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Sam Evian's new LP 'Plunge' is his most personal yet

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Indie producer Sam Evian, who has worked with really big acts, like Big Thief, says he is always so intent on making things perfect for other artists. When it's time to do something for himself, well, he'd like something different.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JACKET")

SAM EVIAN: (Singing) No matter where you've gone, it's never too late, dear, to say that you're the only one. Every day and night feels so wrong...

SIMON: His fourth LP, "Plunge." Sam Evian had a little help from his friends to create a wild and roaming set of songs that are deeply personal, soulful examinations of sobriety, family, life and love. Sam Evian joins us now from his upstate New York studio, Flying Cloud. Thank you so much for being with us.

EVIAN: Thank you so much for having me. I'm a longtime listener and a first-time caller.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: Well, thank you very much for joining us. And let me ask you about where you're located at the moment, your studio in the Catskills. It played a big role in "Plunge," didn't it?

EVIAN: It very much did. It's my life's work, this studio. And I spent some time in Brooklyn. You know, New York City is a hustle. And it's amazing. The creative energy there is so unique. But I ultimately kind of, like, hit a wall. I needed more space, and I needed my own space. And so I looked upstate. And there's an amazing history and pedigree up in the Catskills for artists coming up here to work and find peace and quiet.

SIMON: But I've also read you wanted this record to feel raw and wild.

EVIAN: Yeah, definitely. I mean, part of my job is hospitality. I mean, I look at running a studio like running a hotel, especially when it's up in the middle of nowhere. I mean, people come and stay for a week, two weeks, sometimes even longer. Ninety percent of my job is just kind of taking care of people, and in that sometimes I forget to take care of myself creatively. So when I do commit to one of my own projects, I try to let my artistic chaos kind of, like, thrive more than usual.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FREAKZ")

EVIAN: (Singing) Never wrong and never right, keep the devils out of sight. Make the money, by and by, keep it loose, but hold it tight. You’re always so fun.

SIMON: Do we hear your parents on this record?

EVIAN: You hear of them. I used their story as a lens to kind of look at myself. And they're also musicians. And they gave me life and music. And in investigating them, I see myself. It's the most honest and true record I've ever made.

SIMON: What was hard to talk about or sing about?

EVIAN: Well, one, I mean, I'm - I love my parents, and I'm not trying to cast any sort of negative vision on them. But, you know, life is hard, especially when you're artists, like they are.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WILD DAYS")

EVIAN: (Singing) I know in my heart how hard it must be to go on living in the way that you once lived.

EVIAN: They've been through the wringer, and they've been up and down and all around. And I was with them for a good portion of that. So I guess it's like therapy, but that's what music is for me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WILD DAYS")

EVIAN: (Singing) Everyone will call you caring down the line. They have it all down to a live wire. And it's wild days, wild days.

SIMON: Tell me about the song "Wild Days."

EVIAN: Well, it's written from my mom's perspective, and it's about breaking out of something. But then again, wherever you go, there you are. So it's in reference to her going to spend some time in Massachusetts in a town where she grew up, which is called Rockport. It's beautiful. It's on the sea. And I think she kind of rediscovered herself. I can relate. I think it's so universal. And it's just - it was a beautiful thing for her. And I was so compelled to look into it and investigate it.

SIMON: What kind of influence did your parents have on you as musicians, as much as your parental units?

EVIAN: Every kind of influence, to be honest. They're jazz musicians. My dad is an amazing jazz guitarist.

(SOUNDBITE OF SAM EVIAN SONG, "WIND BLOWS")

EVIAN: I was born outside of Syracuse, N.Y. and we grew up - I grew up in a town called Cazenovia. So my folks had a house in the country. It was an old farmhouse. They had a studio there, and my dad was always having musicians over to play and rehearse, and they were constantly gigging. And they're kind of from this era of musician, which I, you know, it's - I suppose it's kind of faded away.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WIND BLOWS")

EVIAN: (Singing) So long, my dear. So long, the rodeo. None of us know which way the wind blows.

But it used to be that you could go out and make a living gigging in bars, restaurants, hotels, you know, playing jazz standards. Back then, it was feasible. You could do it without being, like, an, you know, a touring act or something. So just - I was at their gigs from the time I was - well, actually before I was born. You know, my mom was singing through her pregnancy, so.

SIMON: Let me ask you about a track called "Why Does It Take So Long."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHY DOES IT TAKE SO LONG")

EVIAN: (Singing) How does it take so long to get on by?

SIMON: Are you making veiled or not-so-veiled references to sobriety?

EVIAN: I can tell you, as a musician who plays in venues and does the social dancing of our industry, that alcohol is everywhere.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHY DOES IT TAKE SO LONG")

EVIAN: (Singing) Tell me why. Why does it take so long to feel?

When I was writing "Plunge," I was kind of at a moment where I needed to change, and I was self-medicating, getting through the winter. The title doesn't necessarily just come from cold plunging, but I actually ended up kind of falling into that culture because I needed something to kind of shock my system.

And there's this beautiful creek that wraps around the studio. There's a section of it that's about chest high, and I just started going into the creek every day of the winter, and it kind of reformatted my brain chemistry, and it made it a lot easier to put the drink down.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHY DOES IT TAKE SO LONG")

EVIAN: (Singing) Holding on, never gone, I’m just standing beside you. It’s not right holding on so long.

SIMON: Sam Evian. His new LP is "Plunge." Thank you very much for being with us. And probably won't see you at the creek, but good swimming to you.

EVIAN: (Laughter). Well, please drop by anytime you're in the neighborhood.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHY DOES IT TAKE SO LONG")

EVIAN: (Singing) It's not right. Let it go. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
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