E.VAX | An eponymous debut album
On the penultimate track of the eponymous album from E.vax, ‘Koko’, you hear a voice say tentatively, “I want to know how to get along with people, how to deal with people.” It feels confessional in its vulnerability. But whose voice is it? It’s not his. And it’s not sung, so it’s not exactly a lyric. So what is it? Well, in a literal sense it’s a recording of a woman in a private conversation, speaking in a new language. In a more spiritual sense, it’s an unguarded snippet into one person’s desire. E.VAX’s album, out now on Because Music, is dolloped with these moments of exploratory dialogue, disembodied moments that are equally disorienting and moving.
Performing as half of Ratatat for more than the last decade, Evan Mast’s music has reached an enormous audience with its bombastic merge of rock and electronic music. Mast was able to take his sometimes quieter musical instincts and amplify them. Listening to his guitar melodies, he’s able to make small staccato moments sound enormous and bright behind the boom of drums. Like his music as E.VAX, there’s sometimes bigness but there’s always poignancy.
In addition to his work in Ratatat, Mast has spent the last few years providing squiggly, ecstatic beats for rappers and singers. He’s spent ample time in Wyoming with Kanye West, producing the organ-heavy ‘Selah’ for his Jesus Is King album and the loping ‘Reborn’ for West’s collaborative album with Kid Cudi, Kids See Ghosts. Working outside of Ratatat, and as a producer for others has been the bridge to return to his solo music. “Doing production work for other artists was really eye opening,” says Mast. “I had all these opportunities to observe other people’s creative processes. Aside from all the new techniques I picked up along the way, it also changed my perspective dramatically. I have a whole different set of values with my music now.”
For his solo album, Mast loosened his attitude towards production, looking to capture some of the excitement of creation. He recorded at home, and then midway through the pandemic he spent time in Montana, recording in a friend’s art gallery. The blank space and isolation after so much studio time in close quarters allowed for a new looseness. He’d play songs at the wrong speed to see how it changed what he heard, or deliberately leave a melody untouched for months and then improvise over it after playing it anew for the first time. Unable to get lost in real life, he got lost in music. “I used to be way more precious,” Mast says about his songwriting. “A lot of this stuff on the record is about trying to skip the brain processes that can get in the way of making something that really feels sincere.”
The E.VAX project began over two decades ago, when Mast was in college. Playing on early audio software, using one synthesizer and recording to a four track, Mast hoped to build on the melodic moments only found in small slices of his favorite albums by often aggressive electronic artists. “The early E.VAX stuff was a reaction to that, trying to put more melody in that style,” he says. The other element was simply to learn how to program music digitally. “I was reacting to making music on a computer and all the possibilities that opened up.” Twenty years later, he is still interested in creating ebullient music, but those possibilities are now so much greater.