Evan Burrows of Wand

 

by Adam Budofsky

 

A number of bands today are successfully exploring the intersection of psychedelic, pop, and garage-rock music. Australia’s Tame Impala and King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Britain’s Wytches and Syd Arthur, and America’s Ty Segall and Unknown Mortal Orchestra have bloomed boldly in the past year or two, each with its own unique approach to working the fertile musical ground planted in the ’60s by the Kinks, the 13th Floor Elevators, the Zombies, and Love. The Los Angeles–based group Wand, featuring drummer Evan Burrows, singer and guitarist Cory Hanson, and bassist Lee Landy, is among the most prolific of the current crop of galaxy-gazing garage-rockers, producing three full-lengths in just over a year. Burrows makes the most out of the group’s ambitious music-world view, muscularly navigating mini-epic, proggy workouts and delicately illustrating mellower moments with grace. We spoke to the drummer on the occasion of Wand’s brand-new release, 1000 Days.

 

MD: The amount of thoughtfully put together music that Wand has released in a relatively short amount of time is impressive. And as a listener, you can hear a progression from one album to the next. Do you see yourselves as unusually efficient?

Evan: Hey, thanks man. I don’t feel like we are particularly efficient—in fact, sometimes it feels like self-sabotage and discord are pretty central to our method. But I do think we are obsessive people, keen to be busy with all the activities and choices and struggles that creative practices involve, excited by what can happen when we all get together and play, when we all get together and try to stay together.

The waiting game that seems typical of most “album cycles” or whatever just doesn’t feel like an option for us—we can’t afford to wait around, and the waiting can be agonizing when it means allowing your enthusiasm and your work to be exhausted by all the misrecognition and confusion and cross-purposes that you will inevitably encounter if you decide to make your music public. So, when the masters for a new record fly away to the plant for several months, then let’s start the next record, the next band, the next plan or project. Or let’s work on more than one at a time.

I prefer this rhythm of keeping our heads down, focused on practice and process and development—cherishing what you’re working on, getting carried away, staying critical, knowing that there are real stakes, but then trying not to feel too precious about anything that you’ve called “finished.”

Luckily for me, I get to hang around with Cory and Lee and other psycho-genius friends who are always cooking up new ideas for us to slice up and hammer out and massage and ridicule and chew up and digest with our one stomach and three fore-stomachs.

MD: It seems like Wand would be a lot of fun to play in; the songs vary in style and tempo and aggression. Does your playing in the group reflect most of your drumming interests?

Evan: Yeah, Wand is a rewarding enterprise because I feel like just about anything that’s called for can be invited into our weird little zone. [laughs] And I’m optimistic that our range is only going to continue to expand. I came to drumming through punk music and I’m largely self-taught, so there are many strange limits to my technique. But I think that so far each time we’ve written a new record, on the level of performance we make efforts to write toward the outskirts of our collective and individual abilities, so that we all have to meet the new work beyond what we were capable of at the outset.

I feel like my drumming, my thinking about percussion, my attention to the instrument have developed and deepened a lot in the last two years playing with these guys. Technique is not an end in itself for me, but if we are aspiring to make a music that does more liberating than encapsulating, does more to open than to close (is that right?), then I think the freer we can get here the better.

Lately we’ve been making more space in our live sets for more and less structured improvisation, and that has felt very good. Playing a lot of shows in a short period of time can really desensitize a body. It’s enlivening to have these opportunities in the set to be very attentive to timbre and tone and touch.

I suspect that the next Wand record will be marked in some way by these modest adventures. I hope so. I hope that we can get and stay relatively wild—I’m interested in trying to make music that is increasingly inscrutable to the market and its attendant watchdog discourses, and yet increasingly affectionate toward other people. Maybe this isn’t so possible? Happily, music is pretty impossible stuff. Simple stuff.

MD: “Paintings Are Dead” seems particularly fun, with the drums going from busy and heavy to light and double-time. Was there any particular challenge to recording that song?

Evan: Recently I was talking to Cory about an imaginary record where the songs altogether feel like a handful of diamonds that are also seeds. I like 1000 Days because it feels sort of that way to me. And I think “Paintings Are Dead” is one of those jewel-seed songs. Teeming and sculpted and waiting to be dropped in the soil somewhere to become something else.

My recollection is that this was one of the easiest songs on the new record to write, and one of the trickiest to get a good drum take of—just wanting to make sure that there’s a common momentum animating the thing across these different changes and feels. And then that gradual tempo change at the very end was really difficult not to overthink– slowing down at a rate that felt solid, for a duration that felt solid. I remember fumbling a couple of strong takes right at that last moment.

MD: The drums on “Clearer,” from Ganglion Reef, benefit from the arrangement very much highlighting your groove. You sound great on that. What are the demands in a section like that—just keeping it steady and avoiding the urge to mix it up too much?

