Paints Freely on the Canvas of Rock
by Chris M. Short
published: Summer 1999, Tidal Wave Magazine - Issue Four
someone say something to the effect of "history repeats itself"?
Certainly that clichť is applicable here. It was 1989, and I had just
begun my first adventure in publishing with an ill fated and silly little
zine called Red Heifer Offering. That obscure little zine featured
a record review of a six-song demo by a new band from Fairfax, VA called
The Throes. The Throes played an organic and earthy blend of early 80s
Brit-pop and R.E.M.-esque American rock. To make a long story short, Red
Heifer Offering died two years later and the Throes (in the incarnation
on that demo) kicked the bucket three years later. Now I sit on the phone
with Harry Evans, talking about his second band, Poole, for a feature
in my second publication, Tidal Wave Magazine. Perhaps history
doesnít repeat itself, but rather gives you a second chance to get it
Pooleís third full-length record, Among Whom We Shine, reunites the original Throes lineup from years ago. "Itís the same band now!" exclaims Poole wunderboy, Harry Evans. He is somewhat surprised to hear me bring up the demo, titled Era of Condolence. Evans, still excited, "Itís awesome, itís the best it could possibly be." Skeptical, I nervously ask, "Really?" Evans responds immediately, "Oh absolutely. The other guys we had in the band were all great, we were friends and stuff. Being with ones you have always played with is so much better. Not only do you have the musical relationship, but you have the relationship of being together. That makes everything so much better. Itís a lot less stress and a lot less work, but you donít have to worry about building your friendships."
One thing that must be understood about Evans is that the unbridled optimism he conveys is balanced by a sarcastic and nearly biting sense of humor (example: when asked about the Pooleís debut, Alaska Days, he immediately quips, "Oh, itís an indie-rock classic, man."). When he laughs, it is full and genuine. Harry Evans got the nickname "Bear" back in the day, and just talking to him, you can see how appropriate it is.
Poole was formed back in 1992, after Evans left the Throes due to differences over the type of songs he was writing. "I remember sitting in the car at Cornerstone that summer, talking to spinART on the cell phone about what we wanted to do. We had planned that, after Cornerstone that year, we would go up and record a demo for them. Harv and I were still in the Throes at that time," he explains. Evans essentially was in three bands. He was sensing that his tenure with the Throes was ending, he was playing drums (mostly just for the records) with the Lilys, and beginning his journey called Poole.
The relationship with spinART, the indie pop purveyors of the late 20th century, began when Evans was playing drums with the Lilys. While recording in the presence of nothing (spinARTís second release), Evans planted a seed in spinARTís Jeff Price about some demos he was working on. When he returned to Virginia, he sent the demos off to Price and the rest is history. Poole was born.
His experience with the Lilys left an indelible impression on Evansí songwriting. It during was his time spent with the head Lily, Kurt Heasley, when he learned about the pop song -- specifically, the essentials of a good, solid pop song. "I remember when we were doing the first [Lilys] record, we sat around listening to this Doris Day record. The whole shoegazer thing we were doing was cool because it was what we wanted to hear, but Kurt was always about the cool 60s pop music vibe. I mean, he was listening to this Doris Day record, for godís sake," laughs Evans.
This new appreciation of pop sensibility directly led to his decision to leave the Throes. "[Power pop] has always been a great passion of mine, I never really pursued it in The Throes, because with the Throes we were more about the whole earthy, organic kind of southern rock thing. Once I wasnít doing that anymore I really concentrated on doing real power pop stuff." Leaving the Throes enabled Evans to write what he wanted to write and say what he wanted to say. He was, and still is, the man in charge of Poole.
After putting a few seven-inches out and lending tracks to some compilation records, Poole finally released its first full length record: the pop-fest, Alaska Days. Some serious indie-pop fans claim itís a masterpiece. When asked how to describe it, Evans hands the phone to his friend Brian Gray, of Washington DCís Racecar. Gray, "Iíve just been put on the spot. All right letís go with Ö ummÖ Vanilla crŤme pie with chocolate shavings. Umm, well, itís three part harmonies, all guitars on bright, and very fast and dancey and happy. Have I summed it up for you?" Obviously not to Evans liking, he yanks the phone away, "Let me make the description more concise for you. Itís a vanilla crŤme pie with chocolate sprinkles and the guitars on bright. Thatís good." Adding with a laugh, "That should be in a letterbox, you know."
