Sometime in early May, Berlin’s Görlitzer Park is not as empty as you would expect it to be during a pandemic. People are sitting in small to medium-sized groups on the grass drinking beer and talking. This is where I meet the Berlin-based Duo Evvol. Julie and Jane (aka Jon Dark) have previously taken part in our Palms and Circumstances at Reeperbahn and are now joining us for another edition of our Late Night Talks. Like me, the band is happy to spend some time outdoors again and we enjoy a beer in the grass while the sun slowly sets – of course, sticking to the social distance rules. Dressed in almost all black, Julie and Jane are true Berliners. Julie’s sharp-edged hair cut reveals the impressive collection of tattoos crawling up her neck, while Jane is sporting sneakers and jeans.
Just a few days before we met, Evvol released their sophomore LP, The Power. After the debut Eternalism, which was recorded mostly in the studio, the musicians set up a microphone at their home in Kreuzberg to perfect the many vocal layers they worked with. ‘We wanted to record the vocals at home because that setting is more intimate,’ they tell me. Julie and Jane both sing on the album and through mixing and distorting their voices they create an intimate dialog between their voices against a backdrop of, what sounds like, many others.
They achieve this atmosphere of intimacy partly because they have been a couple for over ten years already. ‘We met back in Paris, where Julie DJed at a club’, Jane tells me. Julie had already been living in Berlin and Jane followed shortly after the musicians connected for the first time. ‘It is hard to separate the music from our coupledom. They intertwine.’ The lyrics to Old Love express the stage of comfort you reach after being together for a long time;
“You cook my favourite food, I wash the dishes
Netflix in bed with tea and lots of kisses
We do ok and we work hard for the money
I dance that way I like and you think it’s funny.”
The Power speaks about love and human relationships. Even when it comes to struggles, they faced within their relationship, Julie and Jane gave each other full reign to express themselves in the lyrics. ‘I feel like this record is very truthful’, Julie explains. The title track was even written while the duo was in the middle of a big fight. ‘I think we can have this lyrical honesty because we have already worked through a lot of shit as a couple’, Jane adds when I ask about the personal and professional relationships colliding. ‘We are still standing, regardless. So, there are no boundaries when writing. The cards are on the table.’ Who says business and pleasure don’t mix well? Evvol found a way to work through the struggles that come along in unity and explore all kinds of relationships on the record, from old loves to party crushes.
This openness and collaborative spirit are the silver lining for the duo’s relationship and music. The artists have shed the initial shyness many experiences when it comes to sharing creative work with others and work on the songs together from start to finish. ‘If you share certain things too early with others, you might lose the state of mind that you need to be in to create and to get it done. But between us, we need to be on the same page to develop the project in unity – that is the vibe we want to build and that is why we share everything with each other.’
‘It is important that we have this influence on each other. If we work on something individually for too long, it does not feel like ours. The idea only truly becomes ours – becomes Evvol – when we both shape it.’
In the process, Julie and Jane tell me, there is a strict rule that if one of the musicians does not feel the vibe of a track, it gets scrapped. All the tracks that made it onto the record are creative brainchildren of the duo and there are no songs that are Julie’s or Jane’s. That mindset also reflects into their name. Evvol, as in Evolution, is the name the duo took on after finding back together and evolving to a new level of professional and creative partnership. In the spirit of constant growth, The Power sees them experiment with new production styles.
Luckily, the duo finished working on the LP before Covid-19 struck. ‘Even in these circumstances, we are both able to still work full time from home,’ Jane says. ‘Of course, there are fits and drawbacks but we are staying busy and, on some level, I even enjoyed everything stopping for a moment.’ Jane takes on too many things and gets overwhelmed sometimes, she admits. Having to stay home forced her to unwind and to let loose. ‘But at some point, staying in your house for too long narrows your vision. It started fucking with our heads’.
The musicians consider themselves lucky that they have a good home base in Berlin and jobs that they were able to do from the confinement of their home. ‘Still, it is a crisis and it is very hard to deal with. People are sick and dying. To us as musicians, the impact the virus has on the music industry in a place like Berlin is another scary aspect of it.’ Even on a Monday night in Berlin you usually have a minimum of twenty concerts to pick from – and that is not counting other events. In a city this focused on nightlife and culture, the shutdown left many in existential crisis.
