“The moral of the story is that you really have to know who you are and stick to who you are, but you need to figure that out first,” says Jared Evan about his false start as a major label artist seven years ago. “If you sign to a huge corporation before you're even defined and have proof of what you're doing, they can take the reins and do whatever they want with you.”
Evan, described as an "Under the radar artist with the potential to break into the big time” by Billboard in 2009, ultimately pumped the brakes on his major label bow sensing that he wasn’t ready. Instead, the triple-threat artist—singer/songwriter, rapper, producer—refocused on elevating his production skills, writing for platinum-selling artists and releasing mixtapes, EPs and collaborations that helped build a loyal following.
The artist to whom Pharrell Williams already gave props is now ready for the big stage. Evan’s full-length debut, The Blanket Truth, came out November 4, preceded by several singles that include “Big Brother,” “Kids Forever,” “End Game” and “Role Model.” PRØHBTD spoke with Evan to learn more.
I normally don’t ask about album titles, but The Blanket Truth sounds like something that implies different levels of meaning. Is that the case?
The title itself came from one of my favorite movies, I Heart Huckabees, with Dustin Hoffman, Jason Schwartzman, Mark Wahlberg and an all-around great cast. There's a scene in the movie where Dustin explains to Jason this concept called the blanket truth. Watching Dustin explain it was like, “Wow, that's a very relatable and philosophical concept.”
Dustin's take is that the universe is one big blanket, and every particle, every piece, is interconnected. I took that concept and made it more personal to me and my perspective on why things happen the way they do. It's almost like saying everything happens for a reason without saying it. A lot of the themes throughout the records connect my current present self to my past self. There are definitely many layers of what it means, and people will have their own interpretation, but when they hear the album and the title track, they'll understand the statement I was trying to make.
When you were young, you started out as a live drummer. How does this influence your drum programming, and do you use organic drums on any tracks?
Being a drummer since I was four or five years old has bled over into every other one of my talents, whether it be keys, singing, rapping, beat-boxing. When I'm drum programming, I try to embody the same feel as if I were playing on a drum set. In every part of my production and as a musician, I'm a drummer first. That definitely impacts every other part of my musical capabilities. To answer the next question, The Blanket Truth has a lot of live drums. This is also why it's different from my past projects. It's the first album [recorded] in big live rooms with me on the drums, tracking strings and bringing in an orchestra, choir and gospel singers.
In what ways does the new album reflect what people might have heard on The Art Form of Whatever and Boom Bap & Blues, and in what ways does The Blanket Truth reflect new ideas and direction?
This album definitely encapsulates things that I've done on Boom Bap & Blues, like the break beats. People who know my music are cognizant of the fact that I incorporate a lot of boom-bap elements from classic hip-hop, and this project definitely incorporates that stuff. However, it makes a statement that it's something new and evolved at the same time.
Going back to your earlier question about live drums, on previous albums we would create MIDI breaks or take classic breaks and layer them. On this album, if I made a break, I made it with a real drum set. That right there, that's the medium. There's definitely instances on the album you'll feel familiar with, some classic sounds, but I’m executing these trademarks in a different way.
On Twitter, you recently wrote, "It's too bad that you judge us by the way we look and not by who we are." What prompted that comment?
On one of my past projects, Pieces, there's a little excerpt on the record “Never Graduated” where I sampled an audio from another film. I'm a big film guy. I find that film and music are very similar. There was a scene in the film Accepted where Justin Long explains to the judge in the courtroom why he feels boxed in as a person. He says he’s not good enough as a college student and that everyone just wants to box him in as this other thing. To me, that could generally be used in any circumstance, whether it's race or feeling out of place or not fitting in.
What prompted that [comment] was hearing the song come on and reminding me where I was at when I wrote it. A lot of my fans look up to [Pieces] as one of my more classic projects, and I felt a lot of the stuff on The Blanket Truth feels how that audio felt on that record. I'm just trying to hint to my fans at what's coming. It was a little subliminal tweet.
