A songwriter like no other, Evelyn Drach chooses her words and melodies so carefully and expresses them so freely.
Although her album Up With the Smoke tells a story working backwards from death to bustling life, she gives each single time to marinate in the minds of her listeners by releasing them one at a time. The single “False Premise” is a haunting ode to Evelyn’s deepest questions, following her train of thought as she contemplates life, death and the existence of a higher power.
Flutes introduce the song in a way that transports the listener to a thrilling soundscape that materializes into a lonely tundra. In a combination of spoken word and stirring melodies, Evelyn begins her journey of revelation with what can be described as a gasp for air, almost desperate.
As the song builds, desperation becomes confidence as the narrative voice becomes that of an inquisitor, telling the stories of those who regret past choices, searching for redemption or at least an escape from guilt. From the tundra, the guilty party runs to the mountains and the desert in search of a hiding place only to find themselves more exposed.
You broke your promises
And cast your daughters out
Are you trying to disappear?
Where did you hide
You little liar?
The strings in this mini chorus chase the subjects of her musings in staccato movements through the soundscape, following their every move, reminding them of what they’ve done. In this genius combination of lyrics and musicality, Evelyn illustrates the futility of running from one’s past as the strings follow with their mocking tones.
If there really is a god,
Do you believe they’d help you
To become invisible?
Repeating this stanza through the end of the song, separated by violin interludes, Evelyn leaves the question unanswered. In an attempt at inclusivity and personal interpretation, she uses the pronoun ‘they’ when referring to her god-figure. This phrase is artfully crafted in a way that allows her listeners to answer the question for themselves while also making her own views subtly clear.
To follow this unanswered question, Evelyn leaves the music itself unanswered. The final strum of the song lands with a dissonance reminiscent of a Western shootout. We are left unsure of who will win in the end.
I had the opportunity to chat with Evelyn to ask her about her writing process, specifically what inspired ‘False Premise.’ Here’s what she had to say:
When did you know that music was your true passion? What motivated you to pursue this passion the way you have?
I’ve always made music in some way or other even before I could play any instruments. As a kid I was always singing. I started singing in Jazz and Blues clubs when I was in my late teens and was in various bands in my early twenties. I started playing the guitar pretty late, I began to teach myself to play when I was living in Jerusalem for a year. I lived in a tiny apartment hidden away down back passages in an ancient neighbourhood, it was a one room dome with the most incredible acoustics. Thats were [sic] I began to write songs. A few years later I lived alone in Varanasi (India) for half a year and began collecting sounds and writing everyday [sic]. I think that was the point when I recognised making music was the outlet that connected me the most to my interior world and processed my experiences.
You’re a self-proclaimed ‘voyeur.’ How does travel inspire you?
I’ve always wanted to know what goes on behind closed doors. Since my childhood I’ve been aware of the layers of secrecy in the world and been fascinated by the stories that aren’t told, the people we don’t necessarily see. I call myself a ‘voyeur’ in a playful way because I don’t want to voyeur into the perverse but rather the mundane, the quotidian, I’m interested in the little details other people overlook and I want to understand the processes behind things. Everything is a question and when you question everything, sometimes you have to travel vast distances to find answers. I travel because I’m not satisfied by the idea of fixed realities, I don’t believe things are as literal as societies make out, I want to understand variations of belief, of ways of living and existing.
You make your views regarding life, death and truth clear in a subtle way through your music. Have you found the people around you and the music industry are supportive of this? Have you run into opposition when you express your views of reincarnation?
Nothing I say or do is literal. To me life and death are one and the same, eternally rolling into each other like waves across the ocean. We are all limbs of family trees, holding new chapters of on-going stories. We carry our ancestral history in our DNA, we hold memories ancient and recent. To me reincarnation is the knowledge that we are not existing as unique entities, but rather tied to everything that has come before and everything that is to come. I can’t imagine why anyone would either support or reject this idea. I don’t see myself as provocative.
Walk me through your writing process. Is it more of a concerted effort or do you just write as inspiration strikes you?
It varies. Some songs have taken years to write. For example, with Follow Me I wrote the first half in 2012 whilst looking after my grandfather as he was slowly passing away, the second half was written years later reflecting back on his life. Sometimes lyrics just arrive like a mantra in my head, which I can’t stop hearing, other times words are extracted from short stories I’ve written. The same goes for the music and soundscapes, sometimes I can write the parts in hours and other times years.
