Sam Evian on go-karts, new music, Miles Davis, and growing up in the rural South

Sam Evian plays the Saint in Asbury Park on Nov. 5.

Touring, while rewarding for musicians, can be stressful, too. Indie-rocker Sam Evian he has a unique way to deal with it.

“I take my band to drive go-karts,” says Evian. “I think it’s a really hilarious way to blow off steam.”

Evian got into go-kart racing because it tended to be one of the only activities available during long road trips in the Southwestern U.S. Evian admits that “he’s kind of a punk” when it comes to go-kart racing. “I slide around and act irresponsible.”

Fortunately for Evian, there are a couple go-kart tracks near Asbury Park, where he can let loose before playing at the Saint on Nov. 5.

The last time Evian was in Asbury Park he played the legendary Stone Pony in support of Whitney. Now he’s coming back in support of his new album Time to Melt. Evian recorded it during the thick of COVID last year—“music became my buddy, and it was so helpful to have a creative outlet to get out of the darkness,” he says.

Though times were bad for most of the world while Evian recorded the album, he wanted good vibes to emanate from Time to Melt. “I wanted it to sound like a party,” says Evian. “I wanted this to be a record that you can put on during a social setting, and have it feel good without listening too hard to the lyrics.”

The feel-good vibe is also present in the music videos that Evian has made for the singles he released from the album. In the music video for the title track, Evian is dancing in the middle of the forest with a person wearing a bodysuit. 

Time to Melt was also Evian’s first time making real music videos, and he wanted to go all in. “I worked with a couple directors, and I asked them to come up with treatments,” he says. “The bodysuit video was our director Jon’s idea, and we just made it happen. It was really fun to see what came to mind for our directors when they heard the tunes.”

Time to Melt also represented musical growth for Evian as he experimented with different genres and different instruments: I’ve been leaning into this psychedelic R&B space, and I’ve been getting into playing more instruments. On my first album, Premium, I only played guitars and vocals. On this record I play guitar, bass, vocals, synths, saxophone, and I tried to cover basically everything I could. That was a really fun challenge.”

While the album shows that growth, it also harkens back to his roots as a jazz saxophonist in a way; roots that were planted in rural North Carolina, and watered by Miles Davis and other jazz artists. 

“Miles Davis is like my idol, and I love how every record he made was different,” says Evian. “When I was a kid studying jazz, I found Miles, and then through Miles I got into John Coltrane and Duke Ellington.”

Evian fell in love with Miles Davis when his father gave him a copy of Davis’ legendary album Some Kind of Blue. “I wore that record out because I listened to it so much,” says Evian. “It’s such a deep, beautiful, lush-sounding record and the instrumentation is amazing.”

Jazz was an escape for Evian growing up in the rural South. He moved from the Syracuse exurbs to the Tarheel State at 10 years old, and became an adult in the South, an experience which Evian calls “interesting”.

While he called the small town on the Carolina coast in which he grew up “beautiful,” he admits that there were problems with the town as well. “It’s a small town in the South, and it suffered from what most small towns in the south suffer from,” says Evian. “It was challenging to deal with the politics of the area, and everything you would assume, like seeing confederate flags around. Especially being a kid educated in New York state, and being shuffled into North Carolina and hearing people still talking about the ‘war between the states.’”

Music would become everything to Evian in North Carolina. ”Music was an escape, and it was the one thing I felt really good at. I didn’t do well in school otherwise, and I would obsess over practicing and listening to music. I put my whole life into music.”

Evian parlayed his affinity for (and growing aptitude playing) jazz, into an enrollment at Berklee. But he didn’t finish college and admits that “he fell out of love” with jazz. He then started playing guitar and moved to Brooklyn. Evian liked the rush that came with playing guitar compared to playing jazz saxophone.

“Learning jazz you learn all these rules and you adhere to them,” says Evian. “You practice six hours a day and work on scales and it is very technical. And then I went to a more DIY indie-guitar zone. I moved to Williamsburg in 2010, and it was the height of all of those experimental venues. Any given night you could see some wild, crazy guitar music.”

While Evian enjoyed his time in Brooklyn, three years ago he moved back to upstate New York, saying, “he’s never been more ahead of the curve in his life.”

“I felt like I had done my time,” says Evian on moving from NYC to Upstate. “I loved living in Brooklyn, [but] I hit a wall there needing space. I’m an engineer and a producer, and studio space is really expensive in the city, and I couldn’t afford my own space. Now it’s pretty amazing to have your own space and play the drums at 1 a.m.”

Recently due to a plethora of events including COVID-19, and an increase in remote working, people having been moving away from NYC and going upstate, to the Poconos, the Jersey Shore, and Northwestern New Jersey. 

“We moved up here when it was still affordable,” says Evian. “Now it isn’t because of the proximity to the city, and now with the way the housing market is you have to compete with money from the city, and that’s impossible. People are coming up with tons of cash, and buying tons of properties, and it’s kind of sad. It means that my neighbors, or the people that can afford to be my neighbors are going to be rich, boring, Wall Street types.”

Evian will take the drive down I-87 & the Parkway to play a show at Asbury Park on Nov. 5, and he admits he’s kind of nervous about debuting new music to people after a couple years off from playing shows.

“I’m actually pretty nervous because I haven’t played in two years. I’m aware of the fact that I have to entertain these people. People pay their money for good entertainment, and I hope to provide that. I hope I’m not awkward and make the show feel good. Before the pandemic I felt like I had a pretty good thing going. It’s gonna be interesting to go back out there.”

Sam Evian plays at the Saint in Asbury Park on Nov. 5 with Liam Kazar + Moonwater. Ticket information can be found here .