Norman, OK's Evangelicals were getting great mentions in the music press almost five years ago after the release of their critically smiled-upon sophomore record The Evening Descends, which took earnest, heart-on-sleeve pop songs and threw them in a blender with, according to lead singer Josh Jones, "Marvin Gaye meets the Rocky Horror Picture Show." The results were fun, with enough layered instrumentation and B-movie sonic trickery to make Jones' songwriting stand out from its ho-hum indie pop brethren, and we were all looking forward to what the Evangelicals would produce next.
What we didn't expect was them virtually disappearing.
It's been five years since the Evangelicals released The Evening Descends, and despite assurances from the band for the last two years or so that new material would be forthcoming, we haven't heard a peep from them new music-wise since. They've played one-off shows in and around the Oklahoma area they call home, but haven't shown much activity otherwise. That is, until the end of last month, when they announced a 15-city, month-long summer tour with Champaign as the last stop. This got their fans speculating: is a new record forthcoming?
I spoke with Jones on the phone from Des Moines, Iowa, and we discussed, in between bouts of Lynchian white noise, the new record, additions to the band's lineup, and Norman, OK cuisine.
Smile Politely: How's the tour been going so far?
Jones: It's been a lot of fun, man. It's been a minute since we toured so it's nice to get out and travel.
SP: Judging by your Facebook page, a lot of your fans are pretty happy you're hitting the road, and a couple people have been asking about the new record. Is it in the works?
Jones: Yeah, it's almost done ...
[Here Josh had his first run-in with the Great White Noise of Des Moines, and I lost him to a squall of feedback as he tried to get to a place with both good cell phone reception and enough quiet to hear.]
Jones: I walked out this hotel and I don't know where I am. The middle of the city ... yeah, where am I? OK. There's the hotel here, and there's a Panera Bread across the way here.
SP: It's been a while since you guys released your last record; has anything changed in the songwriting process since you guys released the last record?
Jones: It's not like anything ever stopped or anything, in terms of writing, it's just a matter of putting something out, I guess.
SP: Have you guys been in the studio a lot?
Jones: Yeah, we've been in the studio a lot. Recording a bunch of stuff, and I hope we can release it pretty soon, I'm hoping.
SP: Has your new material been heading in the theatrical direction [The Evening Descends took]?
Jones: I guess I wouldn't say it's very theatrical. I would say it's less so on that end.
SP: I saw one of the pictures you posted on Facebook, [the band's drummer, Austin Stephens] was playing standing up, he wasn't playing behind a kit; is that something new for you?
Jones: OK, so we're touring with a percussionist as well, Matt Duckworth.
[Matt Duckworth is a member of the Norman, OK band Stardeath and the White Dwarfs, and has recorded with the Evangelicals, the Flaming Lips, and others.]
SP: Is that because that's what the new songs have been requiring?
Jones: Yeah, we do more rhythmic stuff [in the new material].
[There is a noise like a pterodactyl from Mars slaughtering an alien child.]
Jones: Man, I just opened this hotel door and it's like Eraserhead. Have you seen Eraserhead? There's just this ... white noise you know, this crazy white noise, it's super-loud everywhere I go it's like "Chrghghgh."
SP: I guess Des Moines is a loud place.
Jones: It must be, yeah, who knew?
SP: What have you been listening to lately?
Jones: Man, well, a lot of prank calls [laughs] ... uh... the Clash, I suppose. I've been listening to Willie Nelson.
SP: What would you say your biggest driving influence would be?
Jones: I wouldn't say there's a genre or type of music that has more influence than any others, but maybe just trying to make good tunes ... when it gets right down to it you're trying to get the coolest tunes you can make.
SP: So maybe two or three years ago the New Pornographers had a show of theirs canceled at some Christian college because of their name... have you guys had any weird mix-ups because of the name the Evangelicals?
Jones: I don't think most people think too much of it ... it's like Frank Black and the Catholics, you know? No one really assumes that it's a bunch of priests or something. Maybe on Twitter, maybe people are confused, but other than that, not too much.
SP: I can just imagine some youth group showing up and being right next to the stage when you guys start playing; that would be pretty awesome.
Jones: [Laughs] That hasn't happened, but everybody's welcome.
SP: When you guys are on the road, what do you guys like to eat?
Jones: Oh man, that's a good question ... when we're on the road we go out of the way to find cool places to eat ... that's a big hobby of ours. I love food too much; I love the cuisine of every city so much, I don't think I could pick a favorite.
SP: What about in your hometown [of Norman, OK]?
Jones: Oh that's easy, this place called Pepe Delgado's. Yeah. Publish that: "Best Mexican Restaurant in America," hands down. Bold statement, I know. This isn't Tex-Mex; this is just Mexican and it's really good.