Track By Track: Evan Brewer Talks “Your Itinerary”
Bassist Evan Brewer has returned with his second solo album, Your Itinerary, out now. The effort represents a big change from his bass-only debut, Alone, and features eight full arrangements of original songs with drums, keyboard, guitar, and more.
Each track on Your Itinerary stands on its own, but as a whole the album creates a unique sonic experience. Brewer’s genre-bending sound and style is only magnified with the addition of instruments. Brewer tapped former Animals as Leaders drummer Navene Koperweis and keyboardist Jeremiah Bell to flesh out the bulk of the album, while guitarists Robert Provine and Paul Allen make guest appearances.
Brewer is currently taking a band consisting of a drummer and another bassist out on tour with Last Chance to Reason to support the album and present reworks of songs from Alone.
We reached out to Brewer to get the background on Your Itinerary and a track-by-track analysis of the album from the man himself.
On the Title
I think of a good album as taking me as a listener to somewhere mentally. I wanted to do to a play on that, and the concept of calling the album Your Itinerary is that the music will serve as an itinerary. It doesn’t necessarily dictate the experiences you’re going to have, but it’s going to tell you where you’re going to go. I wanted to play on the concept as perceiving the album as a journey somewhere or a trip outside of your own consciousness to other places, whether it just be mental or as a listener or whatever. It’s hard for me to say if I accomplished that for anyone, but for me and my favorite albums, I feel like I’m being transported somewhere else when I listen to them.
On the Artwork
When we were recording, I got this book for two dollars at the used book store called “Musical Instruments of the World.” It’s got all these insanely weird different musical instruments and depictions of people from different cultures playing strange instruments. It’s just a really cool book, and we just kept coming back to that when Navene was out here doing the final mixing. I figured since I’m basing the album name and a lot of the titles as if you going on a journey, it might be cool to illustrate the diverse music and musical cultures that we have. I just felt like that art just kind of represented that, and I like the images of different musicians playing from different eras. It makes you understand that music exists as an absolute. Even if every musical instrument in the world was destroyed, we could still go bang on a tree. Music is going to come out regardless of the vehicle.
On the Writing Process
Alone had been out for a little while [once I started writing Your Itinerary]. Every time I write an album, I feel like I’m on empty in terms of my riff banks and where I’m at as an artist; I feel like I’ve put everything into it. Probably a few months after that came out I wasn’t really making any music, then one day I was like, “Man, I’ve gotta get back in here.” So I got back in the studio and pulled up Pro Tools and started chipping away at something. The first thing that came out ended up being the first track on the new album, “The Adjacent Possible.” It all just kept coming from there. I started hitting on certain things in that song that I really liked, so I took those themes and applied them to the rest of the material. It didn’t really start to become a bulk amount of material for quite a while.
Because of the circumstances of being so busy, I just started writing however I could. Whenever stuff hit me, I’d be compiling stuff. It wasn’t like I just sat down and made the record; it was a lot of different phases over a lot of different time.
I heavily rely on [music theory.] It’s not so much riff to riff as it is transitions or key changes. I use ii-V-I movement and different things like chromaticism to get me to a desired point. I don’t always know where it’s going to take me. If I take anything from jazz, it’s tension and resolve. I want to use theory for that kind of stuff. A musician is going to appreciate that someone used an augmented scale or melodic minor or something like that, but your average listener knows nothing about that. They do know tension and resolve and we can feel that kind of stuff and we can feel dissonance versus really in harmony. A lot of people probably don’t realize it, but theory is huge for me. I love learning it, and that’s one of the main things that keeps me going. Every time I learn something new, I realize seven more things I can do with that and it just keeps expanding. That’s where I get a lot of my inspiration and where I really feel music takes on a life-long journey.
On the Recording Process
I would demo stuff until I got the bulk of the material. Then I started final tracking all my bass before there was any drums or anything. I was just final tracking to a click. Then I brought in my keyboard player, and he actually tracked to the click and the bass; the drums still weren’t there.
