Live Free But Die Digital : An Interview with Jimkata's Frontman Evan Friedell

Nearly exactly four and half years ago, I drove up to Ithaca to interview four young musicians making local waves as an up and coming college band called Jimkata. They had barely released a 5-track LP and were playing Friday nights in Ithaca and Oneonta. Fast forward to today, that same foursome has caught the attention of more than just Ithacans or regional Upstate New York jam fans. On the heels of releasing their 4th album Die Digital, due out September 18th, and a 10-week national fall tour, I caught up with Jimkata’s front man and guitarist Evan Friedell. The following is the transcript of our recent discussion covering everything from sharing the stage w/ Umphrey’s McGee, their new fan-funded album and how the uniquely infectious sound Jimkata has patented continues to evolve.

Johnny Goff: so I believe it was 2008 when I came over to your house in Ithaca and sat down to interview you guys. You guys were just getting going. What’s changed in the past 4 and half years as a band?

Evan Friedell:  We’ve come miles in those 4-5 years. No. 1,  we’ve all grown up and changed as individuals. And also, we’re just kind of starting to find our sound. When we started, our sound went many different directions. And now finally, the sound writing, the instrumentation, the use of technology w/ analog/synth and e-drums has really evolved our sound to what it is today. We’ve also started touring more extensively in the past several years and that has helped us grow a fan-base which is awesome. Also, the new record has been entirely fan-funded. So yeah, we’ve come a long way from a scrappy, little college bar band into you know what we are today.

Johnny:  So, in attempting to achieve a good fan base, how important is it that you guys, as a band play every night of the week and not just weekends in attempting to win over new fans?

Evan: Well, you know, that’s something that has changed over time too. We’ve realized now that we can’t pick a day here or there and play those dates. We’ve realized that in order to get your name out there, you have to play every day of the week. For example, when we go out to Colorado, we decide to play Michigan on the way. And it’s funny, one of the bi-products we’ve found is when we leave our home area and venture away and then return to our home area, our local fans seem to be more energized and at the same time, we are building new grounds withnew fans.

Evan Friedell, photo by Johnny Goff, 2008

Johnny: So I’ve noticed that recently, you’ve shared the stage with some pretty notable bands. Can you talk about that?

Evan: We’ve played a number of festivals on the same bill as some pretty big acts. And we’ve also had the chance to directly support Umphreys McGee for a few shows in Colorado and in Utah. I think as of right now, it’s pretty inspiring to see how bigger acts work from the inside. The professionalism is a totally different ballgame. Everything’s pretty regimented for them and they are on schedules, etc…and then there’s us…you know, we slept in the van and go on stage. We’d love to be there someday but right now, even though we’re growing, it feels like a different world.  The big ones are great too, but I love seeing bands we’ve built the comradery together over the years and seeing them at regional festivals and hanging out before or after our sets.

Packy Lunn, photo by Johnny Goff, 2008

Johnny: So, considering this interview is for Upstate Live, I’d be remised if I didn’t touch on Upstate New York and its festivals and JImkata’s plans going forward. Also, if you could, discuss my home festival, Grassroots, in Trumansburg, NY and  how Jimkata has taken off there also. It seems like every year, you guys are jumping up to a bigger stage and a better timeslot.

Evan: Yeah, yeah. We are very grateful for that. All of us are. It’s been great for me because I grew up a couple hours from there (Oneonta) and I used to go to Grassroots when I was 16 and I was like “Holy Shit, ya know, this would be sick to play at sometimes”, and then, well, we were. So it was a huge thrill to get that slot after midnight on a Friday and thinking about back when I was 16 and wondering if I was 16 and watching this, what would I be thinking about these guys? So, it’s pretty cool.

Johnny: So the way your guys’ sound has morphed from album to album,  I’ve drawn some other comparisons besides just Umphreys McGee; the way your sound is headed with added synthesizers and e-drums, but how would you describe Jimkata’s evolution of sound?

Evan: First of all, after seeing first-hand what and how Umphrey’s does what they do, I don’t think we would ever be as virtuosic doing what they do. Their skills are out of the park. But, I think, with this latest album, what we’re going for, is we’re simply trying to create songs that hit home for people. That hit home for people in two ways: 1) We’re trying to drop a beat that’s infectious and 2) bust out a melody and chorus that people can bring home with them in their daily lives. I mean that’s one thing I’ve always loved about watching jambands because of they’re playing, skills, and live improvisation but that’s one thing you miss by not putting out an album, the “Wow! Holy Shit!” Factor of a song where you wanna listen and relisten to the melody or chorus was our focus.

Aaron Gorsch, photo by Johnny Goff, 2008

Johnny: If you can, for readers who may not be all that familiar with Jimkata or reading about you for the first time, drop on us some chronological album history and how your sound has morphed from album to album up to your very latest release.

