Five Questions with Evan Rifas

Evan Rifas has been active in South Florida's music community since the early '90s and he has maintained a relatively quiet presence that has allowed him to fine-tune his astute and articulate sensibilities.

Aside from being a great poetic lyricist, he seamlessly weaves personal experience with observation and quirky pop culture subject matter. He is also a multi-instrumentalist with a fine ear for composition.

With a debut effort for Rifas finally under his belt, Evan and his band performed at Bardot last night. We had a chance to pick his brain.

Crossfade: Who are you? Where do you come from? And where are you going?

Evan Rifas: The first part is the only thing I can know for sure.

In my humble opinion, you've always been a very keen observer of the environment and that has translated well into your lyrical content. Can you describe your approach to lyricism and musical composition?

Creation is definitely a mystery. A lot of people try to chase after it. But for me, it's always been the other way around. Everyone is different and there's no right or wrong method. I have a friend who will intentionally sit down to write a song and he'll pore over a verse or lyric. That works for him and I love his songs, whether they took two minutes or two years. But it's not at all how it is for me.

Music just hits me from out of nowhere and not necessarily at the most convenient times either. I'll be driving, taking a shower, in a plane at thirty thousand feet. You name it.

Here's a classic example: "West Bay," the last song on Is Here A Sense, came to me when I was right in the middle of a loud/bustling bar in San Francisco a few years ago. One minute I'm in the middle of a conversation and then this idea pops into my brain. Luckily, the person I was with that night had a camera, so without any explanation I grabbed it and ran into the men's room, straight into the stall, and shut myself in, as if this would isolate me somehow! I hit the red button on the camera and began singing out this melody with all kinds of emotion!

And these words just flew out of my mouth... "I'm not stickin' round with my hands on the reigns." It was pretty intense in that stall for a second there! As I was leaving, I saw a couple of guys standing there by the sinks staring at me with facial expressions that words can't describe. It cracks me up when I think about what it must have been like from their point of view! I think I just gave a nod and a smile and proceeded back to my regularly scheduled programming. I never even heard the idea again or gave it a second thought until weeks later when I was back home.

Since I've known you, going on 20 years now, you've managed to make some incredibly astute pop tunes without ever sacrificing your integrity, how have you managed to stay under the radar for so long? Where are you headed right now?

When you're truly enjoying what you're doing, I think people can tell. It's genuine and sometimes even contagious. I'm just lucky that the music I happen to make is perceived the way it is.

As for staying under the radar, although I've been heavily involved in music for quite some time, Rifas only recently released our debut album, so it really hasn't been that long. That being said, maintaining anonymity certainly isn't an objective of ours. We definitely want our music to be heard. You start out like a tree that falls in a vacant forest. Breaking through is another story. For us, for now, I think it's little by little.

Some people might think that Rifas is a pet project. But I know that you've surrounded yourself with like-minded individuals. Can you give us some insight into the makings of the recording? The players?

If I'm the heart of this thing, then Ron is certainly the brain. Is Here A Sense is a collection of songs that I wrote. But the finished product you hear is really Ron's handiwork. Beyond his guitar talents, he's also the engineer and a bit of a mad scientist. Dave and Taylor have their creative stamp all over it as well. Taylor is a really mellow guy, so his ideas and bass playing can come off as understated at times. You might even miss it. But there's almost always a hidden melody going on down there. Conversely, Dave is pure energy! There's a layer of excitement that he adds to everything.

Non-traditional moments... There are a few that really stand out to me. For "Ten Ton Shoes," we gave Dave a mallet and a microphone and had him beat the hell out of his washing machine. We affectionately refer to this as the "washer boom." There are even all kinds of kitchenware we ended up recording -- pots, pans, baking sheets, bar stools, olive cans, and even a little tin mint box.

Later in the song, there's a fizzing sound effect that pushes the verse into the bridge. For that, we miked a cup full of ice and poured warm soda into it to achieve that 'pushing' effect. It's actually an idea I'd had on the back burner since I was 16, but it took half my life to find the right place to use it.

To close this first round, what can South Florida expect from one of her most brooding sons?

I'll give you that our music is closer to brooding than it is to lovie gum drops. But I'd probably just characterize it as serious music. I can see how we might come off as brooding or edgy. But there's actually an ultra-positive undercurrent running throughout the album. It's that kind of contrast that really defines our style. The album cover says it all. I think it conveys our vibe perfectly.

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