The Sweet, Sweaty Touring Life of 7-Piece Garage Soul Band Evolfo

November 6, 2017 | By Jon Simmons

evolfo

Evolfo, photo by Liz Maney

When you’re a big band with a small van, life on the road gets sweaty. Seven-piece garage soul band Evolfo thrives off of a packed schedule and a cramped space, but it’s not always a smooth ride from town to town.

We spoke with frontman Matt Gibbs about some of their challenges touring and recording on the road, including some insider knowledge for first-time touring bands.

“On longer drives we devolve into babbling idiots.” —Matt Gibbs, Evolfo

What’s it like touring with six other people?

It’s madness. To some people an Evolfo tour might sound like hell: seven dudes crammed into a passenger van, showering irregularly, sleeping very little. But the truth is we have a really good time together.

In my experience on tour with other bands, everyone tends to stick to themselves in the van, having seen enough of each other at the gigs. In Evolfo, for better or worse, we engage with one another a lot while traveling.

This last tour in particular was pretty damn productive. Whenever possible, we would listen to a recording of our set from the gig the night before and we’d make changes to arrangements and make notes on where we screwed up and stuff. We would also put on new albums from our friends’ bands or other bands we like, show each other new music, or collaborate on illustrations that we might use for poster art later on.

One of my favorite things that we do in the van is spend time trying to keep the person at the wheel alert by engaging them in stimulating conversation. We call it “nut cracking” and it can be like group therapy. On longer drives we devolve into babbling idiots.

From your perspective, what makes a good live Evolfo show?

Sweat. Sweat on me, sweat on the crowd. No matter the circumstances I think sweat is a sign that the show is going well.

Do you write new songs while touring? If so, how do you record or notate them?

I write lots of stuff on the road, typically I work from demos or song snippets I already have stored on my phone. I listen back to the stuff I recorded previously at the venue or weeks before while at home.

My iPhone is essential to this process because I conceive a lot of my ideas in the voice memos or Garageband apps. I’ll workshop lyrics over the chords and song forms that I have recorded in those apps. Once I decide on a melody I want in a song, I can go through it in my head and write lyrics while sitting in the back of the van.

Typically I like to handwrite lyrics. Handwriting lyrics puts me into a good head space. This practice doesn’t yield album ready recordings of course, this is about finishing song forms and arrangements that I can then teach to the band at soundcheck or rehearsal.

What mobile recording challenges do you run into on tour, and how do you work around them?

The only things that Evolfo will record on the road that might actually end up on finished recordings are cassette tape snippets. We carry crappy little cassette and cheap-o four track cassette recorders with us in the van. Sometimes we’ll pass the microphone around and just say dumb stuff into it. That kind of thing might end up as an intro to a song or something. The challenge with this is background noise in the van. Sounds of traffic and stuff. Those noises can be charming though.

Has touring affected your songwriting?

Touring is essential to our process. We like to go out on a tour with a handful of new songs that we have been workshopping so that we can road test them. Some songs are born in rehearsal but then we really need to break them out in front of an audience. It forces us to put the finishing touches on them. This also helps us get them well rehearsed for studio sessions. A lot of bands do it that way.

During the last tour, we stopped and spent a day at Hi-Bias studios in Detroit. We were super pumped to finally get some quality recordings after chipping away at these songs every night at the gigs and in the van.

What did you learn from your most recent tour? What went well? What would you do differently?

We learned how to be more productive in the van. We had a lot of the conversations that might otherwise have wasted time in rehearsal while we were driving. We would work stuff like deciding if we should add a one measure drum break to the end of a song or something.

Conversation is a different story when we don’t have our instruments in our hands; we can’t noodle around and lose focus. By listening back to recordings of our performances and talking without distractions we hone our ability to make more focused decisions about our songs.

Decisions can be hard in a group of seven, it can quickly turn into a too many cooks situation where we all have different ideas for something and can’t agree on what the hell to do. I think we made good progress in solving this issue.

A lot of people see a seven-person band and wonder why we’re doing this. I think it’s perfectly obvious why having a seven person band is awesome; it’s simple, we choose to see it as a creative advantage. If the seven of us can focus and work together in a productive way our band becomes a massive creative collaboration. This became more clear to me on this last tour.

Next tour, I would make more time for these moments. It feels really good to work together in the van. It can also be good to catch up on sleep in the van. But I found it significantly improved my mood at the gigs if I had a good, productive ride that day.

Any insider knowledge you’re willing to share for first-time touring bands?

Everyone will have their turd moments on the road. Often I just have to let it go. Maintaining this perspective is very important to me. I will be a turd, my bandmates will be turds. Doesn’t matter how perfect you think your band is, there will be times where the vibe gets stanky. I know this from tours with Evolfo, my time as a tour manager for the Easy Star All Stars, and my time as a banjo tech for a bluegrass band. There is no escaping the turd within and without you.

I think a mutual understanding that everyone will have their moment where they are tired and hungry and turdy is healthy. Sometimes you just have to greet these moments with empathy for one another, don’t let it damage your long term friendships. There is no way to spend weeks crammed in the van with people, even your best friends, and not have a few petty tiffs. Best way for me to defeat these moods is to make sure I get time to myself, at least a little, everyday.

Anything else you’d like to add about touring and/or capturing ideas while on the road?

I mentioned that I like the voice memo and Garageband apps for sketching ideas on the road. There are a few other tools that I like to use as well. I always keep a journal with me for writing down cool lyric ideas for example. Then there’s this neat little Casio SK-1 kinda toy keyboard thing that has nice built in sounds and is easy to fit in a backpack. Other iPhone apps I like are Figure, Spire, & Bebot. It’s important for me to have these tools on hand that keep me inspired, otherwise I’ll always just opt to read a book or sleep. I like to go with the flow of what inspires me, having the right tools is essential.

What's next for Evolfo?

A new album! As I said, we road tested a handful of new songs on our most recent tour and we are really pumped to continue recording them. We hope this next album will build on the foundation of Last of the Acid Cowboys. We want it to be dark, and thematic, and weird. We’ve long since departed from our stint as a pure funk band, there’s a lot of fun sounds out there and we want to wrap our freaky little fingers around a lot of them.

The Sweet, Sweaty Touring Life of 7-Piece Garage Soul Band Evolfo