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Hear Nebraska | Q&A with Evan Bartels: On Struggle, Grace, Redemption

Evan Bartels had the pleasure of being interviewed by Hear Nebraska's Jamie Vassar. They talk about Evan's tour, songwriting, the Stoney Lonesomes, and the upcoming release of his debut album, The Devil, God & Me.

Read the full article below or on Hear Nebraska


Evan Bartels: On Struggle, Grace, Redemption | Q&A

By Jamie Vassar

As one might imagine, most of the world’s stories are never truly told. They exist as small, untraceable specters that leave only the faintest reminders: those moments in which words perch at the tip of your tongue but never leave, or a surge of joy gone as soon as it is consciously realized.

These are the shared, unsung experiences that Evan Bartels is dedicated to conveying in his music. Together with Americana band the Stoney Lonesomes, Bartels’ warm vocals dance between the soft, soothing guitar, keys and heartbeat of the drum that moves each track. Bartels’ debut full-length The Devil, God and Me, out Sept 23, chronicles some of the Omaha songwriter’s own demons and decisions.

“This record portrays what it’s like to have sort of the classic tale of struggle, grace, and some form of redemption,” Bartels says.

Before Evan Bartels and the Stoney Lonesomes take to Tower Square this Friday for Hear Lincoln, its bandleader was kind enough to exchange emails with HN about his recent travels, love of storytelling and spiritual inspirations for the album.

Hear Nebraska: You’ve been touring a lot recently, with both your blog and Instagram speaking to your reflections on being isolated on the road. How does this time affect your music?

Evan Bartels: Alone time definitely adds lots of time for introspection which is something I rely on for my writing. When you add new cities and new experiences to the mix every single day without having someone to share it with it pretty quickly starts to get processed through writing.

HN: How do live performances fluctuate and adapt between playing with the Stoney Lonesomes and when you play solo?

EB: Whether it’s with my full band or when I’m playing solo, I always try to make the story in the song the most important part. The band definitely adds a lot to the music but when I play solo I’m more likely to try newer songs out that I’m working on and try to flesh them out on stage.

HN: You’ve mentioned the song “Shallow Water” stems from a mistranslation of Nebraska’s etymology, the actual meaning being “flat water”. Even so, how would you say the imagery spoke to your interpretation of the state’s identity and your relation to it?

EB: To me that song speaks to all of the people like myself who’ve always wanted to travel outside of Nebraska but still love the landscapes and culture here. The first line in the song, “ramble on, you restless heart, cutting in like a wind coming down from the north,” was written with that in mind. The desire to be a nomadic person but have pride in your home and the relationship between the two.

HN: In your song “Send My Love to New Orleans” you speak with an affinity for the city and its complex nature. With the city being such an iconic fixture in music culture how would you say it connects with your own work?

EB: New Orleans connects with me simply because the first time I went there I was 16 years old and it changed my life. I was there for two weeks with limited supervision so I took as much time as I could to go off by myself and explore, even sneaking out of the hotel late night / early morning. Being in that city in my formative teen years had a huge impact on me and every time I go back it’s like visiting a past lover or an old friend.

HN: The group’s debut album The Devil, God, & Me has some obvious biblical themes. Faith plays a large role in your music but what led to the decision to use it as the framework for the group’s first release?

EB: I wrote this album about me and my life’s experiences so far and finished writing it about two years ago, but it was a long process to complete it because I wanted it to tell a story. Not just a story in each song but the overall arc of the album. I grew up a Christian in the Lutheran Church and as I’ve grown and learned and thought and studied scripture and religion as well as other religions I’ve reimagined and reformed my ideas of faith many times over. I think this record accurately portrays what it’s like to have sort of the classic tale of struggle, grace, and some form of redemption. It’s called The Devil, God, & Me simply because that’s who it’s about.

Evan Bartels & the Stoney Lonesomes perform at Tower Square this Friday, Aug. 11 with Orion Walsh & the Rambling Hearts. The free concert runs from 5-7 p.m. RSVP here.