Double your pleasure
Second time around, photogenic pop twins Evan and Jaron try to make it on their music
At face value it's easy to deride Evan and Jaron. Unlike other Atlanta based singer-songwriters — say, the Indigo Girls or Shawn Mullins — their jump from the club circuit to the major label leagues a few years ago seemed inordinately speedy for a duo still in their mid-20s. Add to that their clean-cut, make-the-young-girls-sigh image, the novelty of Evan and Jaron being not only identical twins but also Orthodox Jews in the year of Joe Lieberman, as well as their penchant for writing instantly hummable power-pop love songs (light on the power, please) and you get a twosome that's just a little too marketable, just a little too easy on the ears and eyes. After all, we Atlantans like our music stars with more rough edges, thank you.
When delving deeper, though — especially after chatting with the eager, energetic and affable Evan Lowenstein soon after the release of their second album — those prejudices drift away faster than their initial major label contract with Island Records, who ingloriously dropped them just weeks after their 1998 debut hit the racks. Recently relocated to L.A. and with a new self-titled CD on a new label, Columbia, Evan knows there was some bitterness from locals when the comely brothers hit the road in their early 20s, without putting in the requisite years slogging it out in area clubs.
"At first, [Atlanta] people resented us because they thought we were going to make it too quickly, but our respect in Atlanta came through the long run of not doing what everybody thought we were going to do; which was jump in, take the easy road and make it on things other than our music. There was the Eddie's Attic group and the Dark Horse/Smith's Olde Bar scene, and even though we were acoustic musicians we were more a part of the latter. I felt we always played rock 'n' roll on acoustic guitars. We were just too poor to afford a band."
They're not too poor anymore, but that didn't stop the twosome from recently participating in a well-publicized "we'll play anywhere tour" promotion. It was a concept reminiscent of their unplugged past, when the brothers worked hard for seven years performing acoustic mini-sets in dorms, hotels, even street corners in hopes of enticing people to catch their shows.
On the recent publicity tour, Evan and Jaron did low-key private shows in venues as cozy as living rooms, porches, decks and backyards for handfuls of people. Talk about getting back to your roots. "We would play anywhere," Evan says, "so when we signed to Columbia, the head of marketing suggested that in this age of high-energy production, we could do what nobody else does, which is pull off the acoustic duo format, kind of like the Indigo Girls."
The new album, however, is anything but rootsy, let alone unplugged. Once you get past the stylized black and white cover shot of the adorable twins staring dreamily off into the distance, the disc unfolds 12 slices of some of the most melodic, hook-laden and, yes, heartfelt pop-rock since the last decent Matthew Sweet release. Professional and well-crafted but not quite slick, each song sounds like a potential hit.
A strong introduction (or reintroduction) for potential "TRL" regulars, it seems. But then check the credits and be prepared for a shock. Guest appearances include not only Mick Fleetwood, who'd seem a bit too old and established for pop-album cameos, but also ultra-hip downtown New York guitarist (and Tom Waits sideman) Marc Ribot and jammy jazzbo keyboard wildman John Medeski. Plus, rootsy-cool auteur T-Bone Burnett (Los Lobos, Elvis Costello, Counting Crows, Sam Phillips) serves as executive producer. Clearly this is not just another pretty-boy stab at saccharine, radio-ready, MTV-styled wimp schlock.
The hefty-budget production boasts an alternately sweet and boomy commercial sound, nowhere near the Everly Brothers image that hovers around the twins' acoustic past. "Columbia decided they wanted this to be a major project," Evan says of the decision to bring aboard Burnett. "They had big money in it and they wanted a big name."
Daniel Lanois was an early choice, but the less-stylized T-Bone Burnett eventually heard their tunes and was sufficiently impressed. "His idea was really cool," Evan says. "He said, 'I love what you guys are doing, I think you have incredible songs, so why don't you make the record for a month and a half, then I'll come in and do my stuff?' For the first four weeks we recorded at our house in L.A. It was very laid back and relaxed, and those sessions ended up being the basic tracks. Just Jaron, myself and [co-producer] John Fields playing every instrument. The studio was in my bedroom, so while one of us was cutting tracks, the other two would be sleeping. We were going at it non-stop."
The heavy hitters entered the picture later. "We classify ourselves as pop musicians and we wanted to add a different dimension to it. So we decided to get guys like John Medeski who would take the music deep, not as in left to right, but front to back."
Ribot and superstar drummer Jim Keltner came courtesy of Burnett's bulging Rolodex, and the intensive sessions resulted in some songs crammed with almost 100 separate tracks. "In the end we picked what fit, but we could make several different mixes that would sound like different albums," Evan says. "Some versions might sound like the latest jazz disc and some might be even more commercial. There are parts I wish we could release, but there's no way Columbia would allow that, because they signed a commercial band and this could very easily have turned into a very weird record."
As it stands, the album, simply titled evan and jaron, is a consistently tuneful, beautifully sung, skillfully constructed pop collection. Its smooth edges, elaborate production and sugary harmonies may well alienate alternative audiences who would welcome the same songs in a less consumer-friendly package. But hearing the disc multiple times — especially through headphones, where you can pick out the numerous intricate details — raises the album to another level.
"Even if you like it the first time through, you need to listen again to get all the cool stuff these unbelievably creative musicians are playing," Evan says. "I wish I could make a hundred different versions of the songs on this record, because every single one of them would be unique."
Evan and Jaron play the Variety Playhouse on Sat., Nov. 18, at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 in advance, $12 day of show. For more information call 404 521-1786.