After that I got the guitarists that were involved to come out, and the final thing that happened was the drummer, Navene Koperweis, came out to Nashville and stayed with me for ten days. We did all the drums and we took all the MIDI information that I had written in and we found the proper sounds. I wasn’t worried about getting the proper sounds at first because I knew that I was going to work with him. It was an odd way to do it, but real life just dictated that it had to go that way. In a perfect world, you have your final drum takes and then you start layering everything to that. It wasn’t exactly ideal, but it’s kind of a testament to having people who are skilled and know what to do before it’s even finished. For the keyboard player to come in and do that, it really impressed me. I have a vision from the very beginning of the process, but you don’t know if other musicians are going to get it with that kind of work flow. But he jumped right in and understood what was going on and he nailed everything without the drums. When Navene came in and did the drums, it just flowed right, which was cool. I was a little apprehensive about doing it that way, but it worked out.
For gear I used my Warwicks. Every song on this record utilizes the high-C string. This new record is almost all 5-string tuned E to C. I really didn’t do much in terms of grabbing different pedals and stuff. The only real hardware I used was two different preamps. One was the Port City Orleans preamp, which I’m in love with. That’s a tube preamp, so for when I needed that tube sound or some saturation or a little bit of drive and grit, I was always went to that one. That was like my staple. If I wanted a solid state thing, I used a Warwick Hellborg preamp. Both of those do very different things, but they’re both really high quality preamps. After that, I just started manipulating the audio in software. I just wanted to get the signal in as clean and hi-fi as I could.
On the Difference Between Alone and Your Itinerary
I prefer working with other people. Things just take a different turn when you bring other minds in. I have a lot of direction and I have ideas for them, but I really let all those guys do their own thing to get their personality in there. And for me, when it’s just me, I can get excited to some degree about stuff, but since it’s just me I’m kind of comfortable and it’s really regular to me. When I get other stuff happening and other guys, that’s when I can really get excited and share in the excitement of other people. It’s actually easier to do these kind of albums than it was to do Alone, because somewhere during the process [for Alone] I just wanted to add a bunch of instrumentation and all that other stuff, but I had to resist that urge because I was going for something very specific. I don’t really think I’ll ever do another album like that again. That was kind of a one-time deal. I’ve always felt like the stuff that I write is for a band.
1. “The Adjacent Possible”
A lot of my riffs and songs come from practicing. I’ll be doing a technique to try to get better or just something to practice, but if I’m going to do a technique in a practice regimen, I always want to try to make it musical. So that song actually started as a practice routine. I was doing my down-up thumb stuff [using my thumb, index and middle fingers], but what I wanted to do was add my ring finger so I could add a third pluck on any combination of strings. From practicing that I ended up doing a 5, 4, 3, 2, riff, where I would [go through permutations of plucks]. That actually equates to a 7 time signature, but that’s where the riff came from. Then once I get one riff, it’s just about wherever I can make it go from there. For me, writing is all about getting that first riff and that song came from a technique that I’ve been working on.
I did a lot of stuff in Pro Tools where I would play a line and record it regular, and then Pro Tools has a feature where you can record at half speed so then you play it back it’s an octave up. That is an effect I use a lot, so I played along at half speed with the original recording, and then I’ll get the octave up. It gives it a different sound rather than putting an octaver on it. It’s a reoccurring effect I use throughout the album.
There’s also some sample of a man talking. He’s an investigative mythologist that lives here in Tennessee, and his name is William Henry. He is a genius, and he’s got some really cool ideas. I met him through Regi Wooten. I think William was on Coast to Coast, and I think that’s where I got that from. He said a few things that just stuck with me. I feel like your imagination is like a muscle, and as an adult those things go into atrophy. One of the samples is a little harder to hear, but he says, “You have to develop an almost childlike sense of imagination,” and I through that in there because I just think that’s cool.
