Evolfo is one of the coolest bands you may not have heard of yet, but will soon. Hailing from and exploding onto the various home bases of San Francisco, Boston, Oregon, and eventually the Brooklyn music scene, the outfit is a seven-piece gang of horns, keyboards, drums, bass and guitar.
Their debut record, Last of the Acid Cowboys, released last fall, is a mystical musical ride, dashing together fantastic amalgamations of different sounds, from surf pop and cosmic country to smooth soul and gritty funk. Exploring a western-esque dreamland with a sonic air of modern angst and emotion, the album meets a sophisticated sense of songwriting with both raw energy and tight musical chops from all involved. This makes the record a wicked cool listen, but it also serves as part of the steady spark that fuels the appeal of their live performances.
In anticipation of what exciting things are to come from this group, The Poke Around talked with guitarist Matt Gibbs, starting off with how Evolfo originally set sail upon the world.
Matt Gibbs: Yeah, so the truth is, like you said, I started the band…under the pretense of like, “Oh, this is just for fun, I’m gonna cram twelve people on stage, and we’ll jam for, like, an indeterminate amount of time, and stuff. And then I think, secretly, I was thinking the whole time that, yeah I want this to be my band, I want to do this thing. And, achieve some goals that I had myself specifically, with writing music and playing bigger shows and stuff.
I will say, it was in Boston. So, I started the band in San Francisco, then went to college in Boston, and started trying to play and book under the same kind of band name there, right? And in Boston, we started getting a better response from the Boston crew. You know, more people started coming to the shows, and then we got a Boston Music Award, and I think that really boosted my confidence.
The Poke Around: Oh, nice. Was that a show that got you that award, or…?
Yeah that was neat (laughs). That’s a funny story, because the award was for International Artist of the Year. Even so, we were stoked that that’s what happened. We were playing around a lot, and…well, we opened for the band Red Baraat, if you’re familiar?
Yeah, so we opened for them at this sold out show at The Sinclair, which was…that was like the greatest thing in the world, when that happened. I was so psyched. That’s all I wanted to do, was open for some band that actually sold tickets (laughs). And so we did, and then it just seemed like, a few good opportunities came up. We performed at the Boston Music Awards, and then we won International Artist of the Year. It was like some combination of local musicians, industry folk and public voting. So yeah, it was kind of an organic thing.
So, you started out in San Francisco, and then went out to Boston, and eventually the full band heading out to Brooklyn. Once you guys got going, did you have places or people back home, in San Fran for example, waiting to hear Evolfo?
Yeah, I grew up in the San Francisco area, and I used to work and build stages, and knew family that worked at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival out there. So, it was like getting in with them, and after years of begging them to let me play with my band, they did. And, once we were on Hardly Strictly, it was like…I think people started responding to emails more.
And yeah, we had a good group of friends in Los Angeles, and Rafferty, the other songwriter in the band, he’s from Ashland, Oregon. So we got a lucky connection there, and that’s like an essential city for the west coast, it connects Portland and San Fran, you know? So yeah, we were capitalizing on our hometown thing, and we just did it on a shoestring, and all we had to do was pay off the plane tickets, you know (laughs)? And that made the whole thing worth it. It wasn’t like we were making any money or anything, but we just wanted to get out there and scramble to make ends meet, so we could do that. And it’s always been worth it, we always go back like once a year.
Your new album, Last of the Acid Cowboys. As I’ve been listening, I think I agree with some of the stuff I’ve been reading on it, in particular that it’s this cool synthesis between, I’d say, two different kind of musical worlds: a gritty kind of rock, and a smoother, soul kind of sound. Seven guys in the band: did either of these musical sides start first for any of the members? Or have you all more or less had all of these influences?
I think the rock thing kind of comes from me and Rafferty…I mean, I’ve always liked funk and soul, personally. But even from the very first…I don’t know if you went further back at all and listened to some of our old music videos, like “You Light Me Up” or whatever, but Rafferty’s always had this kind of garage rock thing, and I think I was sort of moved to get in touch with that side of myself for writing Last of the Acid Cowboys. So yeah, we worked with our producer, and the horn section and stuff, and really smoothed it over, I think, with the soul thing.
