Evan Maines (StateBirds) Bears His Soul On ‘Here and Not’
Here and Not is a title of juxtaposed extremes, one that conjures the spiritual reality of “already and not yet.” It’s the feeling of ephemera, of mono no aware. It’s the sense that most of the constants in life and most of the things we were promised are fleeting facades.
On his first proper solo release, Evan Maines deconstructs some of these ideas and adds his own soulfully-subdued voice to the conversation. These four tracks were written over the past few months, amid the major upheavals of lockdown orders, job loss, travel, and self-discovery. This is not a high-production effort, but it rests firmly in the beauty of “four chords and the truth.”
If you’re not familiar with Maines’ prior work under the StateBirds moniker, just know that these songs are a different beast (though you’ll certainly want to check out the rest of the catalog). If you are somehow familiar with his previous work, this EP is far more folk/Americana than the sort of angsty bluesy indie of “Lettermen” and similar tracks. And admittedly, there’s some pain in this fluctuation as there was a hinted follow up album on the way.
But life changes and Maines’ inevitable move created an incubator for a new set of circumstances and songs alike.
“I exist between two places. One is the future, and one’s your past,” Maines remarks, opening “I’m Gonna Steal Your Heart.” Indeed, it’s this sentiment of being caught in the unknown that is fundamental to these song. This opening line feels like a thesis of what’s to come.
The track itself again is a sonic departure from earlier StateBirds releases—certainly more of a singer-songwriter vibe, but much more interesting than your average lonely white man playing “grandpa guitar.” Maines knows how to create a compelling narrative, and that’s always at the forefront of his work. But it’s in the subtleties of his rhythmic patterns, chord choices, and carefully-layered reverb that makes this track feel more instantly-endearing. There’s a fair share of harmonica—which is inevitably going to be a bit divisive—but it helps cement the alt-country vibe of the track.
“Sedona Ryder” speaks of Arizona, and it has an appropriate dusty, barren feeling. Again, there are only a few layers here—namely Maines’ voice, guitar, and some sort of intermittent shimmering drone. And while it’s easy to imagine what even some simply drumming would add here, it’s a thought that seems improper to suggest. This is a sentimental track that relies on this negative space for its imagery and narrative. “We’re all on borrowed time,” Maines laments. Some of the sentiments here are more profound than others, but the ultimate mood is that of loss, be it love or just what to expect from life. It’s a coming-of-age story laden with broken expectations.
“Where are your friends, the friends you talk about?” It’s a biting, perhaps even sarcastic question, one that calls to mind the vanity of many friendships built solely on convenience. We’re told college is the time we’ll make friends for life, only to graduate and never hear from many of our classmates ever again. We change jobs, and suddenly it’s too burdensome for us to connect with former colleagues. People get married and become insular. “Your Friends” uncomfortably exposes the prevalence of the reality. Where are our friends? Do they actually care about us? Obviously, Maines cannot answer this for us, but he reminds us we’re not alone when we feel abandoned by those who claim to love us.
“Please Don’t Call” is perhaps the most akin to previous StateBirds tracks of the four. The guitar tone is comforting and familiar. Vocal harmonies are peppered through the chorus, adding some extra life to a track that rests solely on guitar and vocals. Maines flexes a bit more vocally here, displaying that certain soulful quality that made “How Did We End Up Here?” so captivating.
Here and Not is an exploration of ephemera—the pain of loss, questioning the familiar parts of life, trying to make out how much of what we experience is real. There’s a famous saying in marketing: “50% of my marketing is working, but I don’t know which half that is.” And as uncomfortable as it may be to admit, we’ve been sold on certain ideas of what success, happiness, purpose, friendship, love, and honesty look like. Here, Maines doesn’t tell us which parts of life we’ve been indoctrinated on are false. But he does acknowledge that it’s worth asking these questions. Even in what might otherwise feel like a sappy love song, Maines gives us a wide-angle view of life in which this relationship is contextualized. Here and Not may not be the catchiest or best-produced EP by any stretch, but it serves its purpose well as an earnest account of one man’s struggles in this entropic world, and his plight has a universal echo.