Evan Weiss did not take any kind of shortcut during the creation of Into It. Over It.’s new album, Standards. In fact, the outcome of Standards made the Chicago musician feel as if he was starting over with his career, which according to him “is really exciting. I haven’t felt this way in a long time, probably not since Proper came out.”
The only thing he needed to do to regain his inspiration was to place himself in pure isolation—and that’s exactly what he did.
Weiss and his girlfriend loaded his van with his music gear and drove to a cabin in Craftsbury, Vermont, on Jan. 1, 2015, after spending the holidays with his family in New Jersey. The next day she hopped on a plane back to Chicago, which left Weiss alone for six days before drummer Josh Sparks arrived at the cabin on Jan. 7. Weiss spent those six days writing songs on his guitar so he and Sparks could have material to work with once Sparks arrived. But during his time alone, the power went out at the cabin, which was run on generator and solar power for electricity. Luckily, there was a fireplace to heat the cabin, since the nearest gas station or grocery store was about an hour away.
“At that point there was no phone and no anything, and I had to wait for the property manager to get out to the property and get everything back on,” Weiss remembers. “There were, like, 12 or 13 hours where I had no electricity.”
Once Sparks arrived on Jan. 7, the two would play and work on material for roughly 12 hours each day, taking the occasional cigarette break along with breaking for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The cabin lacked any kind of modern technology, leaving Weiss and Sparks to really focus on what they wanted to create.
Putting in those long hours at the cabin was something Weiss didn’t do in the past at his own practice space—a typical day might have included about two or three hours of practicing with his band for about five days a week—not to mention his rehearsal space is a small room without any windows, lit by fluorescent bulbs. This time, Weiss could look out the window and actually see a great view.
“It was more refreshing,” Weiss says. “Being surrounded by a beautiful landscape was way more inspiring and a welcoming environment working on the record. You can open the doors and be as loud as you want and no one is going to complain about you. It’s pretty liberating, in a way. You feel you can just be the loudest band in the world and no one will ever know. I have to be honest, when the time was up we didn’t want to leave. We loved it. We were so enjoying that style of living that it almost felt like we could just do it forever.”
After creating a strong batch of 20 songs, the two packed their gear back into their vans and finally left on Jan. 31. After spending an entire month in near-isolation, Weiss began a solo tour with Kevin Devine and Laura Stevenson in Washington, D.C, just a few days after leaving the cabin in Vermont.
“That first show was actually really good,” Weiss says. “The D.C. show was really great but I was really nervous. I just spent a month only playing new songs and then had to immediately switch gears to playing old ones on the guitar. The first show, the whole time I was just like, ‘Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit.’”
About a week into the tour, Weiss had the demos of the songs finished and started taking phone calls to figure out where they were going to be recorded. Producer John Vanderslice (Spoon, the Mountain Goats) ended up being Weiss’ third call, and right away the musician knew this was the direction he wanted to take with the recording of Standards.
“It was an incredible phone call,” Weiss says. “As soon as the phone call conversation was over, it was like, ‘Well, that’s where I’m making the record.’ It just made sense.”
So in June 2015, Weiss traveled all the way to Vanderslice’s Tiny Telephone Studios in San Francisco, and for the first time in the singer/songwriter’s career, he recorded the entire album using all analog technology. Weiss describes Vanderslice’s studio as very comforting; ironically, he says it felt like walking back into a cabin, given the studio had wood-paneled walls and gear everywhere.
“He’s right there with where our headspace is at and what we’re looking for creatively, and he is a lover of the process in the same way as we are,” Weiss says of Vanderslice. “It seemed like a perfect fit. Going to record in a place like that it really helped Josh and I feel comfortable without this sterile studio environment, which can also be really uninspiring. It was the perfect fit.”
Weiss and Sparks spent about a month with Vanderslice recording Standards, including a week-long mixing session (much more difficult when done to tape); after going through the analog process, Weiss said he doesn’t think he will ever go back to record another album using a computer.
“It made me a better player, it made Josh a better player, it made me realize what’s important about making records and what isn’t and it helped me enjoy making records again,” Weiss says. “Which is awesome because for a little while I would get anxious about it and just get nervous. I have much to thank for how we made this record to extend the life of my mental career.” He laughs. “It was ultimately one of the most rewarding creative experiences I’ve ever had.”
Standards is a collection of acoustically inspired songs with an electric twist right down to its core. Weiss sounds like he has more confidence in himself this time around, as he sings in “Closing Argument,” “I spent most of my life inside the back of my mind before the first time in a long time I truly had to search for my thoughts.” It’s an album that showcases Weiss’ vulnerable lyrics mixed behind a passionately loud vocal ability. So what does Standards mean to him?
“Taking the amount of time that the writing deserves to really sit down and work on your material, becoming a better player and holding your playing to a very high standard, recording at the highest standard possible to make a record, record it completely analog tape doing the same thing with the mixing and extending a great deal of time on the artwork to make sure the artwork is completely fulfilled, really not rushing to put the record out so you can get a proper press cycle involved for doing the record, setting up the proper tour you want to do,” Weiss explains. “It was really checks and balances to make sure we are always taking the slightest bit of extra time to make sure everything is the best it can be in our mind where we feel like we’re creating something that is very high quality and that we can be proud of and not be like we took a shortcut or felt like we took the easy way out. I don’t think that’s what it meant to me a year ago, but it’s really came together that way.”
Weiss proved to himself that music can still be made organically even in 2016, and if people aren’t happy with the outcome, then who cares? One thing’s for certain, he’s excited about creating music again, and Standards is the perfect example.
“I feel great about it. It’s actually exciting because I feel like I have things to look forward to in which I am unsure of the outcome,” Weiss says. “Sometimes you can put out a record or an EP and you’ll get ready for the upcoming year and you know where everything is going to fall and it will be okay. This year, I’ve set goals but I feel there is a lot that can happen. I don’t know how well the record is going to do and I don’t know how the touring cycle is going to go. To me, everything feels completely unpredictable, and that’s awesome.” S
A version of this story was originally published in Substream #51.