The newly solo singer/songwriter reflects on his former band, the experience that inspired his upcoming, informal debut The Little Horse Tapes, and how it drove him to seek rejuvenation back home.
The road to Mitchel Evan becoming a solo artist has been long and winding. It’s taken a complete uprooting from his home state of Virginia, the inception, prosperity, and disbanding of his former band The Mangrove, and past struggles with addiction and personal tragedy to lay the emotional groundwork for a career that has recently become entirely his own.
At heart, Evan has always been a solo artist. He writes forthright and honest music that strikes the arduous balance between being relatable and personally expressive, and although collaboration has often been a step between the creation and delivery of his work, his music has always been a vibrant extension of himself, above all else.
“The disbanding of The Mangrove was probably the best thing that ever happened to me artistically. The material for the band was written by me, for the band. It had a specific sound in mind. After awhile, I felt constricted doing this,” he says, “I’m really grateful that I had the Mangrove for three years, [though]. It allotted me a lot of time to experiment with different sounds, to work with a producer, to learn to record, and figure out how I like to write. It was the middle of the road; it was somewhere between being a solo artist, and being in a band.”
Since his band split for good late last year, Evan has yet to officially debut as a solo artist. This is where The Little Horse Tapes comes in. Recorded at Little Horse, a vintage music and bookstore in Louisville, CO that occasionally doubles as a recording studio, this six-track, live-to-tape cassette will be Evan’s first release since he struck out on his own.
The songs that comprise The Little Horse Tapes were written from a place of heartache, and released entirely out of circumstance. After Evan struck up a friendship with Ryan Sniegowski, Little Horse’s sound engineer, six songs Evan had written but didn’t have any plans of including on his debut LP It’s A Hell of a Drug, Nostalgia (due out this summer), suddenly found a home. Loosely, the tapes are a concept album; each stripped-down, acoustic track was written during a recent romantic relationship, and they document the beginning, middle, and end.
“They’re all- more or less- hopeful love songs, but through the filter of my cynical mind,” he says.
“Open Season,” the opening track of Side A, was one of the first songs Evan wrote during the relationship, and instead of it basking in the honeymoon phase, it projects to the end, foreseeing a future where he and the girl are no longer together. “I’m at the mercy of a fragile heart,” he croons on the song, coming to terms with his sensitivity and the mess it can make.
“Cancel Out The Noise” is a breezy and irresistible folk song about relinquishing control to love. Evan sings of love as an entity that operates on its own terms, having come over him like a storm he couldn’t outrun.
“[It’s about me] falling in love, but I don’t like that I’m falling in love. I had just gotten out of a three-year relationship, and I was only single for three months before I fell again. I knew it was gonna be a long road, and that I didn’t have a say in the matter,” he says.
“I don’t wanna feel this way/I don’t wanna feel the way I do/And that’s your cue,” he sings on the chorus, acknowledging that his feelings are out of his control, but still ultimately remain his own.
“[The track is also about] acknowledging the illusion of free will. It’s been a crazy, very hard couple of months,” he says, “We have this illusion to wrestle our will into place and gain control over our lives, but we have control over so little that happens to us. We only have control over the way we respond to life.”
“I Can’t Stop Thinking About You” continues the theme of not having control over how we feel or what comes over us. It’s a slow-burning, magnetic song that uses simple, yet powerful imagery to portray the struggle of not being able to get someone off your mind. “I can’t stop thinking about you” is repeated throughout the song, mimicking the spiraling and redundant noise that love fills your head with. It features a slow, pulsing drum machine that quietly lulls behind the music like a pulse or a subway sonar, subtly stitching the song together.
“It’s supposed to be redundant and repetitive, because that’s how [love] feels. I [couldn’t] stop thinking about [her]; [she was] running through my head over and over like this cyclical pulse,” he says. “[The song] stays true to the cynical nature of [this record]. It was irritating that I was falling in love, and I was fighting it every step of the way, instead of allowing myself to fall.”
“Thirty Miles (Juliette)” is a quaint and stripped-down song about Evan uprooting himself from Virginia, coming to Colorado, and the doubts that followed, particularly towards the end of the relationship that inspired these songs.
“I’m an eternally restless person, and a lot of that has to do with not knowing if I should be in Colorado. This song documents the push and pull between being here and loving it and also missing my family, the humidity, the ocean, and the East Coast in general,” he says.
These feelings of doubt have culminated, and Evan is planning on leaving Colorado soon and going back home on the East Coast for a few months. He isn’t leaving without a proper goodbye, though. He’s playing a release show for The Little Horse Tapes at Little Horse Books and Vintage in Louisville on April 14th. With opening acts David Burchfield, Maya Bennett and Many Mountains, the night is a celebration of local talent as well as an intimate send off for Evan; an artist that’s done everything he can to make Colorado feel like home, but still feels the irresistible tug of the Atlantic.
“I was overwhelmed by the circumstances that ended this relationship, and I felt really alone. I didn’t know how to cope with it, but I knew I needed a break, so I started planning a trip back home to reconnect, take a look at myself, be with people who love me, and to breathe and re-center,” he says.
While back home, he has a number of shows planned in Virginia, as well as the surrounding states. With big plans of touring the Carolinas, to play Washington D.C., and to make a stop in Nashville, the trip is also about bringing his music to new scenes and new audiences. After all, he has a lot to be excited about. The past year as seen Evan at his most fully-formed and prolific. He released Back and Forth, a full length album with The Mangrove last year, and he’s set to release It’s A Hell Of A Drug, Nostalgia this summer, in addition to The Little Horse Tapes. People on the East Coast need to hear his work just as much as he needs to reflect and re-center in a place that truly feels like home.
** Mitchel’s upcoming show at Little Horse Books has been unfortunately cancelled.
Keep up with Mitchel here.
All photos, videos, and embedded tracks per the artists featured and those credited. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.