me. I’ll take whatever that is and record it. After that I’ll usually start layering things, coming up with things to play on top of the first piece. Eventually, I’ll have many pieces recorded that fit together. I can separate these and make different parts if I want, or I can start over on a new section to a song. After I have everything in place, I go back and work with all the specific stuff like equalization and compression, and I have a tape machine that I run synths through a lot. I got into producing on accident, I would say. I wanted to record myself when I was young for practice, and it just grew out of that.
Jorgen: In my opinion, North Dorm is perhaps more “song centered,” and Lately seems more linear.
Evenings: That’s definitely true. I was more conscious of Lately being my second record. I didn’t want to do the same thing. I am getting back to the idea of my music being “song centered,” as you said, but I wanted to try something a little more off-kilter. I’m not trying to repeat myself. However, when I made the second record, I didn’t try to push the music in either direction. I just let it do what it wanted to do. Sometimes when I make something, I won’t really be able to hear what it sounds like until I’m finished. It’s really odd. I’ll start tinkering with a sound, then four hours will go by, and I’ll have made some ridiculous project that’s eight minutes long. “Softly, We Go…” was like that. I don’t really know how that song even happened. I get so caught up in the process sometimes it’s not like I’m the one making the music. I really like that sensation. It’s as if something else is working through you.
Jorgen: I think that comes through in your music. It sounds almost like a living thing. Your sounds seem to be mostly electronic, but the actual music comes off sounding very organic and acoustic to me. Are you one of those guys that walk around recording environments? How do you get your sounds?
Evenings: Yeah, I’m one of those weird guys. I will walk around sometimes and end up having to record some sound on a whim. Anyway, I have a lot of guitars. I have a Yamaha SK15 Analog Synth that I’m really fond of. Once I record something, I usually mess with the sounds a lot inside of the box. Also, the tape machine helps make interesting sounds and texture. I got a chance to go to some multimillion-dollar studio this week. I listened to the owner explain how to do the most in-depth and detailed things to get the best sound in your music. He has spent a ridiculous amount of money on this studio, and yes, he gets professional results. But the entire time I was thinking to myself, he dropped millions on this place, and I’m confident of getting comparable sounds in my home studio. All my gear can’t be more than three grand.
Jorgen: I’m sure his gear sounds great, but I sometimes think that part of music sounding great to us is the fact that someone has already made the decision to put it on record – a chicken or egg kind of situation. Does that make sense to you?
Evenings: Yeah, definitely. Maybe one day I’ll branch out and want to expand my setup, but I dig the simplicity of my workspace as well. It’s really a preference thing, as you said.
Jorgen: People seem to find your music by the good old-fashioned word of mouth method.
Evenings: Yeah, I still haven’t put anything physical out. I don’t know what’s going on, really. I’m glad people are listening to it. I was hesitant to even put it up initially; I didn’t expect people to be into it. I’m glad that people can relate to it. It’s pretty interesting how that happened.
Jorgen: So you just started a Bandcamp account, basically?
Evenings: It was actually on Myspace first. There were a couple songs up. I think it was “Friend” and “Favorite Maze.” No Pain In Pop blogged it from there. Then it seemed to start growing.
Jorgen: Is Myspace dying in the states too? It’s pretty much over here in Sweden.
Evenings: Oh, yeah. Completely dead. It’s a wasteland.
Jorgen: Mr. Timberlake to the rescue…Speaking of other artists, what are your influences? What’s in your iPod?
Evenings: Hm. Well, let me look at my recent plays. Hang on. I’ve got Shlohmo’s Bad Vibes, the new Balam Acab, John Maus’ We Must Become The Pitiless Censors Of Ourselves, Limerence by Young Montana?, “Lovesick” by Lindstrøm & Christabelle, Maybes by Mount Kimbie, and some Wu Lyf. That’s all the recent stuff.
Jorgen: What made you choose to make instrumental music in the first place?
Evenings: I don’t like my voice at all, but I’ve always been a big fan of instrumental music. If the music can give off a vibe or send a message without having to use speech or lyrics, it’s a very powerful thing, I think – to be able to convey something without saying it. I am a fan of subtlety, and I try to incorporate that into music when I can.
Jorgen: Have you heard Sigur Ros? They’re from Iceland and sing in a made-up kind of elfish language, yet their music still carries a message that people seem to pick up on. I think it’s the same with your music. Maybe it’s hard to define what the actual “message” is; it’s more that something happens to you when you hear the music.
