Evan P. Donohue
Article by: Katie Wiley | Photos courtesy of Evan P. Donohue and Jenilee Thompson | Posted: 04/27/2012
Evan P. Donohue is a true rock’n roll and folk-pop amalgamation, pulling from influences like Of Montreal, Elvis Costello and Buddy Holly, but somehow managing to pull off a vibe that is all his own. Using hypnotic story telling and rich lyrics, it’s easy to get pulled in to whatever world Donohue is singing about. His creativity and talent don’t only just extend to fun narratives, but also into upbeat, playful melodies about life and love, all contained underneath an umbrella of multi-genre songs ranging from rockabilly to surf rock. If you know only one thing, just know that you won’t be able to listen without the urge to tap your feet or hum along.
Originally a California native, Donohue also spent time living in Boston, New York, and Nashville, so it’s unsurprising he has had a wide array of influences over the years. He also confesses that the constant moving had something of an upside. “I’ve lived in like, eighteen houses and went to something like, eight schools, so I learned to connect with people quickly,” which is obvious upon meeting him.
His geek-chic and crooning voice has won over a very similar type of audience, Donohue admits. “The people the music connects to--you wouldn’t realize they’d get into stuff like that. It’s nerds. Like they’ve got weird stamp collections or something. I never thought I was smart enough to be a nerd, but that’s who I’m friends with. Which is great! They are the people who aren’t too cool; they are the people who are cool, but don’t try to be.” He then continues to admit his nerdy-ness further. “I do love Star Wars; I’ve always loved Star Wars.”
For someone ever so slightly defined by his nerdy-ness, storytelling and poetic lyrics, Donohue confesses, “I don’t read as much as I probably should,” but continues, “I did just finish Second Skin by John Hawkes. It’s crazy. I also just got a copy of A Hundred Years of Solitude, which I want to re-read this summer. It’s a good summer read. Definitely. It’s powerful and poetic. The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran is also a very important book for me.”
When discussing Donohue’s views on how the creative process works, he states, “I think with any thing you do, there are a lot of lenses you look at your own work through, or create through--and a lot of people want to try and remove all that and get down to ‘What’s a great pop song?’ and it becomes so stripped down, anyone could do it. The way I write autobiographically, or the element of myself that is in my music is the gaze through which I write. I don’t write about myself all the time.” Of course, referring to the well-known fact that he enjoys writing songs with stories woven into them. He jokingly adds, “Maybe I’m just too lazy to write a novel.
When asked about some of his favorite local Nashville acts, he was happy to provide a list. “I love Majestico; Matt Campbell from Deep Vibration, which was one of the first bands I saw here; Jeff the Brotherhood; Natural Child; Diarrhea Planet was great; Natalie Prass is really awesome.” He graciously continues to give insight into his national favorites and what he listened to growing up. “Growing up in high school, all of my friends were into Of Montreal--their first couple records. Of Montreal has a special place in my heart. Their first record--the song writing is unbelievable. St. Vincent--I really like her. She’s great. Gillian Welch was a big reason I came to Nashville. Elvis Costello. Nirvana, and The Doors too.”
Unsurprisingly, Donohue’s musical roots run deep. “We spun a lot of music in the house when I was growing up. Whenever I hear Ella Fitzgerald, I remember being a kid, walking around with no shoes on the hardwood floor. Joni Mitchell, is one particular artist I heard all the time growing up. Growing up in California, you hear a lot of your parents’ ‘adult-in-the-eighties-type’ creamy, wholesome, hippy aftermath music. I definitely perk an ear up to sultry, soft, whispery sounds I guess…well maybe not too whispery. You know, sing-songy music. I really like it.”
It is shocking that Donohue does not come from a particularly musical family, although it can be supposed that his love of music began to flourish after a purchase his dad made when he was younger. “My dad bought a guitar when I was nine, and I liked to pick it up and strum it. But I didn’t learn how to play until I got to middle school,” he recounts, continuing, “Recording came into play early on. Do you remember old Windows 98 computers? They had little microphones attached to them, and you could record one-minute memos. I could record myself, but the songs could only be a minute long.” This of course forced him to get creative. “Now the recording process is still the same. I kind of produce as I go. I’ve done the ‘just sit down with a guitar and write a song’ thing but I feel a little limited when I’m doing that. I don’t know…I feel like it’s not done until I start fooling around with some bass parts or something like that.”
When approached about his thoughts on writing, he thoughtfully replies, “One of the rules of writing for me is to say that I haven’t written my best song. Because once I have, I’m done. But currently, the two favorite songs I’ve written are, ‘When Time Waits On Me,’ which I released a while ago just to some friends. It’s a little duet with guitar and piano; it’s got two different verses over the same chord progression with different melodies, and the melodies overlap each other at the end. I saw a Bing Crosby and David Bowie video where they did ‘Little Drummer Boy’ or something, and they were singing on top of each other; I thought that’d be cool to do in a song. The second is ‘California Sunshine.’ You get old, you get kind of bored and tired of your songs after a while--but for some reason I still love playing California Sunshine. I just felt super invigorated when I wrote that, and found the melody and progression. I just like it. Like a light goes on, or something.”
As listeners, we would like that light to stay on for Donohue, who promises that we can certainly look forward to new music, although he isn’t quite sure of the upcoming date. “I’m getting a new record put together which I’m really, really, really excited about. The guy who produced Rhythm and Amplitude, Grady Woodruff, is going to work with me on this one. It’s going to be awesome. I had a 7” I’m sitting on, which we released digitally, and “Jazzputin,” with Natalie Prass... That’s going to be an A side-B side, which we’ll release sometime in the future. I’m playing a lot with percussion. I’ve had a guy playing drums with me the past five years in town, and I’m trying to include a lot of percussive elements to the songs. It’s not like a fucking bongo line or anything, but it’s got some cool little tricks in it.” Coming from Evan P. Donohue, even a bongo line would probably be cool.
Check out Evan's artist profile to hear his music and download some of his songs for free!
Evan P. Donohue - "California Sunshine (Live at The End)"