With the release of the record, Poole found itself touring and receiving a bit of critical acclaim. In the bio Evans penned for the Poole Internet web site, he says, "We found out that our first show ever would be at CMJ in NYC Ö We thought we ruled. After the show, Jeff [Price] informed us that we, in fact, did not rule. This was the beginning of the Poole optimism that Jeff Price still loathes."
After the release of Alaska Days, Poole went through personnel changes, adding bassist Pall Masters to the lineup of Harry Evans (vocals, guitar), Harv Evans (guitar, BGV's), Jeff Booth, and Brian Barnhardt (drums). Poole was now a five-piece rock outfit. This incarnation of Poole created the next record, The Late Engagement. "The big, steaming rock mess," laughs Evans, recalling the sophomore effort.
"We added him [Masters] to the band, and wanted to take on a more mature rock direction. Because I was feeling a little weird writing such a happy, poppy, you know, gay record," Evans explains. "Plus, we had been on tour with Letters to Cleo and Superdrag that summer, and just got a serious schooling in Ďthe rock.í So we tried it. I think there are some good songs on the record; but, as a whole, the experiment just didnít work. You know, the big sophomore slump record." You can hear his eyes rolling.
Now, Poole is with a new lineup; they have come full circle. Essentially, this band is the Throes, but with the Poole moniker. This is Harry Evansí band. He wrote all the songs, except one on Among Whom We Shine. Evans confidently states, "At the risk of sounding egotistical, Poole has always pretty much been me, and people surrounding me. My brother and I have been the main people in the band since its inception. A myriad of people have sort of come and gone."
If Alaska Days is "a vanilla crŤme pie with chocolate sprinkles and the guitars on bright," then Among Whom We Shine is equally as tasty. This time itís a dark chocolate candy bar with smooth caramel harmonies and the guitars on crunchy. Perhaps this is one of the crunchiest power pop records ever recorded (while maintaining that candy pop harmonies and catchy melodies of the Beach Boys). The record has both "the rock" Evans tried to capture on The Late Engagement, while being true to influences such as The Apples in Stereo, Beach Boys, and Paul Weller.
"Itís like the difference between pop and rock," says Evans, explaining the balance he tries to achieve with his songs. "Rock songs are like rock. They are big and they make you move your hips and make the devil sign. Whereas pop music is something you can turn off and you are humming it in your car thirty minutes later. Thatís what you look for," says Evans earnestly. This is readily apparent upon one listen to Among Whom We Shine. From the opening guitar strums of "Better Off on Yer Own," to the crash-bam-boom drums of the title track, to the beautiful melody on "Anyway," to the all out rock on "Sole Operator," Poole isnít about being timid or just silly happy pop tunes. This is "the Rock," my friends.
Evans certainly attributes this ability to rock heavy while being hooky and catchy to the return of Campbell and Nitz. "Working with those guys again, I just knew that it was a great combination. And the live shows were great. And the songs were great. And the recordings were great. Itís fantastic. I would say itís a good combination of the two records. We kind of matured, like we wanted to on the second record, but weíve kind of maintained that really great pop essence that the first record had." Certainly.
Those familiar with Campbellís work with the Throes (post-Harry Evans) and with the Choir may expect a bit of that weird, swirling guitar work to creep in. Not so. "I couldnít ask for anything better than to be back with Mr. Campbell. Thatís not the party line either, thatís the truth," Evans says, adding, "We took away his delay pedal! [laughs] No, the guitar sounds we went for on this record are crunchy and right up front."