2. “Microscopic Scale”
That one came together pretty late in the process and it takes a lot of turns. Most of my songs start with whatever the first riff is and I’ll just go from there. I feel like a lot of my writing is just linear and one part just leads to another. Sometimes parts will lead you to repeat something that was previously in the song and some things just want to take you somewhere else. That song I don’t think has any repeats, really. A part may ride for a while, but then it’s pretty much gone.
One interesting thing about the song is that the whole back half after the hip hop part is centered around permutations of an F# chord. When it strips down to the piano part, he’s voicing a F# minor, then the next chord is a dorian-type chord with a minor third and a natural sixth, then the next is an F# minor major seventh chord, and the next one is based off the harmonic minor scale. So the key sequence is interesting because it goes from regular F# natural minor to F# dorian to F# melodic minor to F# harmonic minor. Then actually after that, the next chord progressions are derivatives of that. It’s not that I’m playing F# anymore, but I’m playing a chord from F# minor, then go to a chord from F# dorian. So there’s an interesting little theory note there for that whole outro.
3. “Another World”
I really like that track. That track is really just centered off of studying the augmented scale. The basis of the scale is half-step, step-and-a-half, half-step, step-and-a-half. You get a lot of derivative chords based on that that aren’t necessarily in the augmented scale, but you could derive them from that by stretching the key of the augmented scale. Most of the riffs in that came from that scale. The first riff came from the Warwick Thumb bass – you know, that smooth, fusion-y, fingerstyle tone. I really love that sound and I wanted to get that on there so I just laid down some chords that had that first then added the bass. I wanted to do at least something on the album where I showcase my fingerstyle approach and my traditional bass playing. I spend so much time going out of what the bass naturally does with my solo stuff. I wanted to at least take some time to give a nod to the regular bass playing stuff and the original styles that got me into the bass in general. I think that song showcases a different flavor of my playing that I don’t get to utilize that much.
4. “This Seems Familiar”
The reason it’s called that is because it’s just an adaptation of the song “Actualize” from my first album. I wanted to do a remix of one song [from Alone], but what ended up happening was I ended up changing it so much that you could barely even tell, and it’s really a totally different song. But I still wanted to give a nod to the original version and just allude to that. Some listeners that are really familiar with the material will stop and say, “Ah, I see what he did. I get it.” If you listen, all the parts are drastically different, but the outro is pretty much the same as the first album. All the tapping at the end is based on the same tonalities, but it’s like a totally different line. As a writer, you can try different things, but you might never know how it’s going to come out. So this song kind of spiraled out of control and took on a life of it’s own.
5. “A Little Goes A Long Way”
I had done so much layering and so much band stuff that I wanted to do one song that was just really simple to capture the vibe of me just sitting down and playing. Especially lately, I do so much chording and regular fingerpicking – just mellow chord stuff. I wanted to capture that for at least one track. There’s really only one track of bass with no overdubs. We ended up adding a few layers of electronic elements just to add nuance and kind of enhance the experience, but I just wanted to do something simple to take a break from the density from the rest of the record. The title kind of indicates that, and it was my mindset going in. A little goes a long way and you don’t always have to do the craziest thing you learned.
I guess the theory approach to that one is interesting because I use a lot of stuff that doesn’t fit. It goes into real diatonic, regular harmony and it does stretch that and go out of that, and it throws you a few curve balls. It kicks into some melodic minor and some more exotic chord choices. I’ve done a lot of work on chord extensions and not having default chord voicings all the time. A lot of that song came from just experimenting from that.
That one also came together weird because like I said normally the first riff is where the song starts, but that wasn’t the case with this. I had a lot of these ideas and it took me a long time of working and manipulating and trying different things to glue them together in a way that flowed. It’s weird because the song is almost like an interlude in terms of length and how it relates to the album, but it’s actually one of the ones that I put the most work into. It didn’t come together real easy.
