Will Evans – Barefoot Truth

After many years as the driving force and front man behind Barefoot Truth, Will Evans’ solo career continues to build momentum. He recently released a new music video entitled “To Be Human” from his latest album “Signal Flares”, showcasing his energetic brand of groove-rock and his positive message. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Will before his packed-house show at the Knickerbocker Café in Westerly.

Tom Matthew: Right now you’re in the middle of a tour entitled “Make a Little Change”. Tell us what this tour is all about.

Will Evans: In response to all the negativity that we’re inundated with every day in social media and the news, I thought it would be cool to combat it with these shows that aren’t just about the show; we do a small charitable act or a community service event coupled with the show. In each town we go to, we’re trying to set up these type of events. Just to preserve people’s optimism, and remind them that there’s a bigger world out there than everything that their friends are posting and bickering about online.

There was I quote I saw that said “Don’t do nothing because you can only do little, do what you can. You’d be surprised what little acts have done for this world.” So with that in mind, we don’t need to do anything groundbreaking. We already have these gatherings and events, where in each city and town we go to we’re getting like-minded people who are drawn to the music and the message within the music.

In fact, that’s where the name for the tour came from. One of my songs is called “Easy Come High”, and the lyric is “Make a little change, let it grow”. We played off that lyric, and that’s how we got the “Make a Little Change” tour. It’s basically about small acts of kindness in all these towns and cities, trying to inspire people just to be kind and do what you can, because those are the things that matter.

TM: Is there a spiritual or religious element you draw from, or is it an organic state of mind for you to give back to the community?

WE: I’m not a religious person, but I’m definitely a spiritual person. Lots of the songs that I’ve written are inspired by the outdoors and healthy lifestyle. Just for an example, we’re going to be doing a community beach cleanup tomorrow down in Misquamicut. I’ve surfed there for a long time. The beach is very dear to the people of this community. I thought it would be a fun way to get everybody together outside the vibe of the club and have a reprieve from the show. Let’s do something that makes a little difference in the community.

TM: And you’re setting an example for others, that they can do this and go out to help in the community.

WE: I think people have just gotten to the point where they’re like “the hell with it”. I’ve seen so many people post “I’m moving to Canada, I’m leaving the country”, and I’m like, this is the greatest country in the world. When you retreat back to what matters, which is family, your friends and your community, it’s a powerful thing.

That’s just one example of what we’re doing. We did a food drive last night. Tomorrow’s the beach cleanup. In Burlington, Vermont we’re doing a charitable yoga class where donations go to the Love Your Brain Foundation, which is started by a pro snow-boarder who had a serious concussion from a snowboarding accident training for the 2010 Olympics. Now he has this foundation where he helps folks that have had neurological trauma or injuries, helps them in recovery, and gives them a community to deal with some of the issues that they have after those injuries.

It’s cool, because we’re catering the giving or the charitable event to the areas that they pertain to. Vermont’s a huge ski and snowboard area, and I went to school up there, so it was cool to be able to jump on board. In Fairfield we’re doing a toy drive for the young haven Children’s hospital, they do a lot of cancer patients there. This gets them some gifts around the holidays, and gets their spirits up. It’s fun.

TM: All good stuff!

WE: And it’s easy, I think we just get caught up in the feeling that there’s nothing we can do. Of course there is, you can hold the door open for somebody who’s leaving the venue tonight, smile, say “thank you”. We need more of that. Then it starts to turn around.

TM: You’re playing with a new backing band, Rising Tide. How did the band come together?

WE: As a musician who’s on the circuit, you keep an eye on players on the road, and all these guys were playing in a band called The Interlopers. They’re all fresh out of Berklee (College of Music), and really talented young players.

When I was looking to rebuild I just knew that I wanted a youthful energy, and that got me fired up again. The early days of touring have this romance to them. Then as the years go by, they start to fade. But having to breathe new life into it with these guys, it lifts me up and gets me excited again. They recorded this last record with me, “Signal Flares”, so this is our first chance to go out there.

