Interview: Evan Allis of Fever Dolls
Written by Kiersten Gerard
Fever Dolls is described on it’s website as the “shape-shifting, genre-bending, musical variety project of singer-songwriter Evan Allis.” We got the opportunity to sit down with Allis to discuss past releases, the recent departure of longtime collaborator Renn Mulloy, and what the future holds for Fever Dolls.
This past Summer you released your debut EP, The Phantasm at Lake Wallenpaupack. How was it received? Did anything about its reception surprise you? And most importantly, how did you land on that title?
It’s so weird releasing music nowadays. I think we felt at first when we released the EP that we didn’t make the splash we wanted to make with it. The immediate instinct was to think “What went wrong?” We immediately pivoted and were like “alright we need to make a new record.” We thought the problem with the EP was that the songs were too long. Then slowly we started getting a really good response to it and a lot of people discovering the band because of it. It’s out there to exist and for people to discover it on its own merits. We then started to be more celebratory instead of just critical of it, which is where I was basically all summer and even into the fall a little bit. That was how the reception went, but even now people keep finding it. I’m much happier with it. We did record a whole new album in that mindset of trying to pivot 180 degrees so it’ll be interesting to see what people think of that.
As for the title of the EP, I don’t totally remember. I keep a note in my phone of different names and that one was so left field compared to everything else. I don’t even remember how it got down in the note. As soon as we had the idea that we wanted to do the cover like a Hardy Boys book it was like, oh well you gotta call the album that phantasm thing.
There are some subtle overlapping details in your music videos- does this mean that there's a Fever Dolls cinematic universe? Or is each video a stand alone project?
There are definitely easter eggs that tie the videos together. We were more diligent about them in the beginning, so that was a lot more like “We’ve gotta make sure we have the TV from 'Gennifer Flowers' playing in this scene of 'Adeline'” and different stuff like that, but because of the pandemic it's gotten so much harder to make videos. We gotta jump back into it, but yes I have a lot of ideas about, as you call it, “the Fever Dolls cinematic universe.”
What song are you most proud of, and what song is the most fun to perform live?
Honestly, there are a couple of songs we’re going to release that I think are the best songs I’ve ever written. I’m really proud of those. As far as music that’s out, I find that I tend to be the proudest of songs that feel the least like me. The songs that make me think “I really can’t believe I had that idea.” I’m really pleased with myself when I do something different from my own style, so that would be a song like “Mrs.Carver.” A lot of my arrangements are so over the top and I love having a big band. I always want to get every idea I have in there, but with “Mrs.Carver” I was a little bit more restrained. That would be the one I'm proudest of that’s out in the world.
The ones that are the most fun to play live are probably “The Distance,” and “Out of Vogue.” Anything percussive is super fun to play live and those are songs that people like to dance to. For “The Distance,” that was a song that everyone knew the words to when we would play it live. Unfortunately we never got that chance with “Out of Vogue” because it was released in the pandemic and the only times we ever played it were before anybody knew it, but people would still dance so that was fun.
Speaking of “The Distance,” you brought that song back from being previously released under your project Iron Eyes Cody. Do you think you’ll re-record any other songs from that project?
I would like to. Part of re-recording was feeling like we weren’t as mature as I felt we needed to be to do justice to some of those ideas. Even though I’m proud of the Iron Eyes Cody stuff, some of those songs I feel did need a bigger production like the treatment we gave to “The Distance” the second time around. I definitely want to re-record a lot of those songs, and a lot of songs that were part of our catalogue as Iron Eyes Cody but got left on the cutting room floor because we just didn’t get them right when we recorded that EP. But I also write so many new songs and have a prejudice towards my newer material. I have this feeling that people would look down on it if I kept re-releasing existing material, that they’d be like “What else do you have? What else can you do? Is that all?” and so that's the paranoia that stops me. A couple of those songs I do definitely want to re-record. Some of them we’ve already re-recorded and they sound really awesome but we haven’t released them yet for whatever reason.
When you’re writing is there anything that you find yourself taking inspiration from often? Any themes that carry over lyrically?
There is definitely a voice that is very narrative, very cinematic. In my mind it’s more akin to short story writing when I write lyrics. I like very visual ideas. Being in my 20s I’m in a period of a tremendous amount of soul searching, and I’m speaking for the rest of the band too. As far as love, professional fulfillment, fears, and passions I want to pursue, when I listen to music I respond to those kinds of stories and those types of narrators. That's the type of writing that comes out of me most naturally. On this newest batch of songs that we’re getting ready to release I really tried to write more like a songwriter. That sounds kind of strange, but things have been so autobiographical up until now. I was getting to a place where I’d written at least 100 songs and now I want to know if I can do it on cue, do it in someone else’s voice. So there was a lot of doing the opposite this time around and writing in other people’s voices. And it was the first time that I wrote true love songs. Not sad, lost love or breakup songs, but genuine love songs, which is weird because I’ve been single the whole time.