We’re just like…I really like the group of guys that I’m working with, and three of them are horn players. And, we’re not a ska band, and we’re not a super funk band like Lettuce or something, so it’s like, “what do we do?” We really want to…we like to have a rich palette, and to use horns in a way that’s more cinematic, like a Western film, or something. So yeah, we’re just working hard to achieve some lofty goals sonically, and I think that this record was scratching at that surface, you know? And, at times it’s a little heavy, and at times it’s a little soft, like “Don’t Give Your Mind.” And I think it’s about striking a balance, I hope we’ll get even better at that, and we just have this weird ensemble and we want to do something unique.
And I was reading that you said it’s kind of like a two-part process: someone in the band writes a song or something, and then the rest of you give a listen and suggest stuff. Are all the members in the band pretty vocal, or contributive?
Yeah, more and more. I think, to avoid there being like a too many cooks situation, because you can imagine, with seven people, and everyone’s on different instruments, and it’s like, am I going to get heard, or can I play this, is this too far out of my comfort zone or whatever…everyone can have different ideas, so we kind of have to align under a mission statement, so to speak. Where, we set goals, and I try to get everyone thinking in the same way, so that we’re all working towards achieving this sound that we’ve chosen for a song or a project. I don’t know if that makes perfect sense…but yeah, everybody is weighing in at rehearsal.
And it can be tough, man. Because I want it to be democratic, because it’s not fun if people don’t feel like they’re not contributing. But, I do feel strongly that there has to be a driving force. Like it doesn’t have to be a single person, maybe, but it’s gotta be an idea or a goal driving everyone to make suggestions that won’t just be all over the freaking place.
Absolutely. Because, the songs on the album are all awesome, and I’m listening to this and I’m thinking, it’s hard for a trio, or group of four guys, to make something like this, let alone seven.
(laughs) Oh yeah. Well thanks, man. I’m really pleased you like it, and I think there’s definitely room for improvement. And we’re writing the next album over the summer, and we’re really excited to keep moving down that road, but we’re really proud of what we did for this record, in that respect.
So, the thematic element here, the Acid Cowboy. I was reading that this album was your chance for you, and the other songwriters, to create these weird little worlds in your music. On this new record that will be coming up, do you want to continue with the same kind of theme?
Yeah, I think we want to kind of like move on from where we got with this record, so yeah I would say I think it’s going to be be a continuation of that theme. The Acid Cowboy thing is…what’s funny about that concept is that, we’ve never once thought of it as a concept album, but then in the end, we were looking over the finished song list, and were looking at the stuff the artist was illustrating, and checking out the feedback that Royal Potato Family was giving us, on how they thought it sounded. And we were like, “Damn, this is totally the Acid Cowboy thing.” Like, it’s psychedelic, and acidy, and then it’s almost got this Western, surfy-vibe thing. So yeah, that’s where we ended up, like right at the eleventh hour, like right before we named the record and everything. And we want to move on from there, keep exploring that high lonesome sound, and the twang and the echo. Still trying to keep the groove in there, though, you know? The soul, and a little bit of the funk stuff, most definitely.
Did this whole concept start with the creation of this album? As in, you just experimenting and going for something totally different, or do these influences have deeper roots?
Yeah, most definitely. You know, we’re all into psychedelics, and psychedelic music, and hooked on that from all the past, like 60’s, 70s, 80s, whatever. So there’s that, on the music side of things, but then there’s also movies like…if you’ve ever seen the movie Deadman by Jim Jarmusch, and the whole score is just Neil Young just on this echo-y, creepy-kinda sounding guitar. I’ve always loved that movie, and the score. And like spaghetti westerns, they all have that great guitar, like Ennio Morricone stuff. I think even subconsciously I’ve always considered that stuff cool…like everyone in the band’s gonna have a different idea of what is cool, but for me, I’ve always loved that kind of guitar, and that spaghetti western music, and visuals and stuff.
I know bands are never keen on comparisons, but…someone introduced me to the solo music of Scott Metzger recently, and his band WOLF! and I hear some echoes of that stuff on here. Like, the throwback, very bare-bones rock sound.
Oh, that’s definitely a compliment. They’re also on Royal Potato Family, and I think I remember going to see WOLF! with Kevin from Royal Potato, before we were ever working together, but he’s awesome, dude. He’s like, shred daddy. We do love, like, Commander Cody, and that kind of country stuff that’s a little cheeky, or whatever (laughs). Outlaw country and stuff, too. I love those guitar players, like almost Nashville style. I’m also just all over the place, I like all types of music. I need someone in the band who can, like, rope my influences in and get me to focus (laughs). But that’s awesome, and Kevin and I were talking about WOLF! the other day, and how that would be a pretty cool matchup there.
