-A story of one of Canada’s artist for artists
By Creighton Vance
Evan Tyler is a regular contributor and writer for this blog. He doesn’t know I’ve put together this surprise feature on him as a guest writer for Indie Band Guru. I began following IBG after reading one of Evan’s pieces on ‘Natural Sympathies’, a Saskatchewan-based fantasy-pop project. Now I’m a fan of her sounds too. The article spoke to the music in relation to the current moment we are living in: COVID19 Hell. Most importantly, the article was personal like the hip-house beats that I regularly make for Evan’s unique raps. In this moment when we are becoming more seasoned in the necessity of intimacy and communication through our extended quarantines… the music, art and mind of Evan Tyler appears to not only put a finger on the pulse, but an entire hand. Evan has been forthcoming about his struggle with substance abuse and addiction, something we still apply stigma, often quietly behind closed doors. I am the person who makes music with Evan and so here’s what I know about an artist who advocates for artists.
Evan is a rapper. Evan is in a band with his chosen sister, Lauren Fournier. From what I last heard, he has been crafting an indie-electro LP titled “deadevan” which he described as “a giant love letter”. His passion for music and genre-crossing tendencies are implemented in a curious forum: Whether he is rapping about cats and spa regimes (topics typical of the Toronto queer-rap-queen), or singing about attending “art camp” alongside the choir-girl melodics of his collaborator, Lauren, the focus is on Evan’s intimate life as a consumer and creator of culture. Evan wasn’t even on my radar until the last couple of years when I discovered the full length LP he released with Fournier titled “TOPICS – youth shield antioxidant complex”. This ten track Canadian cabochon mixes synth-pop sounds with the generous characterization of two siblings making a “cool project” together in an “arts and crafts spirit”. Tyler and Fournier are both hipster-cool without being obvious about it; intellectual without subscribing to any particular brand of art world dogma. It is catchy without descending into an earworm and minimalist without lacking a punch: synth notes carry the duo’s vocals as they sing the chorus of the standout track “ART CAMP”.
“I wanna’ go to art camp this summer/ I wanna’ play with image and form/ I wanna’ make a movie this summer/ I wanna’ be the one you adore”.
The record is both youthful and mature. It straddles a world where kids are yearning to play but concede to the adult impingement of social validation. This is a hard contrast to achieve, but TOPICS pulls it off with rhythm to boot. Much like the rest of Tyler’s work, this album is heavily slept on, making him one of Canada’s most underrated veteran in the service of other artists. I mean that quite literally – before any of his albums were released, he owned and curated an art gallery bringing in talent from his home province of Saskatchewan to the speculative folds of Toronto. The gallery featured contemporary art without subscribing to the predictable tropes of art culture. I wish I had been a part of that scene with Evan back then, it looks like everyone had a fun time. In conversation he confessed to me: “I did my best to make it something other than a vanity project, though in the end it was really about giving my friends art shows. It just so happens my friends are the best artists I know.”
Evan is a music journalist for this blog, reporting strictly on music that he is excited about and wants to support. But this isn’t where his drive to express love for his people is limited … for his next gesture in intimacy and personability, may we look to his first album, “CAT RAPS”, which was released and promoted in 2015 from a rehab facility in British Columbia. “CAT RAPS” is slowly but surely becoming a Canadian-cult classic in the genre of hip-hop. The LP combines house beats with lo-fi dirty boom bap ear porn. It is both queer and masculine in content. He isn’t afraid to rap about his love and passion for domestic things like ironing, doing the laundry, having a bath, and the face products he indulges in all within a seemingly “masculine rap voice”. I would describe Evan’s rap voice as a mix between Tom Green in “Check the OR”, Tone Loc (in general) and fellow Canadian rapper, Ira Lee, also from Regina, Saskatchewan. Lee is featured on “CAT RAPS” in a song titled “On a date with Ira Lee” where the two flatland wordsmiths rhyme about the sweetly mundane frustrations and misadventures of growing up on the prairies. The track is “Hardy Boys personal”. We also hear Evan’s affection for actual people in his life, for example in the song “My Friend Dana” where he drops reflective bars about growing up with his close friend Dana. Evan once explained the idea of this song to me in the context that “Everyone has a Dana”. That sounds right – we all have a character from out youth who resonates for years, and so “Dana” becomes a workable symbol for our personal and meaningful histories.
Over the last month, Evan has divulged that he has been battling with trauma and substance addiction. He began posting in high frequency, vulnerable, brutally honest and poetic dispatches on the subject. It caught me off guard to witness the reality of reaching for connection and sympathy via social media. There is the impulse to ask the internet to believe we have sunk to some tragic pain beyond our control. Evan’s posts are different, however. They read as both apologies and poems, confessionals and puzzles, truth and fight. Having the privilege of knowing Evan personally, it didn’t take me long to recognize that Evan needs our help. He was vulnerable to ask for it, in his own way. At the time, as I understand it, the artist was in complete quarantine isolation in a rehab facility, despite not having the virus (Health Canada authority). I can’t imagine coming down off drugs then reconciling the hurt in one’s life is ever an easy time, made especially worse in complete isolation. After learning of this, I made a commitment to developing this piece about Evan and his unique ability to reach and be reached by other people. I initiated a casual interview with him, never letting on that I was writing this piece. I wanted him to be his natural self. While on a zoom call, I recorded an interview in a series of questions, which he directed back to the people in his life. It is as if he speaks of himself through the influences around him. Here are some highlights from our chat:
What influences you the most today?
