Back in August 2010, Kevin Mitchell was wrapping up a tour with the Basement Birds – a teaming of four premier Australian singer/songwriters: Kev, Steve Parkin, Josh Pyke, and Kav Temperley – and had completed recording the first full-length album from his group Jebediah since 2004, Kosciuszko. He’d also been touring solo under his, well, stage name… but it’s so much more, Bob Evans. This is the first time this interview has appeared anywhere (see the About Adam page for why). It’s a reminder of what we were all doing three years ago (seems there was an Australian Federal election, and a drawn out one at that) and a prelude of Kev’s thoughts about the direction of his music and what was to be realised with the 2013 Bob Evans’ effort, Familiar Stranger. When he’s not graciously accepting compliments on Twitter for his sausage (rest assured, most of these people are mistaking him for the unrelated restaurant chain and sausage maker), he’s graciously answering questions from people like me. He’s good that way.
Adam: You’ve been touring with the Basement Birds. What has that experience been like?
Kev: It’s been great. The Basement Birds collaboration has been a part of my life for nearly four years now so it’s been wonderful to see it all come to fruition. I always suspected that Josh and I would do something together one day after we became friends back in 2006 as we share so much in common musically and our audience crosses over so much. I never suspected that it would be in this kind of scenario though. I think it’s been quite therapeutic and revelatory in a way to write with and spend so much time talking with three other songwriters because you learn so much from how other people do things and you also find comfort from hearing about other people’s creative struggles and how they deal with them. I think being an artist or a creative person professionally is quite an insular job. It is my job to write songs on my own that reflect my thoughts and feelings. Sometimes when you face challenges or difficulties you think that you are the only one who faces them. Spending time with other songwriters makes you realise that we all face similar creative challenges.
Adam: And recording again with Jebediah? What’s next for the band?
Kev: Jebediah have finished a new album and we will be releasing it early 2011. It’s a very different record for us and I’m really excited about it. It’s the first real “studio” album we have ever made. Every other album has been recorded quite traditionally. We write a bunch of songs, play them live a bunch of times and then go in to studio and bash them out in a few weeks. This time round we had barely played the songs live, we wrote a few of them in the studio and we really used the studio as an instrument. I think it’s a really interesting record – which it had to be otherwise we would have had no real reason to make another record after all these years.
Adam: Now, on that Bob. As a collection Suburban Kid, Suburban Songbook and Goodnight, Bull Creek! demonstrate a lot of continuity as well as difference. Themes of the past but trying to live in the present, concern for the world, war, fraternity, success and failure and putting that in perspective – and, of course, love. Spanning at least seven years, how has your approach to your music changed (if it has), and how has Kevin Mitchell?
Kev: I suppose when I first started writing Bob Evans songs I was writing songs to be performed live where as over time it has become more about making records. That’s probably the biggest way in which my approach has changed. I still love playing live and I want to write songs that I can perform by myself with a guitar down at the pub but I have become much more interested in recording over the last five years. I think performing live came very naturally to me and right from day one I felt like I knew what I was doing. As for recording, I knew absolutely nothing about it at first so there was so much to learn. I only think I’ve started getting good at it on the last three records I’ve made (the last two Bob albums and the new Jebediah record). In most other respects I think my approach toward music is much the same, only I have higher standards for myself now which can make the process more difficult. Stylistically I do feel like Bob Evans has made the records that he was designed to make. It took ten years but in 1998 I started Bob Evans as an outlet to write acoustic, country leaning music and eventually I got to make albums in Nashville that I am really proud of. The thing is, I don’t really listen to that kind of music much anymore. My tastes haven’t changed as such, because I still like that music, they have just broadened. So now I want to make an album that reflects that broadening.
Adam: A difficult question, but what are a couple of songs from those albums that are really special to you and why?