Opening for WOLF! or a collaboration would be pretty cool.
So down, man. I saw them at a Relix party or something, they were so good.
So, can you tell me about your live shows, I’ve heard they can be pretty amped up?
(Laughs) Yeah. I would want them to be as amped up as humanly possible. It’s not like I’m trying to be scary explicitly, or whatever. I just think I like to create a spectacle. I think that’s where…even since the beginning, we would just wear ridiculous shit, and I’d love to have twelve people on stage, for the pure spectacle of it. As long as it’s engaging for the audience, and it’s not just like, “Oh here’s a bunch of dudes playing grab ass.” I just like some sort of visual thing…which is funny, because the rest of the band dresses natural and stuff, they just want to keep it real. Which I totally respect, and I don’t like to tell people how to act on stage. But yeah, I always like to take it to the next level. For instance, I’ll only really do the gold speedo if I’m getting what I need for the audience to make me feel like they really want to do that, go to the next level. (Laughs) Yeah. But it does feell really great to do that, though, I won’t lie. It’s just like, fucking liberating.
Yeah, it seems that there should really be a visual component to your kind of music, that would really fit.
Yeah. Well I want there to be, for certain. If we were on bigger stages, and more selectability, and more resources, I would do everything to plan a bigger spectacle. But we definitely have a Western vibe in the way we dress, and then we go full board with theatrics, for our hometown shows, where I can do all the crazy stuff to the venue.
So after awhile, you guys started hitting some music festivals, too. Did you feel any kind of a shift or new experience playing at festivals rather than venues?
Yeah man, I mean first of all…people definitely want to engage. I think you go, and you definitely want to engage. Like Hardly Strictly, you’re out in this park….I’ve been going to that since I was a kid, really, and people set up their chairs and stuff hours or days in advance, you know, plot out their spot. And to me, even though they might sit there and watch a band, they’re like totally engaged with it. Someone who’s showing up to a club might be there for totally different reasons. I think it takes a lot more…every show, you have to tap into a community of people. People want to go where they think their friends are. But at a festival, there’s maybe more of an energy that you can just dip into, if you know what I mean? You can show up in your own, and you know there will be other people who want to get on that level with you, yeah.
The club show thing is hard, hard tickets and stuff. I just want people to show up and be engaged. But I can’t blame them for not being that way, at times, you know? Sometimes a club vibe’s just not right.
Have you seen a growth in an Evolfo following, over the last year, or couple of years?
Yeah, definitely. I’m super excited on how…it was strange, because there was a bit of a dip in the Boston crowd, but now it’s been going back up as we kind of got our our confidence back up, and we just had to release some music…but in New York, it’s been a steady growth, and I’m feeling really good at our shows in New York, finally. The worst feeling, I think, was just trying to start getting momentum and, how do you gain momentum when you’re playing for like, ten people, and it’s just feels awkward. Like, no one’s gonna leave that show and be like, “I wanna bring all my friends next time,” you know? Or, I hope they would, but it’s a lot to hope for sometimes.
Can you give me an overview of what’s ahead for the future, date-wise?
Yeah, so we’re writing music over the summer, like I said. And we’re doing a weekend in each month, over the summer. So we’re doing, specifically, this big festival down in Norfolk, and a big headlining show in Boston in June. So those are a couple of the June shows, and then we’ll do a weekend at the end of July, and a weekend in the middle of August. So yeah, I think we have, like, ten dates lined up over the summer, they’re all on the east coast. New England, and New York, and as far south as Norfolk, Virginia. And then in the fall, we’ll be doing a big west coast thing again, trying to tour the album. And yeah, writing over the summer, so hopefully new album in, I don’t know when (laughs). Hopefully same time next year, we’ll have new music for people. I’m totally in it, I’m just ready to drop everything and figure it out, if we could figure out a way to stay on the road without starving to death (laughs). And I’m so grateful to my band for being right there with me. We’re close enough within a few miles that they’re willing to drop everything, when we do a few shows. They just need to keep their day jobs strong, and not upset any bosses at the moment.
Yeah! I hope we can find more time on the road. I’m proud of what we’re able to do. But man, all we want to do is play (laughs). We’ll say yes to anything, if we can make it work.
Interview by Miles Hurley