Westerly songwriter Will Evans is finalist in national competition

Will Evans (Submitted)
Will Evans (Submitted)

It's 2,927 miles from Rhode Island's western border to Los Angeles.

This seemingly random bit of cartographical minutiae doesn't roll off the tongue in particularly melodic fashion. Try to imagine it, though, from the perspective of Westerly folk-pop-rock musician/songwriter Will Evans — and it suddenly takes on an infectious, hooky-chorus quality.

LA, after all, is much associated with rock stardom and the music biz, a fact Evans knows from personal experience. In 2014, he was flown there as one of 10 finalists in the prestigious Guitar Center Singer-Songwriter Competition. That contest garnered more than 10,000 applicants across the country and, though Evans didn't win, just being selected to appear got his name and music in front of a lot of industry folks.

Tonight, Evans is back in the City of Angels in a similarly cool situation. He's playing at the renowned Viper Room as one of five finalists in Cumulus Media's neXt2rock talent search, which garnered over 2,000 entries nationwide. He entered the competition through local Cumulus contest reps, classic rock station 102.3 The Wolf (WMOS).

The finals will be streamed live from 11 p.m.-2 a.m. local time at www.next2rock.com, and the winner gets a contract with Big Machine Records — a  major label that's home to Taylor Swift, Rascal Flatts, Midland and Cheap Trick, among others. Judges for the finale are similarly impressive: Big Machine president Scott Borchetta; Bush frontman Gavin Rossdale; former Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones; musician/songwriter/producer Desmond Child; and engineer/mixer Chris Lorde-Ainge.

Evans will be performing a relatively new song from his catalog called "Adam & Eve." It's an astounding song — what could/should be a career-making accomplishment — that starts with a mellow, seductive bit of mid-tempo groove. Hypnotically, the structure builds in slow-burn fashion, adding intertwining instrumental lines, sculpted and contrapuntal vocal parts and harmonies and a sky-kiss chorus, and culminating with a fist-wallop crescendo. Lyrically, Evans' earnest plea for universal understanding, as envisioned through the primordial prism of the titular couple, is a dazzling display of Gatling-gun rhythm and flow. It's a typical theme for Evans, whose social activism is well established locally.

With his band Rising Tide, Evans debuted "Adam & Eve" on a fall tour and was cautiously pleased by the reaction. "If new material — a song people have never heard before — gets a good reaction, that's worth noting," he says by phone last week. "(The song) was turning some heads at shows and people were asking about it. I thought, 'I dunno, maybe I'm on to something.'"

Recently, Evans posted a video of a solo performance of "Adam & Eve" on YouTube (to see the clip, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QCrdKBudd8E). Utilizing a loop pedal — a multi-track layering effect most associated with Ed Sheeran (though Evans was eloquently employing a loop pedal years ago) — the version is a stunning piece of work. It's also the version he'll replicate live at tonight's finals.

"(neXt2rock) called a few weeks ago and said, 'You're going to Los Angeles,' so I'm more than happy to give it another shot out there," says Evans, who's always soft-spoken and polite in conversation. He's also spent years as a career musician in an incredibly competitive industry where any opportunity must be given serious consideration.  "I'm thrilled to be going out there and humbled to get to appear with these other artists."

Other finalists are the bands Marina City from Chicago; Ivory Black from Kansas City; Another Day Dawns from Wilkes-Barre, Pa.; and Migrant Motel from Los Angeles. It's well worth noting that Evans is the only artist representing a small market.

"We are so thrilled that Will will be representing the New London market and ... The Wolf in Los Angeles," says Jessica Vargas, the Wolf's VP/Market Manager, in a statement. "Will's an extremely talented individual and we can't wait to see him play at the Viper Room in front of some of the biggest names in the rock music industry."

In that context, it should be pointed out that Evans' acoustic-based styled is also fairly distinct from the more rock-based sounds of his competitors.

"I don't really think of myself as a rock artist so I was a bit surprised to be chosen," he says. "At the same time, I don't know what I'd call myself, and maybe what the industry calls 'rock' has expanded a bit. The other groups (in the finals) are all very good, but they seem to be more in the traditional rock or alternative rock style. You never know what (the judges) are looking for, so maybe it's not a bad thing to stand out stylistically."

Evans submitted "Adam and Eve" to The Wolf, he says, after the station reached out to him and suggested he enter the contest. "I'm kinda leery of these competition-type things, though obviously I've tried it before," Evans says. "They just make me a bit uncomfortable. You have to look carefully at what you're getting into because, with some of them, if you succeed, you might give up a lot of artistic control. And there are a lot of these contests. I wonder sometimes if people remember who won season 13 of this or season 11 of that. With some of these shows, it almost seems more about the judges' careers than the competitors. But the judges for (neXt2rock) are serious, committed industry professionals."

Indeed, the more Evans studied neXt2rock's concept, the more he thought it was worth his time to enter. He says, "With this, you can play your own music and I can hang my coat on my original song. The idea is to get the material in front of as many eyes and ears as I can."

After winning a first-round live showcase in the Mohegan Sun Wolf Den, Evans became one of 40 regional finalists across the U.S. A nationwide panel of rock radio personalities then evaluated recordings and videos of the regional champions and winnowed it down to the five artists competing tonight.

That Evans has now twice made the finals in reputable national songwriting competitions probably doesn't surprise his following, which is substantial and committed throughout New England. It's also spread over time, first as frontman with the band Barefoot Truth and, in recent years, as a solo artist and/or with Rising Tide, to growing pockets of fans across the country.

Naturally, Evans hopes for the best, but he's been around long enough to know there's no real downside, no matter what happens in the finals.

"You can't ignore the music industry no matter what changes are going on with it," Evans says. "We're at a point in today's world where you can definitely have a successful career on a smaller scale and without a major label. I've been working the independent approach for years, and its working. But its also slow."

He pauses. This is something Evans has clearly thought about a great deal. "It's also true that big labels still to an extent have a stranglehold with their signed artists, and the machine overall still works for them. Yeah, there's a lot of (musical) fluff in mainstream media, and it's no surprise a lot of listeners just make the choice to go back to classic rock. There's a lot of music out there, but we're not always exposed to it."

Evans laughs. "I'm 32 years old and at times I sort of fear the icy grip of The Man. But I also want my music to have every chance, and I'm optimistic and excited about (tonight) and about my career going forward. I'm not willing to do anything, but I'm not afraid to try anything, either. Maybe (at tonight's finals) I'm not what they're looking for. But maybe I can make a connection. Maybe someone says, 'You're not right for us but we might know someone.'

"Ultimately, being in Los Angeles and getting to meet these other artists from across the country brings it all back to why you're doing it in the first place. At the end of the day, we'd all do it for free. When you strip away all the ego and the attitude, you get back to the fun of it all. We're all a bunch of guys and girls trying to avoid reality. But it's also, actually, a necessity to me. It's my life. If my songs can affect someone, that's a greater asset than money. If someone says my song helped them at this or that time in my life, well, that's why I do it."

r.koster@theday.com

Will Evans (Submitted)
Will Evans (Submitted)

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