Evan Weiss holed up in a cabin for a month and this is what came out.
Photo: Shervin Lainez
Evan Weiss wants to talk about process. When we sit down to dinner at a New York sushi restaurant, I tell him we can start with any topic he wants, whatever he wishes people would ask him about more often, and that’s what he chose. Process.
Normally, listening to a musician drone on about the details of their writing and recording sessions is about as dull as hearing someone describe a Netflix sci-fi series you haven’t watched. Is there any more boring aspect of rock and roll than imagining a guitarist sitting in a room, playing the same riff over and over while a producer fiddles with levels and knobs? But Weiss did something different this time around for his new album, Standards, the third under his Into It. Over It. moniker: He went off the grid.
“You can’t believe how expensive it is to be alone,” he tells me. When gearing up to write Standards, he took a substantial portion of the album’s budget and invested in isolation. He and his bandmate and writing partner, Joshua David Sparks, spent a month last winter holed up in a remote cabin in Craftsbury, Vermont, a new space built for musicians to work in seclusion called Rebel Yell. They were the spot's very first guests.
If you look at Craftsbury on a map, it’s way the hell up there. Wherever you’re imagining, go 100 miles farther north. The 40-square mile town sits just 15 miles south of the Canadian border in an area that averages over seven feet of snow per year.
He and Sparks would spend upwards of 13 hours a day writing in a room surrounded by windows overlooking a mountain and a snow-covered lake, cut off from amenities like wi-fi and cellular service. There was nothing and no one for two miles in any direction. When they weren’t writing, they would read or build fires, which might not sound extravagant, but to people suffocated by the concrete grip of city living, the peace of free time and the gift of silence are rare commodities. Occasionally, the generator the cabin ran on would die and they’d be left without electricity. The temperature would often drop well below zero. ”We went into it thinking we were gonna lose our fucking minds, but we came out not wanting to leave.”
Weiss, who relocated to Chicago from Philadelphia in 2008, wrote his last record, 2013’s Intersections, in the band’s practice space. “It wasn’t a terrible experience, but it was really hard to separate my day-to-day life at home from the actual creative process,” he says. “Plus, our practice space is this dreary, sad place. There’s no natural light, there’s no windows. You’re just in this dark box and it smells like mold and there’s no ventilation.”
This change of scenery was necessary to keep from burning out creatively, says Weiss, who is also active in a seemingly endless list of other idiosyncratically entitled musical endeavors, including Pet Symmetry and Their / They’re / There, the later of which features American Football's Mike Kinsella. Not too long ago, when looking ahead to the ten-year anniversary of Into It. Over It.’s first release, a collection disseminated over an entire year entitled 52 Weeks, he briefly considered celebrating the occasion by closing the book on the whole thing—ending Into It. Over It. and moving on to a new project from scratch.
“Making records previously, for lack of a better way to put it, I’d gotten so up my own ass about what the songs needed to sound like or what musical direction I thought the band needed to go in. I was just so hung up on all this stupid shit.”
Unlike his previous two records, Weiss went into Standards with no preconceptions or hang-ups. “You become afraid to be yourself. It happens to bands a lot. They think about what they have to do instead of what they could do. That’s such a different perspective,” he says. “I made two records where I thought about what I had to do, so we went to the cabin and just had fun. We’d write this gnarly shit and I’d say to Josh, ‘How fast can you play this?’ And we’d push it and push it until he physically couldn’t play it faster. Or I’d work on a part and we’d say, ‘How slow can we play that?’ We left that experience so amped on songwriting. It’d been eight years since I felt that way about writing songs.” By the end of their Vermont stay, they had assembled over 20 songs, 14 of which they would take to San Francisco that June to record with producer John Vanderslice in the all-analog Tiny Telephone Studio, where Vanderslice has worked with artists like Spoon, the Mountain Goats, and Death Cab for Cutie.
