Never before has an album title so perfectly embodied it’s particular collection of songs. Kevin Mitchell (a.k.a Bob Evans) pops up here and there all over the musical radar; He’s the frontman of Jebediah, a member of Basement Birds, a reasonably established solo act and dabbled in the tribute tour for Bob Dylan. With so much under his belt, its almost certain you’ve come across his work before, even if you haven’t been exposed to his individual song styling; he’s a Familiar Stranger.
Bob Evans breaks away from his acoustic and alt-country style in his latest album, with more of a pop sound that focuses on creating playful and calming atmospheres.
You’ve probably heard “Don’t Want to Grow Up Anymore” which is both the first release on this album and one of his popular tracks off of the Double Life EP. It’s a good introduction to the full-length Familiar Stranger which is just as catchy, just as smiley and just as melodic. This is an album that makes you happy, you want to put it on and smile for a couple of hours while grooving around doing things. It’s a moving about album, pull out your dusting wand and get down to work while bobbing your head and singing along…just check that no one else is home before you do.
Mitchell’s statement on how his music has developed is original to say the least, and was released in for form of a conversation between himself and his Bob Evans alter-ego:
KEV – This is the first time we’ve ever spoken to one another via the keyboard of a computer. Our conversations are usually less structured. We do, after all, inhabit the same psyche.
BOB – Well we’ve been in conversation for years really haven’t we? Be careful, you’re the one they’ll call crazy.
KEV – It’s been an unusual few years since we made “Goodnight, Bull Creek!” hasn’t it? During that time I was in Perth making records with Jebediah and Basement Birds simultaneously and both those records came out one after the other and I toured them both and before we knew it three years had gone by!
BOB – It was a good chance for me to catch my breath. You needed to see other people and I needed to be alone for a while. It sounds dysfunctional but it was actually the best medicine for us both. It gave me a chance to map a new course for us creatively.
KEV – So where did the new batch of songs come from?
BOB – From you stupid! Whenever you weren’t busy with Jebediah we were working on new material. At first it was very experimental. All we really knew was that we wanted to do something different, something that reflected where we were at in the present, rather than where we had been in the past. The songs slowly started piling up and they were imbued with a new energy inspired by loss, love and hope. There was a deeper philosophical leaning to what we were writing together that wasn’t so much about our life in the suburbs but by our existence in the greater world and what it all meant.
KEV – Sounds pretty heavy. I must admit that the time I spent back in the saddle with Jebediah really inspired my approach to working with you. It was exciting to think that we could be anything we wanted to be and that we didn’t need to feel tied stylistically to what we had done before.
BOB – I like to think that I bring out the artist in you Kevin.
KEV – You often do. You also bring out the drunk in me! (much laughter by both men ensues). Making the record at Sing Sing Studios in Melbourne was a nice feeling for me as I’d made the first two Jebediah records there as a young fellow so I had good memories of the place but it was your first time there!
BOB – I’d never been in such a nice studio before! We recorded the album with a London based American producer named Dean Reid. He was great to work with as he really understood the intention of the adventure that we trying to pursue and encouraged us to follow it.
KEV – We were also helped out by some extraordinary musicians…
BOB – We talked a lot about how important the rhythm section was going to be for this record as we were relying less on acoustic guitars for these songs and more on feel and atmosphere to get them across.
KEV – I just happened to meet an amazing producer and bass player named Tony Buchen in a restaurant in Sydney earlier in the year and we got talking about the album I was writing and he became very enthused about it and told me that he was friends with our favourite drummer in the world, an American named Joey Waronker who drums for Beck amongst others. It was a wonderful moment of synchronicity that led to both of them forming the rhythm section for the album. There was a pretty specific feel that we wanted to achieve and with Joey and Tony in our back pockets we knew we had the best foundation in the world.
BOB – Yes. Conceptually it felt quite cohesive from the start but that is because of what you were going through.
KEV – Well in the time between our records together I experienced the grief of losing a member of my extended family and the joy of having my first child. The experience of witnessing death and new life close up like that was profound to say the least. Those are the two experiences that book mark the beginning and the end of the album and everything that happens in between is a reflection on both. You can’t help but ponder your own mortality but it also led me to thinking about my place not just in the world but the wider universe as well.
BOB – The end result is that life is beautiful in all its sadness and its joy and hopefully we’ve created something that goes some small way in telling that story from our own point of view.
It’s certainly an album that would be hard to hate, the lowest rating I’ve come across was 7/10, with the average at a spectacular 9.3/10. Expect to see Bob Evans all over Australia this May as he tours up and down to promote Familiar Strangers.
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