Evans writes basically all the structures for the songs, but he doesnít alienate the other members. "The performances, and the way the band carries this stuff out was very much everybody play their own parts, and kind of came up with stuff, and itís very much the way the band sounds. Not so much me sitting in a studio crapping a record, and telling everybody that everybody played on it. It is a real band record, itís great." Evans brain is always looking for a good quote, he pauses, and says (with a smile in his voice), "Everybody has a paintbrush, if you will. I let them paint freely on my canvas of Rock. You can put that in a letterbox too [laughing]." What is the most important to a good song? "Melody, melody, melody, melody and a snappy beat," he adds in a sing song voice, emphasizing that melody is king.
Evans not only has found the balance between "the Rock" and pop, but also in his lyrics. For years, with the Throes, he felt pressure to deliver a serious message, something of importance. This pressure also contributed to his decision to leave that band. Now, he has reconciled the fluffiness of Alaska Days with the "message" of The Throes. "Definitely saying what I think and what I feel. I feel free to espouse my opinion now," he admits. "Whereas, before I didnít want to, because I didnít know how people would take it. I didnít want it to seem like I was trying to preach to people or whatever. But now, itís like, ĎScrew it.í Itís fun. If you get something out of it, cool. If you donít, itís entertainment, buddy," Evans says laughing.
He proudly comments, "Like the title of the record is from Ö (I should know where this is, because I get asked this a lot). Itís a quote from Paul, from Ephesians or Corinthians, where it is talking about lecturers and murderers and heathens and blah blah blah, and this gigantic list of all the awful sinners. And he says [in a wise Paul voice], ĎAmong whom we shineí, and I was reading that one day, and said, "Yes, thatís great." While there is more "important" moments like quoting the Bible, most of Evans lyrical material revolves around relationships. The spin Evans plays involves a bit of (biting) sarcasm, a bit of idealism, and a bit of arrogance. Yet, there is meaning to be experienced. He has something to say, and there is truth, but the lyrics are not overbearing or remotely preachy; just fun and entertaining.
There is a definite similarity between Evans and P.D. Heaton of the Housemartins/The Beautiful South. Evans admits he isnít a great lyricist, but his greatest inspiration is Heaton. "He is so clever the way he can turn a phrase, just the way he strings things together. I would love to be able to write like that. So thatís kind of what I shoot for."
Evans is excited about getting Among Whom We Shine out to the public, but he isnít keen on the idea of touring. While admitting that touring is a necessary "evil," he believes he has found a new medium to get the word out on Poole. "I think that bands and labels need to embrace the Internet; to arise from the ashes of Rock Touring into the Phoenix of Internet Exploration!" exclaims Evans. "Itís easy, almost free, and itís low-stress. I mean you donít have to go down and order a record or go to a [crappy], smoky club with friends in a part of town that you would rather not go to and check out somebody that you might not even like! I mean, spend seven bucks at the door to get in, and then have a watered down beer and a [crappy] time, and have your clothes smell like cigarette smoke when you go home. With the Internet, you can just sit at home in your pajamas, and go, ĎOh Poole ó clicks to hear that ó these guys sound good, I think Iíll order the record. Hey, I really like this CD; these guys are great. Hey, they are having a live web-cast in two weeks; right on, Iíll watch it.í" Evans explains like, "Duh! It makes perfect sense."
Look for Poole to add songs, live web-casts (he points out how Korn has used the Internet to bring its music and live shows to the fans), and other tasty Poole-related morsels to the listener. This excitement about the Internet, and its seemingly endless possibilities, stems from his personal loathing of touring. "You almost have to be a complete loser to be in a touring rock band! You canít have a job. You canít have a wife. You canít have an apartment or a place of your own. Because, when you are out on the road touring, [whispers] you donít make any money. Itís not like you are raking in the money to mail home to your girlfriend who is taking care of your stuff," Evans adds with sarcastic venom.
"If there is not a reason to go, why waste the time and the money? Thatís what I think. The old school of Rock has got to catch up with me, man. Iím a visionary," he says with a big smile in his voice. So if you miss Evans and his band when they blow through town, donít fret. They will be coming to you on the Internet. With a record that provides you all the butt-shaking, air guitar-jamming fodder, and catchy melodies with killer hooks, who cares? Buy the record and listen to it frequently. Oh, you may need the web site address, eh? Hook up with Poole: http://www.mrpoole.com
© 1999-2000 Tidal Wave Magazine