Once the pandemic has ended what are you most excited to do?
Play. This pandemic came at the worst possible time for our band because the singles we had out in the world hadn’t had enough time to really find an audience. I feel like the EP we made is only just beginning to get a lot of the feedback I wanted it to have over the summer, which is really great. I don’t even know what to expect when we come back. It's a little scary and a little nerve wracking, but also so exciting. I have dreams of going to concerts and especially playing music in front of people again. I’m most excited for that. And I have so many music video ideas. Of course the pandemic hasn’t totally prohibited us from that, but we’ll just f--king hit the ground running and it’ll go so much faster when it’s over.
You've recently announced that your long time collaborator Renn Mulloy has left the band, will she still be on your upcoming album?
It’s definitely not the end of Renn playing with the band, we’re just going to change how we present that. That’ll allow her to be Renn Mulloy and have her own career. I think it’s really exciting, and I also hope to (and plan on) being a part of it in some way. A lot of that stuff for this upcoming album will be “Fever dolls (feat. Renn Mulloy),” and the same with the videos. In terms of looking at the future, touring, and keeping this thing together, logistically it just felt like a natural thing to do. It definitely felt weird and kind of sad at first, but I think ultimately it means that both of us will put out more music which is a good thing.
Do you think you’ll continue on with the members that are currently part of the band or do you think you’ll look for another female voice?
That's a really good question. I have a hope for the band that in addition to it being “Fever Dolls (feat. Renn Mulloy)” that we’ll start doing more collaborations with a lot of different people. When you think of a live show or tour it probably does make sense to hire a single person to do all those secondary vocals, but the reality is we haven’t kept one lineup consistent song to song. The EP was the same group of people but every single was a totally different group of musicians and our friends because it's so hard to keep a band together. I totally plan to keep collaborating with those guys but realistically I can’t say that even the rest of that lineup is going to keep touring together. There are a lot of questions about what the future looks like from a touring standpoint but in the meantime I’m just trying to finish making this album the way I’ve done all of the other releases up until now. I feel really good about it. I feel and trust as I have with past releases that so long as the music is really f--kin good that the rest of it will fall into place. It has always helped to find people to play in the band when the music is good and people like it so I’m just gonna do that.
Do you have an idea of when you’ll be releasing this new album?
It's probably going to be early summer and I’ll start releasing singles in the next couple months. One thing that has popped up that’s been a weird delaying factor is printing physical copies of our music and doing a vinyl run. We’ve found that there was a lot of interest in us doing that, so now we’re trying to release the EP on vinyl. It’ll be a deluxe vinyl that’ll have the 4 other singles we released before then. It’s going to take about 3 months to press so when I think about the album we’re putting out It’s at a minimum 3 months away, but we’ll release singles and videos before then.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers and musicians?
Two pieces of advice- one, focus on your songwriting as much as possible. Most people I encounter are better producers and better musicians than I am, but I spend a ton of time writing songs and I think that it really pays off. The other thing I would advise people to do is leave nothing to chance when it comes to collaborating with people. Don’t rely on anybody else, which sounds really cynical, but for example if you have a photo shoot, go to that photo shoot with 5 different specific ideas in your head. And if you’re recording an album, have an idea for what every single sound and instrument is going to sound like. The reality is you cannot rely on other people to care about your projects as much as you do. You just need to have ideas. Ideas on top of ideas.
Anything to plug?
Yes! Look out for those EP vinyls I mentioned before, they’re going to be awesome. I was just talking to our artist friend this morning about the inserts she’s going to do for that and I just want to own this thing so bad. It’s going to be so cool. And then look for new singles to be dropping in the next month, month and a half. I’m really excited about this new album that is going to begin trickling out, I really think it’s the best stuff that we’ve ever done.
Stepping back from being an interviewer for a moment, I must express how much I adore Fever Dolls. Allis proves that an artist does not need to define themselves with an easy to digest label in order to make music that means something. His lyrics are both complex and genuine; the melodies of each of his songs are wildly different yet they fit together seamlessly. These are the kinds of songs that only get more beautiful the longer you spend with them. They’re honest. Take some time out of your day to check out the nine tracks released already, you absolutely will not regret it.
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