Learning To Adapt
Many of the other people working in the music industry are panicking, Evvol explain. ‘If you depend on live gigs, you are in big trouble’. Especially these days, when touring has become substantial for musicians, this is a challenge for the artists. Nobody can really make a living off record sales or Spotify clicks anymore. ‘If anything good comes out of this, then maybe that creative industries and arts are revolutionized’, Julie hopes. ‘Websites and users of pages like Spotify should actually pay sufficient amounts for the product they are using.’
Evvol are not dependent too much on the touring culture as other artists are who are not working other jobs. And it has not only uprooted the concert business, album releases are being pushed back, press dates cancelled – in this new reality of being a musician in 2020 you have to resort to different measures to keep the show going. On the other hand, Jane adds, ‘if Corona teaches us anything, it is that why so much pressure? Nothing bad happens if you do not release the record on the scheduled date. The world will still turn.’
Just before the pandemic, Jane and Julie were working at such a feverish pitch that it was hard to look out of the bubble of work, they admit. ‘Time passes depending on your relationship to it. Earlier this year everything was so tense and energetic, it was crazy, and time flew by. But when things slow down, time also passes slower. Now we are learning that you do not need to do everything bigger and faster all the time. I hope that this will have some resonance, especially regarding the environmental aspects.’
For all of us this is a new kind of normal. Doing interviews over the phone or in the park with a minimum distance of a meter and a half is different. It raises a new kind of awareness for the way we interact with other people around us. ‘It is okay to wait in front of a shop for a little while, instead of being cramped into it with the other people. We are changing the way we live to a new normal. The breaks have gone on in capitalist world we live in. It has to have some kind of resonance. But there are so many unknowns and variables. I guess only time will tell the long-term effects of this, so do not have kids’, Julie jokes.
Dreams of Travels
For Julie and Jane, being stuck in Berlin, is not that bad. Even though their families are far, it has become their home. But Jane especially mourns the freedom to travel to different places whenever one pleases. ‘All of my family lives in Australia and not being able to leave and being stuck in one place and one culture is kind of hard. I have been daydreaming about traveling’, she laughs. Until travel is possible, they have their two dogs to distract them. One of them is a special souvenir from one of their trips. They rescued the puppy from a shelter on a trip to Thailand. The duo are clearly dog people and immediately show me a picture of their two adorable dogs, mid-interview.
Evvol have managed to stay cool in time of crisis even if the release of their album did not go as planned. Instead of a release party, the two did release day yoga in their apartment. Doesn’t sound half bad, if you ask me. Working their full time jobs while making music, allows them a certain creative freedom removed from financial worries, that they would not have otherwise. The LP, for example, is entirely self-produced.
‘We almost killed ourselves trying to make money from music. In order for us to love music and to do what we love, we got full-time jobs on the side. That takes a lot of the pressure off our music.’
This is not the way it should be, Julie adds. Making a living in the music industry is not really feasible unless you are in a big band. ‘When people listen to your music and enjoy it, you should be able to sustain yourself from that.’ Then again, part of being free to express oneself creatively, requires a certain independence from outside pressures, Evvol note. ‘It is essential for us to be completely in charge of the process. There is no point in pushing your music where you do not want it to go. This is one of the big problems when people are dependent on the money from the industry. Oftentimes it becomes bland and boring. That is not what creativity is about.’
But it was not always like that for the duo. ‘When I started out it was really fucked up and I had some gnarly things happen to me in the industry. I have always been the only girl in the room and now as a teacher, I am predominantly teaching men. Why there aren’t any women studying music production is another thing. Today, after teaching for ten years already, the students usually meet me with respect but it was different when I started. The boys would not listen very much, back then. I am hopeful that things will change in this sadly still misogynistic industry,’ Jane says about her job as a music production teacher in Berlin.
‘We are still waiting for the day when it will just be humans working together rather than men and women being subjugated.’
Evvol want to change things and are providing a good example for women and girls trying to make it in an industry, which sadly still sells female sexuality as capital. ‘The entire walk of life is misogynist, but in the music industry it is especially severe.’ Julie and Jane are pushing their way through and instead of talking about it, they prefer taking action and taking The Power to make change happen. And their music, unapologetically independent, is the best way to escape the misogynistic industry and to step forward as an example to others!
Power is out now on Mad Dog & Love via !K7 Collective.
All Photos by Liv Toerkell.