Distance has a way of making relationships grow cold.
Be they romantic, familial or long-term friendships, add a little real estate between them and things tend to go from hot to warm to chilly to … nothing.
It takes a great deal of commitment and energy to maintain them, make sure that doesn’t happen.
Dylan Evanik knows exactly how much and could probably offer you some advice, should you wish. He’s more than happy to share it on this Monday afternoon while sitting in a booth at the Ship & Anchor.
For the past two years, his life has been all about managing distance, making sure some of the most important relationships in his life — all of the aforementioned ones, actually — not only survived but thrived.
After graduating school as a geologist a few years ago, he entered the frozen job market that was Calgary, his hometown where he had a life, a fiancee and a band — local rock act Crooked Spies, which he formed with his, yes, brother Steven around four years ago.
A friend, though, had an in for a position that was based out of Vancouver and would require him to do a great deal of travelling around North America. His partner-to-be could relocate with him, but …
“I went, ‘Oh, man, I’ve really gotta take this, but I don’t want to leave the band hanging.’ So we had pretty deep conversations about how we could potentially keep playing shows and stay active, trying to improve and get better,” Evanik says.
So, the frontman took the job, leaving his lead guitarist brother, bassist Aaron Samson and drummer Mark Lawlor behind while he headed to the left coast for his new gig and a plan to make it work.
Part of that relied on frequent flyer miles and points making travel between cities a little easier. So he’d fly from wherever his job had him on any particular week or two stretch — working crazy hours, banking time off — back to his fiancee for a few days and then home to Calgary for whatever shows or opening spots they could snag on short notice.
“Booking was a huge hassle because it was really last minute — normally you have to book a couple of months in advance,” he says. “But luckily the promoters here were super-nice about it.”
Having already built a pretty stellar reputation thanks to their 2015 debut Treason, not to mention a high-energy stage show and just being good-ass guys, certainly helped in that regard. Hell, because of that reputation and good relationships with local promoters, they’ve been able to slide into some pretty great slots over the past while, including on a recent bill with Danko Jones.
Which is all fine and dandy — gigs, most musicians will tell you, is why they do what they do.
But with it being more than two years since that first release, there was, obviously, a need for something new, or rather, new music, new material. That, itself, proved to be another long-distance gap to bridge, one that required a little more patience, ingenuity and technology on the part of the bandmates.
The solution, or solutions, were lots of late-night phone calls, riffs and song ideas left in voice message mailboxes, and computer programs comparable to Skype made specifically for musicians where there was “hypothetically” no lag and you could play together in real time.
“Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t,” the musician says with a shrug, before offering a simple assessment of the process: “It was insane.”
So, over the course of the past couple of years, while he was out wester, that’s what they did, slowly piecing together new songs, finally getting enough together that it was possible for them to record a followup.
That, too, meant a pair of opportunistic recording sessions at local studio Evergreen Sound with Mark Troyer: the first time in January when Evanik was back so Crooked Spies could perform at the Big Winter Classic festival — the boys will also play the upcoming one, which takes place Jan. 18-21; and the second was when he was back for a brief hit in May.
The result is that anticipated sophomore effort High Plains, which the band will finally release Friday, Dec. 15 at Nite Owl and which theYYSCENE is pleased to debut in its entirety below the story.
It is, as you can hear, a gnarly, almost belligerently cool slab of stoner rock, muscled-up pop-punk and the ’90s mostly metal of acts such as Masters of Reality, Rollins Band, Fluf and Danzig — the latter a common comparison for Crooked Spies, in large parts due to Evanik’s guttural, man-sized howl.
The songs, themselves, well not surprisingly a great many of them deal with “the distance” and being separated from those he cares about or, as the singer says, “not seeing the dudes, not seeing the fiancee.”
“And also the internal struggle about, ‘Do I actually pursue my passion or do I work this job?’ ” he says, noting that being a geologist pushes his brain to the more logic-based side of the argument, which leans towards a steady job and a steady income.
“Do I do that or do I follow my passion and play music?”
Short answer: Yes. Hopefully both.
It’s part of the reason why he’s sitting in the Ship on a weekday chatting about the band. He is now back in Calgary, his fiancee having taken a job here, he having taken a different position that allows for a great deal more flexibility and a whole lot less travel, while being based back home.
And he’s also taken over the business side of the band operation, setting up interviews, sending out press releases, booking shows, etc. He also, just the Friday prior, completed a five-week program at Studio Bell, the Artist Entrepreneur West initiative put on by the National Music Centre and Toronto’s Canada’s Music Incubator.
He calls the intensive, which taught musicians the ins and outs of the biz — everything from taxes to performance tips — “one of the most beneficial experiences I’ve been a part of.”
“It was a crazy five weeks and a lot of information,” he says. “But worth it.”
It is a sign that now that he’s back home, with his fiancee, his brother and his band, he’s ready to see where things with Crooked Spies can go when it’s the focus and when he’s taking it seriously.
Well. Not too seriously. He doesn’t want things to get too business-like, too cold.
“We’re doing this because it’s fun,” he says. “I even told them in the program, ‘Yeah, I really want to take this seriously, I want to take this as far as I can go,’ but at the end of the day if this isn’t fun any more we’re just not going to do it.”
Crooked Spies release High Plains with a show Friday at the Nite Owl. Have a listen to the exclusive premiere of the entire album below.
(Photo courtesy Mike Mueller.)