You mentioned the similarities between music and film. What are some similarities you see in terms of storytelling?
What the two mediums have most in common is a beginning, a middle, an end and a climax. Great films and great songs, I feel, both have that in common. When you're starting to write a record, it's important to almost make a plot. Even if it's not that deep of a story, even if it's not a record that tells such an intimate and introspective story, you always want it to have an arc and a climax, just like a film. I've never written films before, but I can imagine that, when a writer sits down to write a film, it's very similar in terms of the mindset. I find they're very similar in terms of production as well. Editing a video and editing a record within Pro Tools or Logic, et cetera, is very similar because you're looking at the file and moving it around. It's all about timing. It's all about the rhythm and the beat of how you move it.
You were born and raised in Great Neck, New York. Many talented people were either born or lived there, including Francis Ford Coppola, Kenneth Cole, Andy Kaufman, the Marx Brothers, F. Scott Fitzgerald and others. Is there a strong sense of artistic community there?
The average person who grew up in Great Neck might not be like Andy Kaufman or Francis or have that creative mindset. Look, I think those people are born that way, and it's less to do with where you are from. I think I was part of that cloth because I can definitely tell you, growing up in Great Neck, I was not the academic guy. I was not the straight-A student. Great Neck is a good education, but it’s not automatically a place for artists. I would look around at all my friends in Great Neck feeling so odd and out of place because I got kicked out of class and never did my homework. Other kids thought I was weird, you know? I was wired differently. I think that's really the answer.
An old issue of Billboard says you went to a boarding school because you had some behavioral issues. How did that experience help shape who you are today?
Oh, man. I think about that almost weekly. When I first got sent away to this therapeutic boarding school in Connecticut, I was 11 or 12 years old, just a young terror, a hyperactive bad kid. My instant thought was get me out of here, this is terrible. I hated it. You're an 11-year-old kid going by yourself alone to this other school kind of far away. My first six months, I was very angry and defiant about being there. I thought, “All these other kids here are so much worse. They have so many more problems and issues. Why am I here?”
At the end of my time there, I had a different mindset, and I have kept that mindset with me to this very day. Looking back in hindsight, I was a troubled kid. I needed to go, and I needed to be put in check. The school taught me how to deal with people, and I learned at such a young age how to deal with real life.
Look, I was blessed to be born and raised in Great Neck. I represent Great Neck to the fullest, but to be real, Great Neck is a very small spectrum of the earth. That's not how the rest of the country works. It's a very blessed lifestyle. When I went to this school, I was immediately taken out of that sheltered environment, and I saw how real life is. It was a bit dark and scary at times, but I'm glad I saw it because it made me stronger, and it allowed me to go through life knowing how to deal with people and live the proper way. For sure.
You sing on a lot of tracks. Do you smoke cannabis, and do you worry it might affect your voice?
To be real, I'm a big spliff smoker. I think for any vocalist, smoking is a no-no, but man, it's tough because weed is such a creative medium for me. Not that I need it as a crutch, but it really puts me in a good head space. It makes me feel positive and optimistic, and the best way for me to create is if I'm in a positive head space. I'll get great material if I’m feeling down, but that material will be more depressing, more gloomy, more gray. I just think marijuana is good because it makes everybody peaceful. It gives you a peaceful state of mind. Yeah, I'm a big fan. It's definitely not something I commercialize as an artist. It's not something I champion or advertise to my fans. It's not who I am as an artist, but I love weed. I'm a big pot smoker, I will tell you that.
Do you think it's therapeutic for you?
Yeah, man. My number one rule with weed is I don't wake up and smoke. I like to get my work done. I like to go to the gym. I like to eat right. Then towards the end of the day, let's blaze. It's definitely something that puts me in a good creative mode. In terms of vocals, look, Bruno Mars smokes a pack of cigarettes a day. Janis Joplin was smoking her ass off. I just think, if you've got soul, man, no one's going to take that soul away from you.
David Jenison (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Editor-in-Chief at PRØHBTD.