EVEN are the beloved brainchild of prolific guitarist/singer/songwriter Ashley Naylor. Naylor is also known to an ever-widening audience as the guitarist in Paul Kelly‘s band, as well as a long-time member of the RockWiz Orkestra; he’s also now joined Vika & Linda‘s band and is all over their new record. Ash is also a long-term member of Dom Mariani’s great garage/power pop outfit The Stems, co-fronts high-concept ’60s covers band Thee Marshmallow Overcoat alongside Stems bandmate/You Am I guitarist Davey Lane, and recently he became a permanent member of The Church; having replaced co-founder and lead guitarist Peter Koppes in 2019. He was finally able to play his first show with The Church in April last year. As if all that wasn’t enough, Naylor also released his first all-instrumental solo album, Soundtracks Volume 1, late in 2020.
Naylor and Even bandmates, bass player and backing vocalist Wally Kempton and drummer Matt Cotter, have also backed Split Enz’s Tim Finn and Sports’ Stephen Cummings. Bandmates since the beginning – the original Even trio has remained unchanged since the group’s 1994 beginning – Wally and Matt aren’t exactly under-achievers, either. In addition to his musical duties, Kempton is the band’s booking agent as well as long-time bass player for Melbourne punk legends The Meanies and the proprietor of the groovy Cheersquad Records & Tapes label. Cotter, who recently joined Meanies frontman Link McLennan’s new outfit Bagful of Beez, also works as a sculptor, painter and model maker in film and television – he’s worked on a couple of Star Wars films – and has recently spent the best part of a decade in indigenous communities in the Northern Territory working with local artists.
Reverse Light Years is the band’s eighth album, not counting compilations, including last year’s covers collection Down the Shops. It is very much a product of Melbourne’s on-again/off-again lockdown – a lockdown which enabled Naylor to make great use of his home studio setup.
“Some of our previous albums have been partially recorded in my home studio space, but this record was very different for obvious reasons,” explains Ash. “No deadlines other than those self-imposed, and no watching the clock. This freed me up to explore and indulge. The relative privacy of the home studio space afforded me the luxury to go deep into another world without distractions often attached to the recording process.”
The result of this exploration and indulgence is clearly the band’s most ambitious album to date; a fuller realisation of ambitions hinted at on the previous tracks, like the last album’s “Return To Stardust”. It is an ambition that is perhaps the inevitable result of such a long time in the game, and the result of immersion in more ambitious music.
“I was listening to the Hendrix ‘Band Of Gypsies’ Fillmore box set and ‘Electric Ladyland’ a lot in 2020,” explains Naylor again. “I had a massive Jimi Hendrix phase in my teens, which has occasionally inspired certain solos over the years. The plaintive strumming side of my brain often gives way to an uninhibited, freer style of playing. The freedom an artist such as Hendrix expressed creatively has been a major influence on my approach to certain tracks, affording myself the freedom to play what comes to mind, like at the end of “Gold Sunday” where I just pressed record and went for it. I left the fluffed notes in as well.”
There is plenty on the album to please fans of Even’s old stuff, too. “Six Monkeys”, the album’s first single back in June, was an instant smash with lovers of hook based early Even hits like “Stop & Go Man”, “Black Umbrella” and “Mayfair Laundry Bus”. There are plenty of tracks in that style on the album: the likes of “Cinnamon Edge”, “Be Still” and “Dandy Stomp” will all surely be live favourites for years to come.
Indeed, the idea in doing a double album was not just about affording the group freedom to stretch out, but to accommodate the full range of Even’s inclinations. As Naylor explains, “A double album is a bold artistic mindset as much as it is just a longer than usual collection of songs. The aspirations for the band can be either lofty or very basic, or both… Once you’ve committed to the idea of a double, it frees you up to add songs that may be shorter or longer than you might normally place on an album, knowing you have created the sonic real estate to cater for it.”
“I’ve had ‘Electric Ladyland’ for many years,” he continues, evoking Jimi again. “But I rarely played all four sides in succession. 2020, in all its ‘enforced inactivity’ as I call it, enabled me the chance to go back and listen to every nuance of that album and re-discover tracks I may have overlooked the first time round. That’s another advantage of releasing a double: over time, certain tracks emerge from the track listing and gain new-found status.”
“I’m not expecting people to sit through the whole record in one go, but hopefully it is sequenced in such a way that the intermissions between sides afford the listener a break, kind of like watching four quarters of footy.”