One thing that’s immediately evident of Weiss is that he is a music nerd, through and through. He can wax philosophical for hours about the significance of just about any hardcore record or reminisce about that pg. 99 show you both happened to have been at in Richmond back in ‘99. So I ask what influences went into making Standards.
“I would like to think that I’m an appreciator of a wide array of genres. A lot of things that have been direct influences on me recently have not been what be what you’d expect. I don’t listen to a lot of music of my peers. At this point. it’s more weird, new age solo guitar stuff. I have a lot of jazz records in my house.” He then rattles off a list of other eclectic choices—XTC, prog records, various Brian Eno projects. “I don’t even listen to that much music with vocals in them,” he swears.
Of course, this is what people say in interviews when they want to sound deeper than they really are, so after we finish our meal, I bring him by a record store I think he’d like. As soon as we enter, Weiss’ fingers lead the way, right up to the first box of used LPs, where he starts flipping through with the speed and efficiency of a seasoned shopper, a skill that only comes from wasting many a perfectly good afternoon in record stores.
Within 20 minutes, he has methodically made his way through every aisle, bonded with both store employees over Billie Holiday, and amassed a tall stack of potential purchases. True to his word, it’s a diverse mix, heavy on Blue Note jazz records—Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Shirley Scott, Yusef Lateef. There’s also a Salt ‘N Pepa record which I’m genuinely jealous that he found before I did.
Weiss gets to the register as the store is closing and starts looking through his finds to see which ones he can part with and put back. He ultimately decides to just buy all of them. One hundred and twenty-six dollars worth of LPs, a stack big enough to merit a box at checkout instead of a bag. “What?” he asks, sensing my judgment when I glance over his long receipt. “I’m on vacation.”
Records, he says as we leave the store, are what we remember artists by. “When I’m dead and gone, there’s no live show to back me up. That’s the thing people can go back and listen to. Look at a band like the Beatles. You remember, what, two famous Beatles concerts? Them on the roof of Abbey Road and at Wrigley Field. You don’t think of the Beatles’ live show, you think of Sgt. Pepper as a killer record. The records, the process that goes into them, that’s the legacy.”
Listen to "No EQ" from Standards below. The album is out on March 11 via Triple Crown Records (pre-orders available this Friday). Into It. Over It. will be on tour with The World Is a Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid to Die, The Sidekicks, and Pinegrove this spring. Dates below.
3/22 - St. Louis, MO @ The Firebird
3/23 - Madison, WI @ Majestic Theatre
3/24 - Lawrence, KS @ Granada Theatre
3/25 - Denver, CO @ Marquis Theater
3/26 - Salt Lake City, UT @ Kilby Court
3/28 - Seattle, WA @ The Crocodile
3/29 - Portland, OR @ Star Theater
3/31 - San Fransisco, CA @ Social Hall
4/01 - Santa Ana, CA @ Constellation Room
4/02 - Los Angeles, CA @ Troubadour
4/03 - San Diego, CA @ The Irenic
4/04 - Phoenix, AZ @ Rebel Lounge
4/06 - Austin, TX @ The Parish
4/07 - Houston, TX @ Warehouse Live
4/08 - New Orleans, LA @ One Eyed Jack’s
4/09 - Atlanta, GA @ The Masquerade
4/10 - Orlando, FL @ The Social
4/12 - Durham, NC @ Motorco
4/13 - Richmond, VA @ The Broadberry
4/18 - Toronto, ON @ Hard Luck Bar
4/19 - Montreal, QC @ Bar Le Ritz
4/20 - Burlington, VT @ Higher Ground
4/21 - Boston, MA @ Royale
4/22 - New York, NY @ Irving Plaza
4/23 - Washington, DC @ Black Cat
4/24 - Philadelphia, PA @ TLA
4/26 - Columbus, OH @ Ace of Cups
4/27 - Cleveland, OH @ Beachland Ballroom
4/28 - Detroit, MI @ Majestic Cafe
4/30 - Chicago, IL @ Lincoln Hall
5/01 - Minneapolis, MN @ Triple Rock