Evan: Thanks. The drums on that song are based on a demo that Cory had worked up on the computer using sample loops. I haven’t heard the demo in a long time, but I think the main drum motif on it was constructed by layering two different breakbeats on top of one another. So, being one body at one kit, I guess I just tried to distill the basic lopes and attach the right weights and anchors to that blimp of a riff. Wanting to achieve that ambling feeling while also leaving enough emptiness in the groove for the whole thing to feel airborne.

I think I tend not to “mix it up” too much out of some measure of inability, but also because I like to think about composing in terms of rhyme or recurrence, especially when it comes to filling. I like to develop fills that are composed—like those stuttering little instants at the end of each verse phrase on “Clearer”—and then “deploy” them in a sequence, rearrange that sequence for the following four bars, repeat the sequence in the second verse, or invert it, switch one fill out, interrupt it, etc. I like how this creates a baseline of steadiness and expectation that then emphasizes any deviations or interruptions. It also overlays some wider and stranger rhythmic measures on top of the more obvious ones—like the two-beat pulse that is produced between the two identical fills that occur only once in each “Clearer” verse. Or the rhythm that is produced by a fill that might appear a few times on more than one track on a single record, or on multiple records, etc. Hopefully this does weird things to time.

MD: The next song on that record, “Broken Candle,” has a great double-time feel, and I love the way you leave out the snare backbeats. Your bass drum foot on that is killer as well. Did you ever work specifically on foot technique?

Evan: I’ve always struggled with discipline when it comes to practicing on my own, so I’ve never worked with much focus on particular skills. But I think writing and rehearsing for that record definitely helped me to develop my foot technique. There are a lot of snare-backbeat-driven parts on that record, so I wanted to try and devise different undergirding bass drum patterns that could provide variation.

In general, I think my body totally revolves around my bass drum foot when I’m sitting at the kit. I think I lead with it and rely on it, maybe to a fault. It’s been cool figuring out as many ways as possible to capitalize on that fact, and also trying to find new ways to upset the reflex and redistribute.

MD: Where did you grow up, and what were your early musical experiences like?

Evan: I grew up in Chicago. I started playing drums when I was eleven and started playing in bands as quickly as I could. I think I took a little less than a year of lessons around that time. I took a year of Beginning Band oboe and a year of Beginning Orchestra cello in high school. My formative experiences playing music were with friends, performing in basements and houses, the occasional club or school event, learning to record ourselves [while] making records in the attic at my folks’ house on a bootleg copy of Cool Edit Pro 2.0. The main attraction for me has always been the social dimension of it—all the beautiful and generous and malformed and sad ways people gather around music to start a band, have a practice, start a space, get to a show, throw a show, record a record, listen to a record, house and feed each other on tour, conduct an email interview, etc. I like to hang around and have these things to do and problems to solve and sounds to hear with friends.

MD: There are several places on 1000 Days where we hear drum machines, loops, or trancey percussion-heavy sections. Are those ideas coming from you, your bandmates, or a combination?

Evan: I only played the live percussion on the record. The drum machine programming was done by Cory and by our friend Caleb, who toured with us for the Ganglion Reef tours. When we play “1000 Days” and “Stolen Footsteps” live, I reinterpret those drum machine sections for the kit.

MD: The end of “Lower Order” seems to be a couple of short loops strung together. It’s not really part of the song, but acts as a cool segue mechanism.

Evan: The end of “Lower Order” is actually two snippets of “Dovetail” mixed differently and played back at different speeds and then spliced together. Recurrence! Hopefully this does weird things to time.

MD: The way the drum-machine-like rhythm is introduced near the end of “1000 Days” is subtle but effective.

Evan: Yeah, I like that moment too. Cory came up with that idea, and it’s been with the song since he first recorded a demo for it.

MD: “Dovetail” is almost all rhythm. How did that track come about?

Evan: That song came together after a really difficult evening of live tracking. We were all feeling dispirited, wiped out, and I think maybe we had just had an argument. So we called it a night and decided to start messing around. Cory wrote a drum machine loop we got excited about, so our dear friend and engineer Bob Marshall set up some minimal microphone drum coverage and I got to sit at the kit and improvise over that loop. Then we stopped, rewound the tape, and I did the same thing a couple more times, responding to each successive layer as I went. Then Lee did the same thing with two takes of synth. Cory ran a couple mixes and we had a song. By the time all was said and done at the studio and we were living with all the final mixes, I think it seemed pretty obvious to us that it had to be on the record. It’s the nerve center, or the boiler room, or maybe it wants to devour the rest of the record entirely—selfish little thing.

MD: In “Sleepy Dog” the drum fill coming out of the spacey keyboard section and into the chorus makes me smile every time. Was there any specific thought behind your choice on that?

