Name: E.Vax aka Evan Mast
Current release: Evan Mast's self-titled debut album under his E.Vax moniker is out via Because.
Recommendations: Apichatpong Weerasethakul “Cemetery of Splendour”; The Child Ballads - Cheekbone Hollows E.P. (RIP to Stewart Lupton, who I believe to be one of the greatest lyricists of all time)
If you enjoyed this interview with Evan Mast / E.Vax and would like to stay up to date, visit him on Instagram, Facebook, twitter, and Soundcloud for more information and music. You can also check out the website of his duo project Ratatat.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started playing guitar around 10 or 11, taking lessons from a guy in my town in Ohio. I figured out pretty quickly that I didn’t have much patience for learning other people’s songs and preferred to make up my own stuff.
A few years later I got a job at a gas station in order to save up money to buy a 4-track, and I’ve been recording songs ever since.
I think it’s the endless possibilities in music that draw me to it. No matter how long you’ve been doing it, there’s always another angle to it, always a way to make it new.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
I’ve never been that good at emulating other artists, because my technical skills aren’t refined enough. When I try to make something that sounds like another artist, it inevitably ends up somewhere else entirely.
I’m not sure that ‘originality’ exists, but maybe if it does that's what it is, just a poor translation of a previous idea.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
Maybe I’m too close to really have a good read on that. I just try to be sincere with what I make.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
Too much ground to cover here … so to speak broadly, it's basically the same. I just try to make good shit. Then and now.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
For me it started with a guitar and a 4-track recorder, and then moved into synthesizers, samplers and digital recording and from there it has slowly branched off into endless other directions. Now I have a harpsichord in my studio, and an alphorn.
New tools bring new ideas - or at least thats what you hope for. Sometimes they don’t and you get rid of them.
I like to have as little stuff in my studio as possible. At the moment I’m excited about any tool that allows me to keep my eyes away from a computer screen.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
I got an espresso machine a few years ago and it is now the most consistently used instrument in my collection.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
I really like learning from other people, and collaboration is probably the best way for me to do that, and I’ve done a ton if it over the past few years.
It works differently with different people of course. Some artists will just hand over all their files to me when I arrive and then I can really dig in and get to work, which is ideal. Other artists aren’t comfortable sharing files at all, and that makes it difficult. Jamming can be amazing with certain artists too, and with some its nearly all about conversation - I just try to adapt to the situation.
The more an artist gives me, the more I'm able to give back.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
There really isn’t a fixed schedule. The past few months I’ve been producing for other artists so I’ve had to adapt to their schedules. Even when I’m on my own, the schedule tends to change.
I might go the studio early every day for a while but when I catch myself in a routine I can get uncomfortable. Sometimes I’ll buy a plane ticket to a faraway place and spend a few weeks wandering around in an effort to break routine and get some new perspectives.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
There have been so many over the years … Most recently the track ‘Moon’ on Kanye’s album felt like a special moment. It came at a particularly tumultuous time for me in the recording process but I managed to hold the connection to the idea long enough to get the parts down. That it made it through the entire process to land on the album felt like a victory.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
I wish I knew how to reliably get in that ideal creative state of mind. I just try to show up everyday. I never know when the big ideas are gonna come through, but when they do I wanna be ready for them.
The best stuff seems to happen with very little thought involved, just some intuitive feeling guiding the process. I think that's why so many of the best songs seem to come together in a matter of minutes. If you’re working that quickly you don’t have a chance to overthink it.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
I remember in high school I had a playlist of songs in my head that I’d put on if I was ever feeling stressed or anxious - tracks that would put me at ease, bring the heart rate down a bit. I think music is particularly effective for that.
Music is powerful, that's why governments around the world are so afraid of artists.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
That's a big topic to encounter halfway through a questionnaire style interview. It’d probably be better addressed in a discussion.
I will say that cultural exchange is extremely valuable and exciting to me. The state of being immersed in a foreign culture, particularly when I don’t know the language or even the characters, gives me a similar sense of freedom to what I feel in my best creative moments.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
I was in a hotel in Mexico recently and the room had a vertical wooden slatted door. Laying on the bed, looking at the space between the doorframe, the scene looked exactly like an 808 bass note as represented in a digital waveform.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
I just try to make the most powerful work I can and I hope that when it leaves my studio it finds the right people and they have a use for it. Of course I have political opinions, but I don’t intend to explicitly put that in my music. I should also point out that nearly all of my music is instrumental.
I would rather show people something great than attempt to tell them directly how to think.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
Well, obviously I can’t put that into words. Music has its own lane. Listen to a piece of music that speaks to you and there - that's it.