Evan:  So our first album has some of our earliest songs and is way more guitar oriented and some has killer early rippage. And then, “Burn My Money” was after that and that is when we began to gain some of our earliest fans and has some of our songs that we had been working on for years and years and so we had a ton of available possible songs to choose from to put on that album and that had some of our core songs that we still play today and you can start to hear to some of those synths and e-drums begin to make some appearances and it really was the album where we began to hone a lot of our songwriting. And Next was “Ghosts & Killers” and that came after we had come into some analog synthesizers that we had been playing around with and That was recorded with very little being done to it afterwards post-production. Like with “Burn My Money” we did a lot in the studio to that album but with “Ghosts and Killers”, it was almost like it was simpler arrangements but more complicated instrumentation.

Dave Rossi, photo by Johnny Goff, 2008

Johnny: So, take “Ghosts and Killers” and that simpler approach to album making to this latest album Die Digital, I just listened to the other day, it’s obvious there’s a clear delineation now between your album creating philosophies from previous to this latest JImkata album. Is that fair to say?

Evan:  Our songwriting process has morphed a little bit. The recording process was different also. We recorded w/ a different engineer, a different space and the song writing process, we all started writing music on a laptop to start. So, like If I had an idea, to start the process, I would immediately open the laptop and start putting something down. So, it was like instead of me walking up to see the band and saying I have this great idea for a song and they’re like, “What is it?” and I can’t describe it…I am able to say, “well, here ya go. Here’s an idea for a song,” and simply pull out my laptop and immediately give them an audio sample of where we can go with something. We are all were writing on our own and we were touring more too so it was actually an natural adaptation because it meant we had less practice time.  This album, there’s a couple songs that are straight up Packy (drums) which is a first for all of our records. There’s a couple songs from Aaron as always.

Johnny: So with the help of technology, you are able to get a better picture of what a song could end up becoming?

Evan: Exactly. And I think our song-writing skills have gotten a lot better also. You know, for example, when to add something or to cut something from a tune.  Knowing when to keep things simple is the key. Knowing when to keep things simple when you have a lot of different elements happening…that is key; and we had quite a few of these actually from this latest album. We had a million things going on in this album and we seemed better at knowing when and where to cut something.

Another thing that was noticeable from this album is us as a band really embracing our electronica and hip-hop influences we’ve had. We’re children of the 90’s…ya know? We’ve listened to tons of 90’s hip-hop and electronica music and that’s been huge for us. BUT, we also all love our rock-n-roll. And not just classic rock and jambands but again, being a child of the 90’s, our grunge rock music…Nirvana, Weezer and Smashing Pumpkins and all of that stuff…. and I think finally, all of those influences, all of those factors are finally beginning to come together to form the sound we have on this album.

Johnny: It’s ironic you mentioned you guys were ‘Children of the 90’s’ because a lot of the sounds coming off this new album is almost from the 80’s. The combination of the electro and synth-sounds just brings me back to when new-wave was really popular.

Evan: Yeah, it’s funny. I thought “Ghosts & Killers” came out sounding like the 80’s too. So, I guess, you’re right, it’d be fair to say we’re products of our generation, whether it be the 90’s or the 80’s. Music on the radio, commercials on t.v., movie soundtracks, c.d.’s, etc…whatever it was, it apparently influenced us and how we’re making music.

Johnny: So, there’s a track on your new album “Die Digital” called “Night Shade.” I fell in love with this track and the more I listened to the new album again and again in preparation to speak with you, I found myself going back again and again to this track “Night Shade” with its very infectious rhythm.

Evan: So, the song is sort about ‘working through hard times and everything turning out all right in the end.’…and now that I’m saying that, I’m realizing I end up writing about that an awful lot. (laughs out loud). The synth hook was written and then the bass line came around and it took me a while to write some lyrics to it because I didn’t want to fuck it up. The track is so epic and fun to begin with so I wanted the hook to be fun and “We don’t give a shit” and not to be too serious.

Johnny: So, let’s turn the attention to your upcoming tour, your travels in New York and what’s immediately ahead for Jimkata.

Evan: We have like 10 straight weeks of touring. We’re going, pretty much everywhere but all the way to the west coast. We’re going out to Colorado again, the south. We’re hitting the Midwest and up to Minnesota so we’re basically hitting up everywhere. Finding a gig is not that hard anymore and we’re super thankful for all the work our new agent has put in to get us into some bigger festivals.

Johnny: So, the new album Die Digital is about to be released. Tell readers how they can listen to this new Jimkata album.

Evan: It comes out September 18th. A lot of people who donated are going to get a copy in advance. We’re going to have it on our website and I-tunes. I also think we’re going to have it streaming so I know it’s going to be around. We’re just about to head into album promotion mode now as a band.

Catch Jimkata when they come through Upstate New York over the next three months.

Thurs. 9/20 – Albany, NY – Red Square
Fri. 9/21 – Ithaca, NY – The Haunt, with Manhattan Project
Sat. 9/22 – Rochester, NY – Lovapalooza, with Lovin Cup
Tues. 9/25 – Buffalo, NY – The Tralf, with Papadosio
Fri. 10/26 – Jamestown, NY – MoJo’s
Weds. 10/31 – Syracuse, NY – The Westcott Theater
Thurs. 11/1 – Burlington, VT – Nectar’s
Sat. 11/3 – New York, NY – Sullivan Hall

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