Interview: Ash Naylor talks EVEN’s Newest Album ‘Reverse Light Years’
By Marjie Saunders
What got you into music? How did you (Ashley), Matthew (Cotter) and Wally (Kempton) come to form EVEN?
Ash: “Well, we’re just suburban boys, Melbourne. Who grew up on countdown and 3XY, listening to hits of the day back in the seventies. By the mid eighties to early nineties, we’d all been exposed to the alternative music scene.
We all kind of knew each other through the pub scene. Wally used to book bands at The Tote in Collingwood. Matt and I played in a band called: The Swarm and we had played The Tote a few times. We got to know Wally as a booking agent originally and as a bass player for the bands he was in at that time (Naked Children, Meanies). So he (Wally) has had a dual role in the music scene and it’s been an incredible asset for our band.”
Yeah I bet! So, EVEN is 28 years old in 2022, getting up there! What have been some of the biggest learnings you’ve had over that time period for you guys as a band?
Ash: “I think realistic expectations of success and what that looks like to us. I was taking my daughter to school this morning and Blondie came on the radio and I told her we opened for Blondie at the Palais Theatre in 2003-04. So, when you say it out loud, things like that are your trophies along the way. It depends on how you quantify success and success for me is making a great record, performing a great show and being vulnerable in that process.”
It’s phenomenal for 28 years in the industry and this is the 8th album you’ve released but first double album?
Ash: “It’s a long time to be in a band, nearly 30 years. The thing is if you look at us statistically, on average, we’ve released an album every 4 years. Being in a band, you can’t really be objective about too many things. You have a deep experience within a group of people, and sometimes you need to step outside of it to see what it actually is.”
“There have been a few compilations along the way, but yeah, this is our first-ever double album. It’s taken me a long time to make a double album, I was always reluctant to do it. But 2020 gave me the time and confidence to do it.”
Was that something that was spurred through having the time to reflect during the pandemic? Being able to get in the right headspace to do it in isolation?
Ash: “That’s exactly what happened; there were no external forces, really, it was all internal. It’s probably the best recording experience that I’ve had in recent times. I think the result and spirit in which the album was made has been understood and appreciated by those who have reviewed it. I’m not a conceited kind of person, but I think it’s some of the best guitar I’ve ever played.” He laughed. “I’m happy at the age of 52 to say, well, yep. That’s pretty good.”
Considering you’ve got that maturity now, how has the way you create music evolved since your first album ‘In Stereo’ and ‘Ten to Six’ EP from 1995?
Ash: “It sounds selfish of me because I’ve got to be honest with you… It’s evolved to the point where it is more of a singular experience. EVEN was always formed to write, present to the band and play my songs. In recent years I’ve become a bit more insular regarding writing and recording, having done more of it on my own at home. It’s sort of heading down that track where I do my best work when I have that solitude, as the saying goes, ‘Solitude is Bliss’.”
It’s evolved to the point where I would be like a hermit if I had unlimited funds. You know?” Ash laughed.
“I’d just sit and make records on my own until my head exploded.”
How would you describe the sound of your music to someone who hasn’t heard of EVEN?
Ash: “We’re heavily influenced by mid-sixties, mid-seventies rock and roll. EVEN is a compilation of those and creeping into sounds of the eighties.”
So who would you describe as your main influences?
Ash: “EVEN was formed in a period post bands like Nirvana, Pavement, Love Battery – all these amazing guitar bands. I think I had an epiphany the first time I saw You Am I at The Tote in Melbourne. I think I was 23. I hadn’t seen anything like their performance live before; I had only seen VHS of the classic rock bands of the sixties and seventies. It was like a throwback that I wanted to go with, you know? I wanted to embrace it. I’m not going to be coy about just how influential they are on so many levels, from navigating the music scene, to the importance they placed on their own music and became their own little industry of sorts.”
You’ve played next to the likes of Paul Kelly, Darren Middleton and Dan Sultan who was most interesting to work with?
Ash: “I’ve been one of the lucky ones, because I’ve fell in with a bunch of good people every step of this journey. You know? Like the EVEN guys, Paul Kelly’s band, Rock Wizz Band and The Church. I’ve managed to be in the right places, at the right time, with the right attitude.
