Eve Selis discusses loss, greed and latest album ‘Family Tree’.
From San Diego, USA to Southampton, UK the conversation is flowing despite a slight crackle tripping down the telephone wires but not enough to disrupt the discussion being held. Once the tape machine clicks to a halt to signal the end of this interview and pleasantries are exchanged before departing separate ways, FLW is safe in the knowledge that a genuine country singer-songwriter has just poured her heart out, quite literally, only to be greeted moments later with our very own worst nightmare. As playback begins, and the first question is hurled across the Atlantic, the response is beyond comprehensible for the simple fact the interview decided not to transmit to tape on this particular occasion. Panic ensues as I scramble for the telephone hoping and praying that our interviewee hasn’t moved on to pastures new with a simple trip down to the grocery store, as the chances of securing the services of Eve Selis to plough through my shopping-sized list of questions once again starts to evaporate with considerable pace. Luckily for FLW, the coffee was just beginning to brew Stateside as a cheery, yet slightly tired voice on the other end of the line, agrees to be put under the interrogative spotlight once more.
This response will come as no surprise to those in the know regarding Eve Selis and her blend of country-rock as BBC Radio Two’s Bob Harris testifies: ‘Eve is a deeply creative, caring artist who gives everything to her craft’. Such ringing endorsement concerning Eve’s caring nature and artistic credentials is further cemented by FLW, for not only having the patience of a saint by allowing for a double take of this interview, but also for what was to happen next due to unexpectedly breaking down when questioned about one of her songs from latest album, ‘Family Tree’. The song in question, ‘I Can’t Cry’ reveals Eve’s tender side in more ways than one, especially during the line: ‘Goodbye, god I hate goodbye, endings are tragedies’ as you can almost hear her voice fracturing under the emotional weight of the song.
Feeling more than slightly awkward at this juncture, and sensitive to the needs of Mrs Selis, my response is merely to twiddle with my tie à la Oliver Hardy and offer a response along the lines of, “Are you alright?” Doh! Another fine mess. With composure restored and the FLW hanky wrung dry for the umpteenth time, Eve Selis spares any further embarrassment on my part by offering a full-bodied answer to the difficult song in question.
“That was a song written when my father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and he died three months after he was diagnosed. It was during that whole time that I was in denial that he had cancer as he had never been sick of it in his life, but it was very hard to confront it. We had actually planned a trip to Nashville for a songwriting week, and this was a song that I had to write with other people as I was just too close to it. I couldn’t get the words out and play it the way I wanted to, and the whole idea was if I don’t cry about it, it’s not real, it’s not happening, but obviously life does not work that way.”
The fragile nature of ‘I Don’t Want To Cry’ has led to the song being put on ice on more than one occasion when it comes to Eve Selis and her band performing live, as the song has been too much of an emotional wrench.
“It’s interesting because we used to cover a Patti Griffin song called ‘Just I’. We recorded that on our last CD, and that was a song that would choke me up just thinking about it, but I wasn’t really thinking about one person in particular when I was singing that song. After my father passed [away], however, that’s another song I just can’t sing now. I have gotten to a point now where it’s not as painful, as I just want to remember really good things and that I really miss him a lot. When you get into the emotion of what a song is, and you realise that it’s starting to affect you and you start to cry, your throat actually closes because it’s a mechanism that happens when you swallow anything or when you chew food as the epiglottis closes over your lungs so that you don’t choke to death, and that’s why, when you start to cry, your voice just shuts down. So it’s very hard to sing if you get emotional. We have started playing it again [‘I Don’t Want to Cry’] and I have been able to get through it without crying but it’s definitely a hard one. But that’s another thing about the voice, as it’s such an unpredictable instrument which depends on how I’m kinda feeling that day.”
Such brutal honesty in song but also during our discussion, Eve Selis is definitely that rare breed of artist not only for her deep raspy vocals, which can shift at ease to more mellifluous sounding tones when required, but also for the manner in which she conducts herself, the knowledge she imparts and remaining completely free of ego. Therefore, it is worth rewinding to see where exactly this whole singer-songwriter process began for this San Diego starlet.
“Music has always been a very big part of my life and I’ve always had a special affinity to it,” answers Eve. “I found out at a young age that I could sing, and I loved singing along to songs on the radio and learning other people’s styles, which you build upon in order to find your own unique voice and express your own emotions. It was a real process with songs I wrote in my twenties and then realising that they were not as good as the songs I wrote in my thirties or my forties. So you kinda gotta get through songs to get to the ones that are going to last for you.”
Current album ‘Family Tree’ is a product of many years hard labour spent honing her craft in the sense that Eve is beginning to write those songs which will have definite longevity. If anything, ‘Family Tree’ is Selis’ most consistent album to date, as this record feels like a whole – musically and lyrically – compared to previous efforts falling a little short in places. It would seem that Eve is of the same opinion.
“I love it!” is the instant reply concerning ‘Family Tree’. “When I listen to the songs, I realise that I still love this album and that’s a great feeling as I feel like I got what I wanted out of it and it was allowed to become what it was meant to be. Also, the fact that it had been four years in between [albums], we had worked out a lot of those songs live and therefore already shaped them in terms of what they were going to be. I think we got a real warm sound on this one as a result of using analogue [tape] and having that kind of attitude as opposed to the other albums. Furthermore, having a producer in there, who’s not as personally invested in the songs, can make suggestions that you can’t think of because you’re too close to it. That’s a great feeling and I hope we can do that from now on.”
