Kevin Mitchell is a man of many faces. Be it featuring as one quarter of Basement Birds, the frontman of iconic Aussie indie rockers Jebediah, or Bob Evans, Mitchell’s solo singer-songwriting quasi alter-ego.
But behind all those faces is the same charming, affable man that seems perfectly at home at a hip South Melbourne cafe tucked away in one of the city’s many trademark alleyways, where he has settled in for a day of interviews.
With three albums under his belt as Bob Evans and a fourth, entitled Familiar Stranger, to be released early 2013, the project has definitely extended far beyond its initial phases as somewhat of a joke.
“Bob Evans was actually originally going to be a character. I was going to do interviews as the manager,” Mitchell says, laughing, and it’s easy to imagine the charismatic individual fully taking on a new persona in jest.
But as Mitchell got more into writing for the solo project, he decided to break away from these antics. “The songs that I was writing were really personal… to do it as a character just didn’t feel right, it didn’t feel right to kind of trivialize it, the songs were too important to me, I didn’t want it to be a joke.”
Mitchell describes writing for the solo moniker as an intensely personal, isolated experience, as compared to writing with his “best mates,” which he says is “a real democratic process, it’s like trying to pass legislation.”
“With Bob I’m on my own,” he elaborates, “I’m not sharing it with anybody… the only person that can hold me back is myself. If I have an idea I can act on it immediately and I can push it as far as I feel inspired to push it.”
Mitchell refers to ‘Bob’ as almost a very old friend, and in a certain way, he is.
Having been performing under the moniker for nearly 15 years now, beginning as a means to escape the inevitable Jebediah song requests.
“It was just a way to be incognito, to separate myself from Jebediah. I had to create this kind of pseudonym so I could do things without people really knowing about it and having expectations about it,” says Mitchell
Familiar Stranger has been nearly four years in the works, with both Basement Birds and Jebediah producing albums in between, and according to Mitchell, this extended break was required to refresh and reinvigorate the Bob Evans music.
“I needed a break, I felt like I’d reached the end of the road a bit, with what I was doing with Bob. I felt like I’d gone as far as I could or wanted to go with that style of music that I was making… it had been pretty much a ten-year, three-album road that I’d walked down, I definitely felt like I needed a break so that I could refresh and do something new.”
Mitchell already has three albums under his belt as Bob Evans, including 2006’s Suburban Songbook, focusing on a suburban idealistic upbringing; and 2009’s Goodnight, Bull Creek! – named after the Perth suburb where Mitchell lived between the ages of 5 and 18.
The songs have always had a personal, honest appeal, including themes of lost youth, depression, and even reconciliation.
Mitchell seems remarkably laid back for a man with so much going on, with a new single, an EP and album on the way, a national tour in the works. As well as a Rockwiz tour, not to mention fatherhood duties, it’s surprising he has time for a morning coffee, let alone a day of interviews.
“I have zero social life. I have no hobbies, I have nothing else except making music and being a father,” Mitchell says jokingly.
If new single ‘Don’t Wanna Grow Up Anymore’ is anything to go by, the new album definitely marks a new direction for Evans, featuring a more pop sound and diverse instruments, decidedly different from the previous albums’ flavour.
As Mitchell states emphatically: “I don’t sit and listen to alt-country and folk music all day anymore…if I had made another record with the same sort of musical pallet as the last two I would have been forcing it”.
Nowadays, Mitchell is listening to progressive pop music such as Goldfrapp and Santigold, as well as the likes of Wilco and Spoon, who have “been around for ages but remained interesting.” From ‘Don’t Wanna Grow Up Anymore’ alone, it is clear the strong impact that this genre has had on the recordings.
“The new record is probably the most stylistically diverse, there’s much more of a conceptual thread going through… musically it goes all over the place,” explains Mitchell.
For the first Bob Evans release in nearly four years, Mitchell returned to Sing Sing Studios in Richmond, the same place where the first two Jebediah albums were produced, a place too where Mitchell “immediately felt at home.”
“The Jebediah record helped inspire me a lot, the experimental attitude that we had definitely influenced the attitude of this record… the idea of using the studio as an instrument.”
To commemorate the release of his new EP, Mitchell embarked on a five date tour, playing intimate venues around the country, a deliberate choice to help ease back into the Bob Evans persona.
“From a purely selfish point of view, [it’s] a nice, comfortable, confidence-building experience,” he explains. “I want the shows that I was doing coming back to be as small as possible… like being in a living room and playing to friends.”
Despite the impending tour schedule, almost constant recording, interviews, and various other commitments, Kevin Mitchell still seems humbled and honoured to be able to do what he loves everyday.
“It’s the life that I’ve chosen and I’m lucky that I’ve got the life that I’ve chose.”
Bob Evans plays the Tamworth Country Music Festival and the Slam Beach Volleyball Festival in January, followed by the Geelong Beer Festival in Feb and Moomba in March. Full dates and details here.