6. “Cause for Concern”
That one is so tough. It’s a lot of parts with weird time signatures and stuff. When I name stuff, because it’s instrumental, I just try to key in on certain aspects. A lot of my stuff is alluding to something that was in my mentality when I was writing it. This song has some of the harsher, heavier elements that are on the record. I don’t know exactly how I came up with that name, but I was just thinking that song had more of the aggressive elements so I wanted the name to illustrate that in some way. In hindsight while working that song up for the tour, I feel like “Cause for Concern” fits it because it is a cause for concern. It’s the hardest song I’ve ever written. The first riff is a counting riff with different bars of 5 and 6 scattered throughout. After two whole times, the sequence repeats. It’s also got a lot of polyrhythmic stuff.
From a drum standpoint, that song was particularly “concerning” because I didn’t even know what the drums would do there. Navene came in, and because of his experience with bands like Animosity and Animals as Leaders, he just came in and killed it. I would ask him, “So do you want me to write out the counts?” and he would just say, “Naw, I got this.” He got in there and just did whatever. First of all it extremely impressed me, but then I felt like, “Man, why is that so easy for him but so hard for me, and I wrote it!”
7. “Home Away from Home”
That was the last song I wrote for the record. I had been talking with my buddy Paul Allen, who is a really incredible guitar player that I’ve known and worked with for years, and he lives here in Nashville. I was talking about getting him on the record. I really wanted him on the record, because you know I work with a lot of shredder guitar players and they’re awesome at what they do, but I didn’t really want that style playing on my album. He’s a shredder just like them, but in such a different way because he plays for all the country stars and does a ton of session work. He’s also got backgrounds in jazz, funk, fusion and all that stuff. I wanted to showcase that type of guitar playing rather than what most of the people who will listen to the album are used to guitar-wise. Just to remind people that there’s a lot you can do with a guitar. I wrote that song in order to have something for him to play on. It’s got elements of bluegrass and different hoedown type parts, but not the harmony you’d expect for that. It’s more like the rhythm and trading of solos and different things. The idea was to take the elements of my album like the harmony I like with the darker tones and apply those to a context that’s more like a standard bluegrass and really make it a forum for him to shine.
That’s kind of why the title “Home Away From Home” seemed to fit because that song retains a lot of what I’m used to just from being around Nashville. For me, it’s a very comfortable home-feeling song. I think Paul did an amazing job on the guitar.
8. “Full Circle”
The beginning of the song is this jazz fusion-y, crazy, weird, electronic mess part with a lot of experimental parts in a lot of ways. It ends on a real funky groove type thing where the keyboard really took us out. I wrote the part and it had a ton of bass on it, but then we started layering his keyboard and we ended up replacing everything. That outro is probably 98% just the keyboard player doing the part I made up in his own way. Because I’ve played with him since high school, it just felt like in a way the song was almost bringing me back. It starts at the forefront of where I’m at as a musician now and it ends more like where I started out. Working with him, it feels kind of like full circle because we’ve been working together since high school, so that’s where I took the title from.
There’s fretless on it, too, and that’s another thing about that song. It’s got that long section where it’s that really aggressive Music Man slap sound and then it’s got the fretless, which I think is really cool because it really illustrates the different timbres and things you can do with a bass. You’ve got two bass lines functioning completely independent of each other and they couldn’t sound more different. That’s the full spectrum. For me as a fretless player, I’m not that far along. I think in the next few years I’m going to make a big jump on that and start working on it a lot more. I really do love to play it, but I think of it as a completely different instrument. Even though I’m kind of in my infancy, I’ve been working on it a lot so I wanted to put a little bit of fretless on there to showcase.
The chord progression is like a jazz chart in that it doesn’t really loop. It’s like a long loop of a lot of key changes. That’s probably the most jazz influenced section of the album and it’s also pretty indicative of where I’m at in working harmony-wise. If you were to take any section of the album to say what would be a forecast for things to come, I think it’s going to be a lot more stuff like that. More open chord progressions, more room for improvisation, and maybe not as riff-based. I’m not saying I’m going to leave anything behind; I’m always into adding to the bag. Just because you put something in the bag doesn’t mean you have to take anything else out.