Listen to Evan Friedell for five minutes, and you get a feeling he’s in-tune with things around him.
The front man of Jimkata, the electro-rock trio out of Ithaca, is a conduit to the energy that surrounds him. Call it The Force, call it Zen — which he often does — it’s that vibe from the crowd that helps him on stage. It’s the muse behind the music he also writes.
From behind the name of a bad ’80s movie, the 30-year-old Friedell sounds just as equally beyond his years as he reflects back to how he stumbled into writing and how he continues along his musical path.
Friedell sat down to a phone interview with us last week as he and the band prepare to play at Albany.
MH: The origins behind the name Jimkata: Where’d that come from?
EF: “That, actually, comes from a hilariously bad, American-made kung-fu movie called ‘Gymkata.’ It goes back to when we first started playing as a band. We were in need of a name before a show. Before one of our first shows, actually. Ever. And, a friend of ours who we were playing with, and recording with, showed us this movie. We thought it was funny, and the name came up while we were looking for a name. And the name kinda stuck ever since. At this point, we tell people there’s no real necessarily rhyme or reason, we just liked the sound of it. If anyone is curious about the movie, tell them to YouTube it, because you’re definitely in for a good laugh.”
MH: That’s what I thought it was. I’m old enough to remember the movie.
EF: “Yeah, there’s definitely certain age demographic that comes up to us and is like, ‘Wait. Are you named after the movie?’ Because, it has kinda a short shelf life.”
MH: Listening to your music, and pouring over some of the interviews you’ve done, I hear and read you reference Zen often, so you strike me as a spiritual type of person. How often does spirituality play into your writing process?
EF: “It plays a lot in the writing process. I guess the way I view song writing is that it’s not something you necessarily try to do. For my whole life, the way I’ve written songs is that they kind of come to me. I sort of view it as opening yourself up to some other portal, or realm, or something. That, in itself, is a pretty spiritual thing. I’ve almost become more spiritual as I’ve become older, and as I’ve gone through this writing process more and more. Anytime you sit down and try to write a song, nothing good comes out, but these cool moments when you’re not at all thinking about anything, and just an idea comes to you, you’re just off to the races. So, I’ve just learned to respect that process. It goes hand-and-hand with my spirituality.”
MH: You’re more or less a slave to the epiphany.
EF: “Yeah. Somewhat. I mean, you can try to put in an eight-hour day at your computer, writing songs, but you’re definitely a slave to the epiphany. For sure.”
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MH: Now you write the lyrics, you play guitar, you sing lead — What comes first, the lyrics or the music?
EF: “It can go either way. Sometimes when I come up with a song, it comes with the lyrics and the melody right away, and then I build around that. Other times, it’s just an instrumental idea with some sort of wordless, vocal hook that I have to put words to. Other times, it’s something that Aaron [Gorsch] or Packy [Lunn] has written where it’s totally instrumental, and my goal as a lyric writer is to respect that song and try to talk with it. It’s a weird thing, to try to not stomp on it with too many words or the wrong vocal… feeling, but just think about what the song evokes emotionally and try to write something that fits it.”
MH: You sound very much like the wordsmith, the writer. What drew you towards music?
EF: “Man. I don’t know. I grew up in a musical family. My mom’s side of the family has a lot of musicians in the family. That’s sort of always been around me. My mom did a lot of musical theater as well while I was growing up. I was always in the theater, around the idea of performing. Then I was taking piano lessons as a kid, because I had to. Then I quit that, and my parents said, ‘You got to do something. You have to play an instrument.’ And, I picked up a guitar, and I fell in love with it.
Writing came about, now that I look back at it as an adult, as a way to process some things I was feeling I couldn’t put words to. My little brother died while I was a kid. When I became a teenager, I didn’t know how to process, so that was a way for me of doing that.”
MH: I came across that information and understand the music was a coping process for you, and, with me thinking as a writer also, I fully understand. When you create and put something on paper and release it for others to read or listen to, you’re releasing music out into the world and that leaves you at a very vulnerable state. How do you deal with that? I’m sure that’s something you’re conscious of as well.
EF: “Yeah, absolutely. It’s a funny thing. When you’re something, and you’re writing music, you get pretty attached to it. You go through these cycles. I think I actually heard an interview with Beck. He was talking about this kind of thing. He was basically saying, when you first write something, you love it. You think it’s the greatest thing in the world. Then, a week later, you’re like it’s complete [crap], I can’t believe this. A week after that, it’s okay. You edited this part. Edited that. Now it sounds really good. Then, I feel like, as I release it, sometimes I just want to run and hide. What is everyone going to think. You know? Are they going to think it’s total [crap]? I’ll go back and listen to the album a bunch of times…. Yeah, some days, I’m driving home at night and I put the album on, and I say this is awesome. Other nights, I put it on and go, ‘I dunno.’ It’s a volatile, funny process.”
MH: I understand your brother, Russ, is the band’s manager. How cool is that to have a family member tag along with you?
EF: “Very cool! It’s been a family operation this entire time. We both have grown together in our respective fields here as musician and as manager over the years. We’ve kinda watched each other go through this learning process, to the point Russ is managing two other bands now. He’s gained a lot of knowledge through his experience.”
MH: Going back to your music. You often speak of the energy surrounding any given thing, whether it’s the crowd to which you’re playing or the writing process, how important is tapping into that energy for you?
EF: “It goes both ways. For example, in terms of creative writing, I used to work this job. I was a delivery driver for Meals on Wheels, and it allowed me to have a lot of time alone in a van, driving around the countryside here. But, it also allowed me to have a lot of interaction with people I didn’t know, with elderly folks and disabled folks around the county. I got to hear little bits of their life stories everyday. That was kind of cool. Both being inspired by being around others, and also having time in the car to reflect about it. Then, pulling a show, it’s definitely just all crowd energy. It’s exponential. A good show, when there’s a big crowd, or at least a full room of people all into the music, it gives you the ability to do whatever to play a great show. And, the energy just goes back and forth. I think that’s why live shows are such a powerful experience.”
MH: It’s a powerful think for the crowd, too. Now, you’ve been doing this for, what, ten years now? What motivates you to keep going? Not that ten years is a hell of a long time, but do you still get a big charge out of playing to a large crowd?
EF: “Well, there’s a lot of things. For one, I really can’t see myself doing anything else. Now that I’m in it, I’ve been doing it for so long, it’s just who I am. It’s what I do. I just really enjoy it. I was listening to one of my favorite comedians, Louis C.K. was talking about a point in his career when he was thinking about quitting comedy. Things just weren’t going his way. But, he said, ‘Quitting comedy was like getting out of prison and not knowing what to do. Because, I was in the comedy world for so long, I didn’t know how to be anything else.’ There’s that aspect of it. It’s what I did. I love it. I really love songwriting. And, then, it’s sort of the fans. With every tour we go on. At some point, a couple of years ago, we started to switch from people coming in to check us out to hardcore fans who know all the words. Who are very engaged. That level of engagement has kept me encouraged to keep going.”
Jimkata takes to the stage at The Hollow Bar + Kitchen in Albany on Friday, May 20, at 8 p.m. Tickets are on sale at the door for $12. For more information, visit bobcatbarscheduler.com.