A Q&A with Secret Colours’ Tommy Evans

When the Chicago, IL-based Secret Colours released their debut, self-titled effort and their sophomore effort Peach last year, they were a sextet, which is highly unusual for most rock bands. But between the after effects of the release of Peach and the time they went into the studio to record the material that wound up comprising both Positive Distractions Part 1 and Positive Distractions Part 2, the band went through a massive lineup change, leaving the band’s two founding members Tommy Evans (vocals, guitar) and Justin Frederick (drums) as the only original members of the band. Recruiting two long-time Chicago music world friends, Eric Hehr (bass) and Mike Novak (guitar), the band emerged as a much leaner quartet. And interestingly enough, now as a quartet, the band went through an identity altering change in sonic direction – both as part of the natural course of being artists and as a bit of a necessity.

With such a massive lineup change, a band generally has two immediate responses in terms of songwriting – strip down previously perceived excesses or they find a way to be inventive with less. And in the case of both Positive Distractions Part 1 and Part 2, the band manages to find ways to be inventive, while mining familiar influences. “It Can’t Be Simple,” the first single off Positive Distractions Part 1 employs the use of a staccato organ and a taut bass line in a way that that will likely remind you of several bands including the Black Angels, Raccoon Fighter, and 60s garage bands. “Heavy and Steady” has a bluesy, shuffling stomp that kind of reminds me of the Doors — but with increasingly psychedelic sound effects such as guitars and vocals fed through delay, reverb and looping pedals to crate a warping effect at points. And the bridge suddenly gives the song a brief but quiet and very trippy sense of beauty, which may have been underpinning the song all along. And "Into You,” one of my favorite songs off both EPs, possesses the most sinuous and seductive bass line on the entire album – and interestingly, the song sounds as though it owes a debt to the Talking Heads — thanks to bursts of percussion that seem to come out of nowhere. But if you pay attention, the song manages to reveals a much more complex nature, as the song feels like two or three different songs tied together with that great bass line. It’s also, the band’s first really danceable song. 

In this edition of the Q&A, I spoke with Secret Colours’ Tommy Evans via email, while the band was returning to Chicago from this year’s Austin Psych Fest. And obviously, we talk about both EPs; how the lineup change impacted and influenced the songwriting on Positive Distractions 1 and 2; and more. Also, Evans reveals that the band had recorded both EPs during the same sessions, which explains the incredible similarities that both EPs share. 

Check it out below. 

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Photo Credit: Lenny Gilmour

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Album Art Credit: Tommy Evans, Justin Frederick, Katey Meyerimage

Album Art Credit: Justin Frederick and Tommy Evans

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WRH: How did you get into music? And when did you know it was your calling? 

Tommy Evans: My dad has a vast music collection that I grew up around as a kid, sometimes exploring stuff that one would think a young kid wouldn’t listen to. This gave me a unique perspective an appreciation of music at a young age. It wasn’t until I heard The Magical Mystery Tour though that made me want to write songs and play instruments. Then in 8th grade my friends at the time wanted to play “Blitzkrieg Bop” at the schools talent show. So I learned how to play power chords and have been trying to progress ever since.

WRH: Who are your influences?

TE: We all are influenced in some way to many types of music but the basis of the band was founded on the sounds of the Brian Jonestown Massacre, The Dandy Warhols, Blur, The Stone Roses, Spacemen 3, and the Black Angels. Since then we’ve been trying to explore many different sides of our influences as we grow.   

WRH: How would you describe your sound?

TE: Rock ‘n’ Roll, Pop Psychedelic. Delay Junkies? 

WRH: Who are you listening to right now?

TE: We are driving back from Austin Psych Fest and we are currently listening to Bonzo Dog Band.  

WRH: How did the original lineup meet? And how did you wind up meeting the two newest members of the band?

TE: All the original members grew up playing and being around the local Chicago suburbs indie music scene. We knew Eric [Hehr] from back then as well; it was only in this past year he started playing with us. We met Mike [Novak] when we were recording Peach. He was working at Engine Studios [where] we recorded [the album].

WRH: Between the release of last year’s Peach and the time you were heading to the studio for the Positive Distractions sessions, the band went through a massive lineup change that had the band going from its original sextet to a quartet, with only two of the band’s original members remaining. And seemingly as a result of the lineup change, I’ve noticed a decided change or sonic direction between Peach and Positive Distractions 1 and 2. The band seems a bit more experimental and seemingly improvised on some songs. And some of the material seems to draw from broader influences. How much did the lineup change influence the new sound and your songwriting? Was this intentional?

TE: This record was different in the sense that everyone who was involved in making positive distractions had an equal influence on its outcome rather than only one person writing most of the material so naturally the end result seems more of a broader view than before.     

WRH: I’ve listened to both Positive Distractions 1 and 2 a number of times, and I can tell that they were recorded as part of the same recording sessions. Although subtly different, both EPs share a lot in common thematically, tonally and sonically. To me, it feels as though it could and should have been a whole album. So why two EPs instead of a full-length?

TE: Yes, we recorded all 12 tracks in 11days total so they feel like part of a collection hence part 1 and part 2. We did that digitally to spread out the releases till you can buy the full analog album on cd vinyl or cassette. Which you can order on our website.         

WRH: How do you know when you have a finished song? 

TE: We usually record as many parts as we can in the time we have and then strip the songs back in the post mixing period. It this case it’s better to have to much than too little.  

WRH: So what exactly is the lyrical inspiration for “Rotten Summer” and “Into You?” Do those two songs and others come from lived-in personal experience?

TE: Yes, this record I was really trying to write from my experiences and what I was feeling at the time. Music is always better when it’s coming from an honest place. It also helped me through a hard time and onto better days. Moving on to something different and exploring new things is really what this record is about 

WRH: What advice would you give to artists trying to make a name for themselves? 

TE: I’m not really sure, I’m looking for some myself. But one and only thing that keeps me going is to not give up writing songs and trying to spread the word. I feel that is ultimately what makes successful songwriters. Great songs.