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Cover Story: Into It. Over It.

| April 1, 2016



Evan Weiss (photo by by Cameron Wittig)

If you’re Evan Weiss, there are a few associations that fans and listeners might have about you. Emo affiliated music blogs love to drop the dreaded e-word when talking about his music. The same e-word he’s famously opposed to. Then there’s a certain sonic and thematic approach to his primary musical outlet, Into It. Over It, that’s recognized and celebrated by a devoted army of fans and critics. Known for heart-on-his-sleeve lyrics and vulnerable melodicism, Weiss broke out with 2011’s Proper full-length, followed by 2013’s Intersections, which landed more discreetly than it’s predecessor.

So if you’re Evan Weiss, looking to switch things up, looking to deliver a different type of record, and looking to discount lazy critic labels and associations for your music, what do you do? Well, for starters, a change of scenery is key.

“The last couple records we’ve made pretty much the same way,” Weiss explains when we connect on the phone about a month out from the release of this year’s Standards LP. “We’d write them in our dark and dreary practice space and spend a couple months working on it and then go and record it.” Wash-rinse, repeat. “When (drummer) Josh (Sparks) joined the band, I started writing with Josh and we would work in the practice space, and it never seemed to click creatively. It just seemed like kind of the wrong vibe or just maybe it’s like the — ‘we couldn’t get our heads in the same head space,’ and it just wasn’t working out. And we had never written music together before, so we hadn’t figured our language yet.”

“And so, we did like a little fall tour where we went to Florida punk festival Fest and we did some dates with American Football and Mineral and on that tour we were kind of deciding how we were going to write the new record, after kind of trying to write in the space and failing a couple of times.  And we were like ‘Maybe we should think about getting out of here and going somewhere else and working on it.’ ‘Well let’s talk about getting a cabin.’ And we mentioned all these different locations. And then, after playing a show in Vermont, [we] fell in love with Vermont. We kind of decided that that would be the place where we should work on our record. And so we played a show at this place in Burlington, and the owner actually owned a cabin space and worked it out with him. And that completely changed our dynamic.

Being in that kind of space, that really inspiring space – and only being forced to work really helped the two of us find our rhythm as creative forces with each other. And now, Josh and I can write easily anywhere. We know each other’s language, and we know how to work off each other a little bit. But going to that cabin really inspired being the entire process.”

It was a creative decision that sparked the process for Standards, Into It. Over It’s most mature and fully realized record to date. The creative victory is apparent on moments like “No EQ,” the first single from the record that’s as energized as anything the group has ever produced. It’s indicative of a record that’s charged-up and unabashed, perhaps most notably on “Adult Contempt,” which features blistering and mystifying percussive work from Sparks. “It’s fucked up, right?” Weiss laughs, when asked about Sparks’ percussive prowess. “It’s like actually fucked up.”

“Having Josh in the band really, really leveled (us) up,” he continues. “He’s a great drummer, he’s like my best friend and…when we were writing, we were just completely able to continue to challenge each other through the whole process. Like ‘How fast can you play it? How fast can you go? Can you play it faster? Can you play it slower? How slow can you play that part?’ Just constantly pushing off each other, trying to test each other’s abilities, and test what each other can do. And we are totally the two types of people that if you challenge one of us, we’re going to want to get it right. So, we’re going to sit, and we’re going to practice it until it’s perfect. Or at least practice it until we really feel confident in it. Those drums on (“Adult Contempt”) are a single take. That’s him just playing it. And when we play it live, he plays it. So, yeah, he’s drummer of the year. 2016.”

It’s not just musically where Weiss and co. are taking risks. For the first time, the singer is approaching his songwriting narrative from a perspective other than his own. A change brought on, in part, by finding little to regret in his own life. “I’d never written lyrics that way before, and there were definitely a couple stories that I could see through friends, through the eyes of friends, that were inspiring to me,” the singer reveals. “(I’m) not saying that I’m running out of things to sing about but, it’s definitely hard when you’re living in a happy relationship (in) an apartment that you really like, and…I don’t have a ton to complain about.

Let’s put it that way. So, when I come across these stories – or like one of the songs “Old Lace & Ivory” is written through the eyes of my grandfather in World War II, “Anesthetic” is written through the eyes of a friend. And so is ‘Bible Black.’ And it’s like, these songs seemed like these really interesting stories, and I kind of felt like they anonymously needed to be told.

And I think the vibes of the stories kind of suited the vibes of the songs. So, yeah. I just did it because I thought it’d be interesting and new for me. And yeah, it was. I’m really pleased with the result,” Weiss continues. “I don’t know if I will necessarily really keep writing songs that way and I don’t know if I won’t, either. I don’t think I’ve found like a new ways to write lyrics. But, it was definitely fun to do for this record.”