Having recorded ‘Family Tree’ in her hometown of San Diego at Big Fish studios with producer Steve Churchyard, who spent his tutelage under George Martin of ‘Beatles fame, this album was a real homecoming of sorts from the recording methods used – “I loved to hear the tapes rewinding and hearing that whirring sound as it closed down, as it brought back a lot of great memories” – to the personal nature of the songs and the actual location of the recording sessions. Therefore, a true melding of ideas, methods and personnel, with everything being in its right place at exactly the right time, as even the recording was made 11/11/11, a feat not to be repeated for some considerable time.
Not everything, however, was as smooth running for ‘Family Tree’ because there was the sore point of a struggling economy to take into consideration in terms of who, exactly, was going to finance this record? The answer was Eve’s loyal army of fans, who reacted to an incentive to actually invest in the recording process, so that all those months of hard work would see the light of day.
“We actually did that four albums ago when I was in the studio and midway through an album when one of my investors had to pull out and I had already spent the money,” comments Eve regarding the financial aspects associated with recording albums in the current climate. “I was kinda broke and I had to come up with a cheque by the end of the week. So I sent this email out to my fans saying, ‘Hey, would you like to be a part of this project and be an Executive Producer?’ We did that for two albums, but the problem with that is that you never get back on top because you’re taking all the money that’s profit from your album and paying people back who loaned you money, and CDs are kinda how bands pay their bills and go on tour. Therefore, I came up with the idea of ‘kick start’ whereby fans donate money for a recording incentive. So every dollar amount they get something for that, and basically your fans become your record label as they have that sense of ownership and part of a project. As we had the fans investment, we were able to pay a producer to come in, as we have never worked with a premier award-winning producer before due to always self-producing.”
The recent problems associated with the world’s economy also extended to the actual song material and, in particular, ‘When Is Everything Enough’ which is loosely inspired by a high-profile sports personality and associated notorious behaviour as Eve explains:
“That song was just when Tiger Woods’ private life exploded into the public realm and a conversation Marc, Rich and I were having – ‘Man, here’s a guy whose got everything, and it’s still not enough! How is that possible? When is everything enough?’ And that was a great idea for a song. So we started there, and the chords came out of that. We then decided to write the song about a random couple and how they started off so sweet and wanting to be together but then deciding that these are all the things they wanted [material possessions] and it was the things which broke up their relationship. So it was one of those songs, which was timely with what was going on in the world, with everyone probably thinking we’re all living beyond our means, by putting everything on credit cards, and then realising that once the market crashed that we’re all down in that rabbit hole and now we’re just barely climbing back out. So it’s a song which is timely and inspired by one person, but is really meant for all of us.”
Guitarist Marc Intravaia’s involvement in the Eve Selis sound, nicely summed up as “roadhouse rock; an amalgamation of country, rock, folk, and blues with even a little R&B”, extends to more than a conversation regarding one of the songs making up ‘Family Tree’ as he has been a stalwart partner in the songwriting process for a considerable time.
“Marc and I have worked together for twenty-one years, and we just go with how we’re feeling in terms of songwriting,” explains Eve regarding Marc’s involvement. “Occasionally, we have invited the band in when we’re not really sure where we want a song to go, and they get to be a part of the arrangement. It’s usually just Marc and I coming up with an idea, but we have written with a lot of lyricists who will come in with an idea and it builds from there. It’s different all the time, as every time we write it is different. For example, we actually just rewrote a song that Marc produced for a holiday show for school kids that is going to go on our new Christmas CD. We completely rewrote a lot of the lyrics as it was a song he’d written for them and it needed to be kind of simple so that they could all sing along to it. I had never really connected with the song because it was very basic and wanted it to have a little bit more different melody and different feel, so we just rewrote it, and now we’re going to bring it to the band to record on Sunday and it will probably grow from there.”
Seemingly open to new ideas and working methods despite a close-working relationship with Marc Intravaia, Eve Selis is definitely committed to a democracy within the band, something of which can be ascertained from the overall philosophy proudly hanging around their necks.
“I think one of the key things is that the band has been together for a long time, and when travelling with people you learn a lot about them when out on the road. We all still really get along, and I think one of the reasons is that we let everybody shine in this band as it’s not just all about me but the band as a whole,” comments Eve regarding the band’s togetherness. “So people get to shine in this band, which makes the entire band shine and it makes me shine even more. Obviously, I am going to get the attention as I’m singing the songs and talking over the microphone due to being front stage. But being able to step back and letting the spotlight go on other people obviously makes me shine and them too. For example, you have two candles, and you light one with a match and then you see it burning brightly and then you take that candle and light another. Has the first candle lost any of its life? No, as both are shining together. So I think that might be our philosophy, that you let everybody in the band shine.”
With no plans for a new in album in 2013, “I want to wait and give this one [‘Family Tree’] a bit more time”, Eve Selis is clearly brimming with confidence, and rightly so, as ‘Family Tree’ deserves the plaudits currently bestowed upon it as it’s an album built for the listening long haul due to its rich melodies, intriguing lyrics and simple honesty. All you need is Eve Selis.
The whole idea was if I don’t cry about it, it’s not real, it’s not happening, but obviously life does not work that way.”
FLW - From the Tapes
Eve Selis recounts an amusing tale regarding a gig in San Diego where the Eve Selis Band was billed after a puppet show – rock and ‘er’ roll!
“I will say that one time we played a library gig where they had a stage and everything but they had us listed after a puppet show! Are you familiar with the Spinal Tap movie? I don’t know if you remember it, but that bit where the band decided to go jazz and the girlfriend [of one the band] becomes the manager and says at a gig, ‘I told them it’s Spinal Tap first and then the puppet show! Do you guys hear what’s happening here? We’ve just been listed after a puppet show!’ The reason why that wouldn’t be as funny is that those things actually happen to people, and that’s why musicians laughed so hard. So that was one of the funniest things that ever happened to us – we played in a library and we were billed after the puppet show!”