“Off the top of my head, Emily’s visual art and poetry (Emily DiCarlo). I dunno’. She continuously opens my eyes to the fluidity of cerebral knowledge, emotional energy, abstracted puzzles of the human experience. She does this incredible magic trick where she allows or facilitates a handshake between the subjective moment and the universal collectivity of human experience. She wrote an essay about this collaboration we once did, and one night she read it aloud to me and I realized that she’s legit alien intelligence. Aliens tend to collaborate well. She’s far out. I always have my eyes and ears open when she’s working through artistic ideas, I don’t want to miss one moment of it. She’s the real deal. “
Has there been any constants for you along the way?
“Duke and Battersby. (Emily Vey Duke and Cooper Battersby). They have been my friends and mentors since I learned that video art was a genre/community and not just something I did for mischievous and imaginative fun with a family camcorder. They’ve fostered a location where the beauty is relentless and the future is feminine. And cats can talk. I have infinite love in my heart for those two.”
“My sound engineer, Ashton Price, opens my eyes to the finesse of music recording. My videographer and collaborator, Jake Vincent, is a close friend who understands, or at least strives to understand my projects. He’s been a really good friend and participant in my work. My pal Erin Gee has always pointed out what works and what needs work in my work. I had a professor who changed my life and has advocated for me since , Lisa Steele. During my most successful and dire moments, Lisa and her life partner and collaborator Kim Tomzack have extended their generous support and understanding. I love them both. My grad school advisor Marla Hlady is another alien I adore. She’s academic-punk. “
“Earliest on, I would have to give props to my friend Chris Bridge. We came up making music in our parents’ basements in south Regina. I think back then we were mentors to each other, continuously learning things as we go. A Grand Synergy of sorts.”
“I also love rapper The Game.”
How does your family respond to your varied modes of creating?
“My brother Marek has been a close support, and one of the best drummers I have ever known. He was the original spark for this cultural journey I have set out on. I grew up not knowing my grandfathers, so my Uncle Vic who is an artist himself (Victor Cicansky) was in many ways that figure in my life. He encouraged my weird artness from day one. I grew up with a lot of support and privilege bestowed upon me from my parents. I made a commitment that with the gift of these advantages, I would advocate for culture and art. That’s always been important to me. I believe that when people are given advantages in life, it is important to funnel it into something they believe in that extends beyond themselves. That is what I strive for.”
What drives you to make such personal work about people you know?
“Insecurity. I’ve never felt like I’m good enough for anyone or lovable so I’m driven to make creative things for people I love to emphasize the point of how much they mean to me, hyper-validating my emotionality. I’m basically trying to cure myself of an illness I have that doesn’t exist. It’s self-serving in a way because it’s for them, but it’s also about making me feel good. All I can say is, I treat the people I love really well. I wish I could hold onto some of that for myself. I guess that’s what I’m learning right now.”
What is the relationship of drugs to your craft?
“I can’t make work when I’m high. When I get high, I review the work. I’m committed to lifelong sobriety now, I know and feel it in an absolute sense. I almost lost everything that matters to me, and I often still worry about the extent of the damage. I love my people so much, so when you hurt someone you love… it’s a special kind of torture. Pure agony. I want to spend the rest of my life tilting the scale in the direction of safety, support and enjoyment of life. You have no idea how much I’ve suffered from using drugs to escape my insecurities and traumas. I have endured many sleepless nights wishing I could turn back the clock. If I could have one single wish, it would be to repair my relationships, I’m deathly scared of losing them or seeing them change into something less intimate. But here I am, in isolation, without a cuddle or hug in the world. It’s sad, Creighton. I’m good at those things!”
The world is changing. I realize now, more than ever, that we really need each other. When I learned that Evan was having a moment of his own, alone with his heart and thoughts, I decided it was time to advocate for the cultural advocate whom I have come to know. I’ve been doing my own creative writing as of recent during this virus moment, and Evan has been generously engaged in a dialogue with me. I think Evan is underrated, but he doesn’t seem to care. However, in true vulnerable form, when asked about it Evan responded earnestly: “Oh I definitely fucking care, but I hide it because I’m fake-cool.” Evan is at home creating a song, a drawing or rapping his heart out. He’s writing about you and planning to write about her. He’s petting his cats. Evan realizes the one thing that makes him richer than any artist I could name is that he understands that life is short and you better spend it doing what you love and being with who you love. I’ve never collaborated with someone so dedicated to the purist idea of making, someone so articulate and sensitive. Get well, Evan. I see you because you allow yourself to be seen. Let’s all open our eyes to the vulnerability of Evan, and know that there’s a little Evan Tyler in us all. You – me – we’re all hysterical.
-guest article by Creighton Vance