Kev: “Nowhere Without You” is really special to me. It was the first song I ever wrote on an instrument that wasn’t a guitar. I just think I stumbled upon something really special with the “feel” of the song and I think I will always love it. Everything off Suburban Songbook is very special to me because it documents a watershed moment in my life, both personally and professionally, that will never happen again.
Songs like “Turn” and “For Today” off Suburban Kid are special to me because they are so personal and also really naive. Hearing those songs and those lyrics are like reading an old diary from a decade ago. It kind of makes me smile and also really confounds me.
Songs off Bull Creek like “Wintersong”, “Pasha Bulker” and “Someone So Much” are special to me but they are also quite sad so I guess I tend not to dwell on them so much. Perhaps in five years time they won’t seem so sad to me.
Adam: You’ve been playing everything from small pubs to supporting Keith Urban, as well as your recent tours overseas [UK and Ireland with Powderfinger and solo shows in Spain; check out Kev’s travel blogs here]. What do you like about live performing and touring and what do you find challenging?
Kev: I love performing live. I’ve been doing it since I was five years old. I acted in plays all through high school and even in to University so the stage feels totally natural to me. That doesn’t mean I don’t fear it sometimes. I try to respect it. Perhaps it’s like a surfer’s relationship with the ocean. I guess I have never given much thought as to why I love performing because I’ve always just done it. Obviously there is something instinctive going on that I’ve never really questioned. I know that after a good performance I feel wonderfully happy and after a bad one I feel terrible. I guess performing makes you feel alive. It’s like a short sharp burst of hyper reality, where every thought and feeling is amplified. There are many things that are challenging about performing. The travel wears you down as the years go by. I’m 32 and I’ve been touring since I was 18. It affects me more than it used to. The monotony of plane and car travel and the distance from loved ones. Every night you want to have the best show of your life and sometimes you just don’t feel that great. But sure enough, once you get on stage something happens and you feel re-energised again. I still love travelling overseas, especially Europe. That’s the only time now when I feel that same sense of adventure that I used to feel when I first started touring around Australia.
Adam: I read your recent article in The West Australian (6/8/2010), Sex. lies and one too many parties [this was right before the 2010 Australian Federal Election]. Regardless of parties or personalities, socially and politically what worries you and what gives you hope?
Kev: I feel ashamed that we allow Indigenous communities to live in third world conditions in some parts of the country and I hate that we allow people to go homeless in the cities. Australia is one of the most affluent countries in the world and the majority of people enjoy an amazing standard of living and quality of life. But I believe we should judge ourselves not by how well the wealthiest people live but by how well the poorest people do and unfortunately people sleeping on the streets and indigenous communities living in poverty reflects very badly on us as a people. I think we could afford to be more charitable in general.
I was filled with lots of hope when Barack Obama won the presidency in the U.S. It was pretty scary there for a while when you saw what the alternative was and that the people might choose them! I was so relieved that America made the choice that it did, a compassionate one, because it impacts on everybody and I do believe that the majority of people in the world are compassionate.
Adam: What’s up next?
Kev: I will spend the rest of this year playing the odd festival with Basement Birds and preparing for the release of the new Jebediah album. Next year will be all about releasing the Jebs album and touring it. And all the while I will be writing and demoing new songs for Bob. I’m pretty much doing that continuously. I’m looking forward to being ready to make a new Bob album next year.
Adam: And, finally, just to get my Barbara Walters on: if you were a tree, what type would you be?
Kev: I don’t know much about trees. I’d be something average but durable.
Adam: Anything you would like to say that I haven’t asked?
Kev: I’m hungry. I’m going to go make some toast.
Kevin Mitchell wound up 2013 with his “Good Evans, It’s Xmas!” series of shows at the Northcote Social Club (High St, VIC). His latest album, Familiar Stranger, was released in March 2013 and nominated for an ARIA for Best Adult Contemporary Album (pipped to the post by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds for Push the Sky Away). As a familial aside, Joey Waronker is drummer on Familiar Stranger and the son of my good friend, Donna Loren.