TM: How did you enjoy your national tour with Trevor Hall?

WE: It was fabulous. He’s got such a passionate fan base and anything that he approves, to them is great. Getting his endorsement was huge. I made a lot of new fans, met a lot of great people, and played in some fabulous venues around the country. It was inspiring to watch him.

TM: When did you first start playing music?

WE: I started singing in the Baptist choir when I was six or seven years old. I’ve always loved to sing. My dad taught me guitar in high school, and I started playing the drums around that time too. Ever since then it’s been a passion I can’t put away.

TM: How did you learn in those days? Were you taking lessons or learning songs?

WE: I was a teacher’s worst nightmare. I had a hard time with music theory. I just rejected it, because it was against everything music was to me. It turned music into math, and I was a terrible math student. I just learned by ear. I wish I learned the theory and had the patience for it. As soon as I knew the formula for what I was doing, I lost interest in it. That freedom of mind is really what propelled me to keep going.

TM: Hey, Jimi Hendrix played by ear.

WE: Yeah. If it sounds good, then I’m happy with it. I don’t need to have it explained to me on paper.

TM: And you’re here playing with a bunch of Berklee grads.

WE: Of course. Well, it is nice to have them hear me play a song and say, “Oh, that’s a one-five-four progression with a dominant seventh.” They figure it out like that (snaps finger) so I don’t need to explain it to them. But they can’t explain it to me. I just agree. Sounds good.

TM: What musicians and bands did you take inspiration from?

WE: Early on I was a classic rock guy. Then in college, I got really into a band called Dispatch, Dave Matthews Band, John Butler Trio, a lot of roots and eclectic kinds of musicians. A lot of Australian music, New Zealand music. I spent some time down there. There’s a really great reggae vibe to the scene down there, so I got into bands like Fat Freddie’s Drop and Katchafire.

TM: Is there a big difference in lifestyle now that you’ve gone solo?

WE: It’s a “less is more” approach. I like to take less shows, but better quality shows, and really make sure you’re successful and not burn yourself out. Not going out for months at a time, unless it really makes sense.

It’s a lot easier only having one boss, rather than lots of people and nobody really in charge. With Barefoot everyone was on an equal playing field, which is great; everyone put a lot of skin in the game, but it made it hard for decisions to be made, and hard to move forward with things. I know what I want. The vision is how I’m going to have it be, and it’s just a lot easier.

Any business is difficult, and music is like the most difficult because you’re dealing with emotional personalities, and anything with art people get very emotional about their ideas. It’s easier to have one boss on the project that says “This is how it’s going to be”. If you don’t like it, you’re welcome to not play in this band anymore, but I’m going to make it as comfortable to you and worthwhile for you that I can. I feel like a dad in this band.

TM: If you have the vision, they just have to trust your vision. And if they don’t trust your vision, then like you said, they shouldn’t be in the band.

WE: Totally. And it’s a very open door policy. If you’re not into something, please let me know. Everything is on the table, and way more transparent. I think it works a lot better.

TM: What kind of looping setup do you use when you’re playing solo?

WE: I use the Boss RC-300, and I have a couple of vocal effects. TC Helicon makes some awesome vocal effects.

TM: It’s amazing what you can do with technology these days as compared with 10 years ago. You can do a one-man show and have this huge sound.

WE: Right. And for the last two years, what I’ve been honing in on is the solo thing.

TM: Jeff Howard has been a part of your story too. What is your connection to Jeff?

WE: We met Jeff when we were playing with Barefoot Truth several years back in Keene State, at a college festival there. We saw him playing in the McLovins, and like everybody else, we were mesmerized by his technique and his ability at 14 years old. We stayed in touch, so we’d have him come in and sit with Barefoot Truth. He’s been like a brother over the years. We’ve seen him grow up. His style has changed, and he’s always been welcome to join us and express himself on our music. It’s been cool.