Evenings: Yeah, Sigur Ros is amazing. I definitely don’t speak that language, and that music is just so deep and involving, you can’t help but relate to it. I heard someone say something about music that I really liked. They started talking about musical preference, and then they said, “When you listen to something that you immediately love, it’s as if you’re recognizing something in yourself that the artist has also recognized.” In this way, it’s a mode of connecting with the artist, and it’s a very eerie sensation because you feel as if [that preference has] always been there, but you had never heard it before. The music has uncovered something in you.
Jorgen: That’s a beautiful idea. Do you think it’s true that music can awaken something inside of us, rather than create new things there?
Evenings: I feel like that’s the best way anyone has ever explained the feeling I get when I hear something I love. It feels like I relate to [the music] in a very immediate way, as if it could have already been a part of me. Sometimes, if you try to imagine your life without certain music, it seems impossible. I don’t know if that’s true, but I’ve started to believe it.
Jorgen: I think there’s definitely some truth in those ideas, no doubt about it. This is getting deep, man. Are you influenced by stuff that’s not music? Please don’t say “life!”
Evenings: Ha ha. Well, yes I am. It’s hard to say what, exactly. Things happen, and then I have to have a way of processing them and getting them out. I feel really weird when I’m not creating something, so making music is a really therapeutic thing. It can be frustrating, too, but there is a very big sense of accomplishment when I finish something. I love visual art as well, but I don’t feel like it’s as immersive as music. Music can be as upfront and noticeable as you want it to be. Visual stuff, on the other hand, is something that you must focus your attention on to get anything out of it, you know?
Jorgen: But isn’t part of the goal with making music to create pictures or images within the listener?
Evenings: Yes, I suppose that is true. But to create something that isn’t tangible within a person, I think, is much more commendable and almost impossible than making something to look at. Although, there is some art that makes me want to make music, so I guess this works both ways.
Jorgen: Yeah, probably. Do you ever play live?
Evenings: I played a few real shows after I put out the first EP. It’s hard to get all the time I want for music while I’m in school. I did a DJ set the other day here in Charlottesville.
Jorgen: Just you and a computer or was it a band thing?
Evenings: I play guitar and work with an Akai APC40. My bud Blaine plays bass and also messes with the sampler. But indeed, we do have a laptop connected to the APC.
Jorgen: You said earlier you didn’t like your own voice. There are plenty of vocal sounds on both North Dorm and Lately though…
Evenings: Yes, there are. I did use my voice a bit on North Dorm, though I changed the pitch and added a lot of reverb. I also sampled a friend’s voice. She has a much better one, I’ll say.
Jorgen: I like how you use voices as instruments rather than something to sing lyrics with.
Evenings: Thanks, man. It wasn’t something I had thought about doing consciously. But you can’t really replicate a human voice. It’s a very nice sound. I like to let the person listening feel what the song is about for them. I know what it’s about for me, of course, but it’s cool for other people to use music to complement their own situations. I like that idea.
Jorgen: What is it about for you?
Evenings: Well, the songs are all about certain people or things or situations. The songs pull me back to the times when they were made. There’s a kind of nostalgia here that I’ve grown to like a lot. I can take a picture and commemorate a time, or I can write a song and trap it. It’s like recording a moment that I can hold on to and experience whenever I want.
Jorgen: Do the people you write about know you turn them into music?
Evenings: I usually haven’t told them, but sometimes. If they know me really well, it’s not that hard to find out.
Jorgen: Lately has been out for a couple of weeks now. What’s the response been like?
Evenings: It’s been cool. It’s not explosive or anything, but I’m very much glad it’s out. Lately, being the sophomore release, was not easy to make. North Dorm and Lately are very different records. I’m writing again, and I feel no pressure about putting anything out soon. This is a much better creative atmosphere than thinking I have to finish something quickly. I’m just going to work until I’m happy with the new stuff and not put myself on a deadline.
Jorgen: So there’s pressure between the début and the difficult second album, but now you’ve established yourself as someone who makes records, does that take a bit of the edge off?
Evenings: Yeah, I would say so. Feels good.
Jorgen: Would you ever consider working in a more classic songwriting format? Like, with a singer and with “ordinary songs,” so to speak?
Evenings: I’ve done it a little bit in the past. I would totally be up for that. It’s just hard to find other musicians who share your same aesthetic. I know what I want to put out there. Unless there is someone who has a similar feel and approach, it’s tough. That’s sort of what started this whole thing: me choosing to work on something alone for once. However, yes, I would like to try something like that again sometime.