By Jenny Neyman
Plucking Katie Evans out of the crescendoing peal of central Kenai Peninsula musicians is a difficult task. Even at 23, she carries a strong tune in her own right, with how much she’s performed, composed and contributed to the local music scene since moving back here in 2006. But it’s nearly impossible to isolate just her melody, since her roots, evolution and blossoming talent are so intertwined with the musicians with which she harmonizes.
“Playing with so many people really seems to be what made me the musician I am now. All the different people I’ve got to play with and sing with and all that,” she said. “I’m like, ‘Hey, let’s get together and play.’ That’s how I get to know people. I like new projects, because the more you play with people, the more you learn,” Evans said.
Ask her about her music and she answers in terms of the musical family tree she’s cultivated. It’s in part The Goodkind, a collaboration with four other local acoustic songstresses. A big chunk of it is playing with Soldotna musician Vickie Tinker, which has led them to write “a ton” of songs, Evans said, and open for The Duhks when they performed in Homer last year. It’s influence from her mom, who inspired her to start playing guitar when she was about 13. Beyond that, it’s a mash-up of the countless musical collaborations in which she’s participated, whether they were formal enough to warrant a band name or, more often then not, just spontaneous jam sessions.
“There is so much talent in this town. I didn’t even know it when I started doing music here. Little subgroups form from bands. Then you can be like, ‘Hey, come up and play bass with me,’ and they just do,” she said.
Evans loves that about music on the peninsula, she said; how she’s been able to form bonds with so many people in the course of playing, performing and just life, and how that all comes back to influence her music.
“There are these moments and experiences, and I’m like, ‘Alright, there’s a song in that.’ It just happens,” she said.
Those experiences shape her music, and her music shapes her life, which led her to decide to move to Austin, Texas, in early August to spend the winter pursuing a music career.
“It’s something I know I have to do, in a way. I love it here. It’s safe here and I want to end up here again. But I’m 23 and I’ll probably never get to do it again, so I’ll go out into the world,” she said.
Even though that meant leaving an environment that’s been fertile for her, musically, it’s not as though she’s completely cut off from her growth here. She’s taking with her what she’s learned and what she’s developed into, and she’s leaving something behind, as well — her first album, “A Passing Afternoon,” released for sale last week, with 12 of Evans’ original songs.
“She’s an amazingly gifted tunesmith. She can create tunes and guitar parts that are very unique, and when it comes out it’s beautiful and melodic,” Tinker said. “… Over the last few years she matured very much as a musician, as a human being and as a spiritual being, so her music has matured, too. Her new CD shows that progress.”
Tinker said she knew Evans since she was a kid, but the two didn’t start playing together until a few years ago. Since then, they’ve been a staple of the local music scene, collaborating as songwriters as well as performers.
“We became family. Katie kind of adopted my husband and I as her Alaska parents, and she is our kid and we became family to her,” Tinker said. “I’m excited for her. It’s a good thing. She has bigger talent than to just stay here. … I am just proud of her for having the courage to do it. She certainly has the talent to do it. When she told me she wanted to do it, I said, ‘Fly. Go.’ I think it’s the first of a lot of good stuff to come.”
Evans has played about every venue possible in the area — coffee shops, churches, music festivals and the like, and opened for professional musicians on tour through Alaska. Her most familiar stage was a corner of Veronica’s Coffee House in Old Town Kenai, where she worked for three years. It was the smallest stage to play, yet it gave her some of her biggest memories.
“Definitely Veronica’s is up there in memorable moments,” she said. “I just love planning concerts and organizing and booking it. It’s like planning a party every night.”
Rebecca Lambourn, former owner of Veronica’s, said Evans was equally, if not more so, memorable for her co-workers and coffee shop patrons than vice versa.
“She’s got very high energy. She could always bring the mood up amongst all the employees and she’s very positive about life. She’d get us all excited about things you’d never think you could get excited about. Like watching all the old, traditional Christmas cartoon movies, starting at about Halloween,” Lambourn said.
Every time the front door creaked open, it was usually followed by “Hey sunshine!” or some other greeting from the smiling, curly-haired blonde behind the coffee counter.
“She’s always glad to see people she knew that would walk into the shop. She’s very welcoming and very loving,” Lambourn said.
Evans took to scheduling musicians to play at Veronica’s, and was always ready to join in with whomever was playing, or take a set herself when an open mic night needed a little boost, Lambourn said. Even if Evans wasn’t in front of the mic, she was supporting whoever was — cheering, dancing, laughing and singing along.
“She could just really get everybody pumped up about all the holidays and all the music events. Sort of, ‘Today is always the best day of the rest of your life,’” Lambourn said. “We all miss her very much. We miss that energy. I heard someone say something like, ‘The air is different around here with Katie gone.’”
“I would say she carries light. She walks into a dark room and lights it up,” Tinker said.
Scot Q. Merry, of Soldotna, who recorded and produced Evans’ album, said he’s happy to have helped send Evans off to Austin with a CD she can distribute, as a sort of calling card or resume for a musician new in town.
“Writing and singing is not the same as recording. It’s a different skill and you have to work at it. I knew that she wanted to do it. There are lots of talented people around here, talented musicians, but she kind of seemed to stand out a little bit,” Merry said.
Their recording budget was “basically nonexistent,” Merry said, so the project took two years of periodic recording, mixing, blending, tweaking, adding and taking away. Local musicians, including Tinker, lend their talents to some of the tracks, and Merry filled in whatever else was needed.
“We always got back to common ground and a happy place. I think that she made the comment that sometimes maybe the piece wasn’t going exactly where she wanted to, but over the evolution of it, it got back there. That’s the way the process works, it grows and grows and grows, and then you’ve created a monster, so you go back and slice a few of its multiple arms off and you’re back where you want it to be. You have to make a few mistakes along the way, and usually a song will seek its own level,” Merry said.
Evans said the recording process at times distanced her from her songs, since she listened to them over and over and over again, yet at the same time brought her more deeply in touch with the music.
“When I write a song, like when I break up with someone, it’s in this intense moment of emotion, and the only thing you can do is to write this song. Then you kind of become numb to it after a while. But you let it go for a month and listen to it again and it’s like, ‘I remember.’ You get back to the passion of the song, and it’s like your entire life in this little square. And then you can give it to somebody. Music’s cool that way,” she said.
Since most of the album was inspired by events during Evans’ time on the peninsula, it’s a sort of journal of her life here. Some songs will be familiar to people who’ve heard her play, although they may not recognize the titles, and others will be new to even Veronica’s regulars.
“The ‘Algebra Song,’ which is really not the ‘Algebra Song,’ but that’s what everybody calls it. They won’t recognize the titles because they’ve been making up their own titles for three years,” Evans said. “And a lot (of songs) I haven’t played out much. I didn’t want people to have a preconceived notion of what a song is like, and it’s different and then not like it.”
“A Passing Afternoon” is available for $10 at Veronica’s, and Evans hopes to have it available online, as well. She can still be reached through Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, and plans to be back in Kenai in the spring, to assess her future plans and reconnect with her past, which may someday be her future.
“I would love living off of my music, traveling around and singing — that would be my dream life, to go around the world, meeting people and singing gigs every night. If that doesn’t work out, I could see myself come back here,” she said. “I have tons of plans if I don’t like Austin or it doesn’t work out for right now. This music scene is going to be taken by storm if I come back to it. I can’t say goodbye, I’ve just been saying a lot of ‘See you next summer.’ These people here are my everything, and I can’t say goodbye forever.”