What does your team dynamic look like? Do you use the same people for instrumentation and production for most of your music?
So I write the songs, the bare bones, the lyrics, gather sounds samples and imagine the world of the song. I then co-produce them with Raz Olsher whose [sic] a brilliant multi-instrumentalist and dear friend and we build up the sound and pull it apart and put it back together until it becomes the thing in my head or evolves into a totally new beast. I work with Duncan Mortimer (violinist), Ebe Oke (electronic composer and performance artist), Juba Wezler (drummer). I’ve also worked with Clive Bell (flutist) and Lucinda Chua (cellist & singer). I bring in different instrumentalists for specific parts but work regularly with a small group of musicians who are all really intuitive and extraordinary people.
What has been the most difficult part of creating your music? Do you ever have writer’s block?
I think I have writer’s block at the moment. My first album bubbled inside me over years and then seemed to explode out in a year in the studio. There was a lot I had to work through with it and it was very cathartic. I think the reason I’m finding it hard to write now is because I don’t want to make anything obvious to me, I want to surprise myself and not fall into habits or retell stories. There’s a lot of spoken word in my first record and actually not that much singing, now I want to make something less complicated, more direct, maybe more beautiful and less harrowing. Then again I might make something super experimental that doesn’t even resemble music.
Is this the story of one person or a collection of assumed experiences?
False Premise and An Archipelago Rises are both reflecting on personal experiences and collective ones. That’s [sic] why I’ve chosen to release them both in the same month, they’re two sides of a one story, one looks at the way society deals with dogma (or doesn’t) and the other is a personal reflection on the impact of dogma on a relationship or a family.
You have a dance background. Did that influence your writing style during the creation of ‘False Premise?’
Definitely. Dance has a very strong influence on the way I think about writing music. I’m fascinated by the fact that the body holds different memories in different parts, the way the gut is as intelligent as the heart, the way the heart retains information and memory, the way the skin literally defines the edge of our sense of self. When you dance you move parts of your body you wouldn’t normally in everyday life and the result is a triggering of neural connections, ideas opening and memory unraveled through movement (both your own and genetic). When I write music I try to think of it as a dance, trying to trigger different ideas and memories through tiny movements in sound-space. I don’t know if it works, but I try! Also when I write and produce I often think about how my body would move through a song – would that movement be true to the experience that triggered writing it? For False Premise I am forever deep in the tundra, swirling through wind, losing myself in space.
I think aspiring songwriters can look up to you because of your intentionality in songwriting. You put a lot of effort and technicality into making your metaphors and other symbolism poignant. How do you do this in a way that comes across so effortless?
That’s very kind of you to say! Nothing is effortless for me, I am forever reading, learning, looking, trying to understand, wanting to know as much as possible and feeling like I know nothing at all. In the end I want to distill and refine everything so only the most important words are said, sometimes I totally fail at this and get too wrapped up in words lost in the beauty of language but I want more than anything to be direct and truthful. Symbolism is so important because it says so much about the way we collectively see the world or rather the ways we differ in this, objects carry endless associations that are constantly being redefined
What is your advice to aspiring artists?
What’s the difference between an artist and an aspiring artist? I feel like I’m still aspiring, constantly trying to work out what it means to be an artist, making and making just to know what making means. I would just make without worrying about what anyone else will think about it and don’t worry about whether or not it will be commercial.
What is your next move as an artist?
For the end of this year and next year I’m really focusing on live shows and creating immersive performances in strange locations. I’m playing at SET in Dalston, London on Halloween and have a residency coming up playing monthly at an amazing new arts venue in London next year (TBA). Also heading to Oakland in February to play some secret immersive shows there. I’m writing but its slow and making experimental music videos.
If you had to pick one statement that encompassed your existence and your music, what would it be?
I wish I knew what it meant to be honest. I’m a spider trapped in a web of stories, borrowed, stolen and woven, forever entangled trying to make something beautiful.
In ‘False Premise’ Evelyn clearly expressed this trapped feeling and successfully turned it into something beautiful. As people grapple with their own guilt and mortality, they face questions that can be extremely difficult to answer. The internal struggle can be overwhelming. And I believe that is exactly what Evelyn intended to illustrate.