Shacking up in the cabin was the right location to unlock Standards‘ creative risks, is evident from the record’s musical and lyrical achievements. Yet it’s easy imagine the remote setting and lack of distractions being a challenge in and of itself. It’s an assumption Weiss dismisses, revealing the hyperconnected digital lifestyle is something he plugs in largely out of necessity. “I think if I could play music every day I would,” he states. “I think that the stuff that I have to do involving my life and my career, is what keeps me on things like social media and watching TV. But when like your only thing you have to do is work on music, it’s really easy to only work on music. At least for Josh and I. We are just completely driven in anything that we  jump into. And so, for that, it was just like, ‘Well, this is my why we’re here. This is what we’ve got to do.’ So, it really kept us focused and kept us inspired.”

The inspiration is evident throughout the album, with moments like the wistful and longing of “Your Lasting Image” and the soft-spoken and scratchy “Bible Black” both demonstrating Standards’ use of space and atmosphere. It’s an element that elevates the record, offering a stark, quiet beauty and vulnerability in the music. The softer moments of the album also might not have happened, if Weiss had originally gotten his way. “I fell into this problem when I’d begin to hide behind the riffs a little bit,” the songwriter admits. “Where I would write something and then just want to put up a bunch of layers on top of it, and kind of shadow what is really excellent about what’s going on. Like not trusting my own parts enough or my own songwriting enough. For (producer) John (Vanderslice), I’d show up with these songs and all they’d be is…’usually.’

When I worked with (Intersections producer Brian) Deck, or when I worked with (Proper producer) Ed (Rose), I’d show up and it’d be one guitar line and a vocal line, and that was it. And it’d be like, ‘Okay, now let’s build the song off of these things. Let’s add in the little like sprinkles of stuff that like make it really cool.’ And with John, I’d be like, ‘Cool.’ We’d record the guitar, and I’d be like, ‘Cool, let’s add stuff to it.’ And John would say, ‘Nope. No, no, no. You can’t. Listen how nice this sounds, you can’t put stuff on top of this.’ And I’d say, ‘Well, come on! What do you mean? Like, it needs drums! It needs stuff! It needs like, things on it!’ And, be like insistent that it needed extra stuff. And John would say ‘No no no, no no. Just relax. Just relax. It’s okay. The space is good. Don’t worry. Trust it. Trust what you wrote.’ And so, that was a huge hurdle for me, and he really helped me overcome it. I think if I’d been left to my own devices, I’d probably would have put, well, fucking 15 more instruments all over this shit.”

While Standards isn’t overloaded with unnecessary instrumentation, it does feature elements that were new to Weiss’ catalogue. Hypnotic and graceful, the album’s penultimate track “Anesthetic” marks the first Into It. Over It song to feature string instrumentation. An inclusion it uses to great effect. “I told John that I wanted to have strings on the song,” Weiss explains. “And they’re in the same office as the Magik*Magik Orchestra, a couple of the engineers are also string arrangers or string players. There’s a lot of music going on in that studio at all times. And so, I asked John about having strings. He said, ‘My guy James, he’s one of the other engineers here, he writes great arrangements.’ He’s like, ‘Just let him know.’ So we sent him the song and we asked him to write an arrangement. And I think it was the second to last day, he shows up with an arrangement.

And John was like, ‘I have the right cello player. His name’s Nate.’ So, this guy Nate came in who I’ve never met. And basically the string arrangement was written for cello, only cello, and it was eight cello parts. And Nate just played all the cello parts. And then, we bounced, we like mixed the eight cellos down to one tape machine, and then, spit the cellos back into the song. ‘Cause we only have 24 tracks, we only have so much we can work with. And yeah, it was just a really positive experience. It was one of the the first times I’d ever gotten that kind of emotional listening back to something that I’ve made in the studio before, and just being like, ‘Wow, this just really came out exactly the way I wanted it to. This really brought the whole thing together.’ And I’d never had that happen before. Even before the mixing process began. So, yeah it was awesome. It was definitely difficult to coordinate. At least, difficult to coordinate for someone who likes to work so quickly. But it came together better than I could’ve ever imagined.”

It’s representative of Standards as a whole. A record that brought new weapons into the Into It. Over It arsenal. From blistering drum work to more airy, open compositions to tales told from outside of Weiss’ own experiences. To hear Weiss tell it, his days in the cabin were a learning experience. “I learned that sometimes you just have to let the song do its thing and not think about it too hard,” he reflects on the entire experience.”And I learned to trust the things that I write, instead of second guessing what would maybe be – natural instinct. Which I used to do and then, kind of stopped. And then, (I) realized that I should just go back to the formula one.”

– Jaime Black

Appearing 4/28 and 4/29 at Lincoln Hall, Chicago.

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