I’ve learned a lot from Paul Kelly, being in Paul’s band since 2007. By osmosis, you’ll watch how people operate and take mental notes as you go along, you don’t sort of sit down and have these light bulb moments but over time you realise that there is a certain way of doing things that will help your musicianship, or your show or your record.
In terms of professionalism, I’ve learnt a lot. I still joke that I’m going to become a pro-am golfer, but I’d also rather make no money and create the kind of music record I want to make. Essentially, I’m on a musical quest to just play the music that I like and play with integrity. It’s very fleeting satisfaction to try and record music that is in vogue at the time, I’d rather stick to my guns.”
And who has been the most memorable person you’ve played alongside?
Ash: “If you count every year as a blessing, then you know it’s been 28 years of fun. Sometimes you’ve got to sit down and think, ‘I’m just so lucky to be playing music, and for it to be a significant part of your livelihood. I think memorable moments are hard to capture in the written word as a lot are experiences I’ve accumulated over some great shows.
Working with Ian McLagan from Faces in 2003 is what I imagine it’s like for someone who likes sport to play with a football player they idolised as a kid. Ian, in my opinion, is one of the greatest British rock musicians of all time. It was an absolute highlight for me to see what his pedigree is. We got to record 3 songs with Ian on his day off in Melbourne and it’s something that I’ll cherish forever and never tire of thinking about.”
Surely being able to point out that you played with Blondie to your daughter in the car must be surreal to think back on as well?
Ash: “Yeah, cause all of us in EVEN we were like 10,11 and 12 when ‘Heart of Glass’ was a big hit. So you fast forward to the mid-2000s and you as a band are sharing the bill with them. It is surreal and it’s beautiful that these stories enrich your experience of being a part of a band.”
Your latest album, ‘Reverse Light Years,’ was released in 2021. Which song are you most proud of on this double album and can you tell us why?
Ash: “Starlight Caravan because it’s essentially a stream of consciousness that turns into a groove and jam as well. As I was writing the lyrics, they were kind of falling out. It was a reference to the state and time that you’re in when you are camping or travelling and just immersed in your surroundings. It is as close as I can certainly get to musical freedom. I had originally called the track ’24 Hour Cynic’, so I referenced that in one of the lines – don’t grow up to be a cynic like me.”
I must say, I loved listening to ‘Miracle Drum’ purely for the: do do doo, doodoo do do do do doo backing vocals within the chorus.
Ash laughed. “I’m really excited that you even know that part!
I was actually really inspired by the band Aphrodite’s Child, they had a song called ‘The Four Horsemen’. There is a vocal along those lines in that, and I thought that’s such a cool little trick I’d love to utilise something similar. We haven’t played that song live yet, so that might just be a moment in time that exists truly on the album.”
Well then, it’s a special treat for those who listen to the album. I just want to touch on something you mentioned before about song names. Do you find it difficult to finalise what you end up calling them?
Ash: “Brilliant question. I used to agonise about it but now I’m more relaxed about it. Many of the songs on this album have working titles. For example, ‘Cherry Afterglow’ was a working title for a riff that I wrote the day after a show at Cherry Bar in Melbourne. I named it Cherry Afterglow because that’s how I felt.
‘Miracle Drum’ was based on this drum track I found of Matt’s from another session that was magical to record music to. Naming songs shouldn’t be a chore, and I try to take that agonising aspect out of it by making it a little bit more off the cuff.
I was a bit dubious and conflicted about ‘Too Dumb to Quit’ as a song title, but that was actually a quote. I just ran with it and the fact that Nirvana has a song called ‘Dumb’ as well, that was enough validation for me to put the word dumb in a song title.”
You’ve recently played at a bunch of venues around Victoria, including the Macedon Railway Hotel, Hotel Westwood Footscray and the Espy St Kilda. Where is the tour next taking you? And What’s next?
Ash: “We’ve got a few more weeks in Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide. Unfortunately, due to COVID restrictions WA, Brisbane and Tassie aren’t on our itinerary at the moment.
Basically revolving around. Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia, and the next couple of months. And after that, who knows where?”
Catch EVEN at any of their upcoming shows or listen to their new album ‘Reverse Light Years’ out now on Spotify.