Evan: I find myself attracted to these moments when the music might suddenly shift into the mechanical—as though the band were jammed up in some machine form, animated by other forces (absurd, nefarious), trapped in a loop. It’s kind of dumb, kind of funny, there’s oblivion and discipline at the same time, probably lots of other effects. There are several other moments throughout the record where I feel like the whole band kind of enters this mode together.

I think originally during writing we rehearsed “Sleepy Dog” with that fill running only half as long, then during tracking I suggested we record it twice the length and fade it in or something. Then I guess we all grew accustomed to it and the whole eight repetitions made it through mixing intact. Happy accidents, triumphant machines.

MD: What are your feelings about drum sounds—do you have general tones you like, or are you open to whatever the song dictates?

Evan: I’m definitely open to whatever the song dictates. I like all the sounds. [laughs] On record, I like it when the production reveals all the subtle articulations of a drummer’s playing, I like when the production effaces the player, I like when it reconstructs something like the facts, and I like when it’s a total exaggeration. I guess you try and dress for the occasion. Or sometimes you wear your Donald Duck outfit to dinner—lil’ cap, sailor garb, bow tie, no pants—trying to prove some kind of point or something.

Lately, for live circumstances I’ve liked my bass drum tuned low, with the beater flipped to the plastic side to emphasize the attack. We’re pretty loud, so this helps keep that foundation from getting buried when we’re playing in settings where the drums aren’t miked up. I’ve been playing thinner snare heads, Ambassadors. I’m enjoying the relative brightness, but I also play through them really fast. I’ve been tuning the top head rather tight and the snare side head a little lower so it still has a bit of a bark to it. I tune my toms low and mute them slightly. For Wand, I prefer my cymbals to be articulate and light. For some other current projects, I’ve been getting excited about cheaper cymbals that are more unyielding and huge with lots of character.

MD: What kind of gear do you play—drum and cymbal types and sizes, for instance? The live clips I’ve seen show you playing a pretty modest setup.

Evan: Yeah, I like to keep it pretty simple. I also can’t afford to be too choosey or excessive due to matters of cash. I currently play a Gretsch New Classic kit that I’ve had for seven years or so, and the 14″ snare that came with it, which sounds really good to my ears. The toms are 12″ and 16″, I believe, and the bass drum is 22″ and pretty deep. I play 14″ Zildjian A Mastersound hi-hats, a 17″ Zildjian A Custom crash, and a 21″ Zildjian Sweet ride. DW 3000 kick pedal. 5B sticks!

MD: What drummers did you emulate early in your drumming life, and as a listener, who do you gravitate toward today?

Evan: Growing up and playing drums in Chicago during the time I was doing so, I feel like it was inevitable that my early style would boil down on some level to an ignoramus attempt to imitate Jimmy Chamberlain. Other big early influences for me were D.H. Peligro [Dead Kennedys], Jeff Nelson [Minor Threat], Brendan Canty [Fugazi], Phil Selway [Radiohead]. Lately I’ve been thrilled by so many drummers. Yikes…Charles Hayward [This Heat], Penny Rimbaud [Crass], Corey Rose Evans [Vexx], Jaki Liebezeit [Can], Dale Crover [Melvins], Adrian Tenney [Spokenest], Ryan Moutinho [Thee Oh Sees], Billy Ficca [Television], Moe Tucker [Velvet Underground], Tony Austin [Kamasi Washington Septet], Ronald Bruner Jr. [Kamasi Washington Septet], Palmolive [the Slits], Emil Bognar-Nasdor [Moil], Paul Erschen [Mayor Daley], Marian Li Pino [La Luz], Jensen Ward [Iron Lung], Denis Charles [Cecil Taylor Quartet], Colline Grosjean [Massicot], Ty Segall, Jody Stephens [Big Star], Bruce Smith [the Pop Group], Kyle Reynolds [Bad Drugs, Oozing Wound], Dan Swire [Gun Outfit], Anton Fier [the Feelies], Bill Ward [Black Sabbath], Ches Smith [Mary Halvorson, Xiu Xiu], Shannon Sigley [PC Worship], Al Daglis [Shade], Justin Sullivan [Kevin Morby Band], Sofia Arreguin [Personal Best], and on and on forever I can’t remember amen!

MD: You recently released the single “Machine Man”/“M.E.” Neither song appears on 1000 Days, though. More evidence of an over-abundance of great material, or was there an artistic reason to separate those tracks out? I like the way you accent the riff on “Machine Man” as well, and you get to blow out some great fills toward the end.

Evan: Yeah, those two earned their own little slab of wax. I think we actually wrote “Machine Man” first thing after finishing Ganglion Reef. So, that recording is from the sessions for Golem. Just didn’t fit with the emergent shape of that record, I guess.

 

For more on Evan Burrows and Wand, go to wandband.info or dragcity.com.