TM: It seems like you have a lot of hobbies and activities you like to do. You already mentioned skiing and surfing – what other kinds of stuff do you like to do?

WE: We have an affinity for rescuing dogs. My wife is the proponent of that more so than I am, and we love dogs. We spend a lot of time with ours, doing hiking and the beach and all that. Anything outdoors, really. One of my old bosses said something about my wife and I: “Some birds aren’t meant to be caged”.

I teach outdoor ed at the New England Science and Sailing Foundation in Stonington. In the summer I run the adventure sports program, so I do the surfing and the kayaking, marine science and stuff.

TM: Where do you find inspiration for your songs?

WE: In nature, mostly. I’m a history major, so I love looking back on those stories. Early on I’ve always had an affinity for Native American culture. When it’s not a happy song, it’s usually based on the plight of the Native American people and what’s happened to them over the years. Look at the North Dakota access pipeline and what’s happening there, and finally it’s getting some national attention. Those types of things really hit me the hardest, and I feel compelled to write about it.

The more happy go-lucky stuff is based on what this community service tour is all about, just going the extra mile to help out fellow human beings and mankind. To be kind to one another. I’ve consistently felt better about making people happy, and at shows it’s a chance for them to forget about all the stuff in their lives and what’s going on, and just focus on the experience of being present. Life’s so short. You might as well enjoy it. So that is what a lot of the inspiration is from – making people smile.

TM: Do you stay in touch with the Barefoot Truth guys?

WE: Very much so. Andy Wrba, the bass player, is here tonight playing with the openers. The piano player is going to open for us in Northampton up there at the Iron Horse. We try to do one or two shows with everybody, schedules permitting. We try to get together for a reunion of some sort.

It’s a brotherhood that’s going to go on forever. We certainly ended on amicable terms. Everybody is just ready to try some other things. We’ve got nothing but respect for each other. We went through a lot. 10 years on the road with the same people; you learn a lot about each other and yourself, and that’s going to be forever. We’re very close.

TM: Any plans for 2017 yet?

WE: The hope is that this tour continues and we add some more dates.It’s already starting to look like there’s a couple that we’ll add in the next week or so. From there, I’d love to jump on another tour as an opener, and just keep building momentum and getting my name out there. Be back in the summer, and keep playing this area all summer and just keep trying to build one fan at a time. It’s a very organic process. We know we’re not going to be an overnight success, but we know that the people that love us will be with us forever. That was the case with Barefoot, so we’re just starting that process over again.

TM: Something that people outside of the music business don’t understand is that you don’t just bring in hundreds of people. You bring in one person at a time, and they become the large groups, but composed of single individuals. It’s one at a time all the way to the top.

WE: Think about all that’s out there that people are getting inundated with. Music and culture and art and all this stuff – we need to make them feel really special in order to keep coming and seeing us. It warms my heart when you see people that have been coming for ten years are the first ones in the door tonight. Those are the guys that are keeping us in business, keeping us writing and creating. We owe everything to them. So you have to be good to them. I don’t need to be an arena rocker. I’d love to do it, but realistically I know I’m doing it one fan at a time. I’m okay with that.

TM: If you could give one piece of advice to someone trying to make it in the music business, what piece of advice could you give?

WE: Make sure you’re really going to like the people that you’re going to shove off and hit the road with, because so many times you see people that just want to play with others that are good, or they like their style, but the show is only an hour to 2 hours long. The rest of the time you’re with them you’re not playing music, you’re interacting, so you better be friends. You better get along. Make sure you like the people you’re playing with, because it’s a commitment. It’s a marriage.

TM: What’s the best way for fans to stay in touch with you and your “Make a Little Change” tour?

WE: Facebook seems to be the most accessible for a lot of people, and Instagram @willevansmusic. It’s Will Evans Music on Facebook, if you’re a Twitter person, it’s @WEvansMusic.