Evan Dickson Interview
(Done for this website, February, 2001. All copyright laws apply.)
Hidden Speaker started playing in and around Austin in 1998. Shortly after its inception the band entered the studio with John Croslin and began the sessions for their first album, The Brittle Stars. The band has undergone several line-up changes over the years, the only constant being Evan Dickson, the self-described singer/songwriter/guitarist/arranger/control freak behind the band’s music. They have just completed a new ‘untitled’ ep with John Croslin behind the board once again and are currently gearing up for their next round of live shows.
thereivers.net: How did you meet John Croslin and begin working with him?
Evan: I heard about John through my friend Mark at Ojet Records in Houston. I think I was eighteen or nineteen at the time. I was looking for someone to help sequence and edit the mixes for an album I did that ended up never coming out. I met him at the studio and we edited the thing in about an hour and a half, and went our separate ways. After I decided not to release that album I contacted John about doing the sessions with us. By this time I had heard Soft Effects and loved it. I had also heard the stuff he did on Mag Earwig. I was definitely a Matador guy throughout high school-Pavement, GBV, Liz Phair etc… To some extent I still am indie minded and love those bands. I was also feeling stifled and overly self conscious about my music, and my false indie-snobbery was smothering me. I really wanted to break away from that and do something completely unironic and grandiose. I loved Croslin’s production, but worried he would think I was a sellout once we got into the studio. I didn’t really know him and how fair-minded he is.
Those next two days were amazing, John made us feel comfortable in our own skin, and worked like a dog to help us finish those two songs in two days. (The rest was recorded later) He was also very patient with me during the vocals process, which I’m really always worried about. I either sound exactly like steve malkmus, or out of tune and didn’t want either. I think he helped me find a good middle ground in that area. He also had a great sense of humor. I remember hearing those first mixes and feeling overwhelmed with the rock. It was around this time that he introduced me to the Ziggy Stardust album, for which I will be eternally grateful. Even now he’s still patient with me. I have a tendency to start celebrating near the end of the mix. When I’ve had a few beers, I think,”OOOH, this is what Brian Eno would do’ and then try to enforce my idiocy. In reality Brian Eno would rather club a baby seal than take part in my drunken mix lunacy. So John knows how to navigate through that pretty well.
thereivers.net: Were you familiar with the Reivers before working with John?
Evan: I was not familiar with the Reivers. By the second day he had mentioned the Reivers and them being his band from the eighties. I had this image in my mind of them being a cross between Slint and Fugazi. Boy was I wrong. I own Pop Beloved now, which I really like. I also have the vinyl It’s About Time single. Our bass player at the time went out and bought all the stuff of his that Hootie did.
thereivers.net: You’ve worked as an assistant engineer on some of John’s projects. Can you tell us a little about his working style/methods in the studio?
Evan: He’s the man. That’s all I can say. He has a lot of confidence, which usually helps the other artists feel more confident. He’s also great at adapting to different clients personalities. I learned a lot from him about dealing with personalities. My ear got better, I know routing, and I make the best cup of coffee ever. He usually spends a lot of time getting drum tones, which is a good thing. Anytime someone complains that their engineer spent too long getting tones, I think they’re an idiot. That’s what you’re here for isn’t it? There’s a big difference between this place and a four track, don’t you want to reap the full benefit? Anyway, he’s very meticulous in getting tones. He works with a lot of talented artists, I remember observing him mix the Damnations single, ‘Unholy Train’ and feeling privileged. Also, the occasional moron would wander in for a session. John is just as courteous and professional with them as he is with the people who don’t deserve to die.
Evan: Oh yeah. Actually, most artists are pretty well behaved. I remember SINIS came in with a buttload of porn and whiskey. I think at some point they even sent someone out to get more porn. (I should note that John was not involved in, nor encouraged this pursuit.) If you’ve ever seen the Boogie Nights outtakes where Dirk and Chest are asking their producer to speed up the mix several octaves, occasionally someone would come in like that. In that case John gingerly says, “Well, that might work. Let’s try something else first though and see if it doesn’t do the trick”.
Anything else? I tend to remember the Hidden Speaker ones better. I remember while we were recording My Suite @ Baur au Lac, he played guitar on that ending, made it rock more. The tried to remove his part from the mix completely. I made him put it back in. Here’s one, while we were recording our song 16 out of 20 Snakes, he originally sang the harmonies that Deborah Kelly wound up doing. Now, I thought his parts sounded great, but he was pretty freaked out by it. It’s the only time I’ve ever seen him scramble to cover something up. He tried dumping flange and reverb all over his voice until he sounded like a lost coyote tripping on acid wondering where his pack was. It sounded fine in the first place, but now I thought the coyote thing was great and really wish I had a copy of that mix somewhere cuz it was freaky. We wound up calling in Deborah. She came in and did a great job as well. I’ve never seen John so relieved. Which is ridiculous cuz his stuff sounded fine.
thereivers.net: Tell us a little about your band Hidden Speaker, including how you would describe your music.
Evan: I like listening to our music. It’s kind of melodic and dreamy, our new stuff is more aggressive. I basically try and make my favorite album, or the one that would be my favorite If I could gain a reasonable amount of perspective on it.
thereivers.net: What’s the origin of the name Hidden Speaker? And the name of your first album, “The Brittle Stars”, for that matter?
Evan: Our ex-drummer came up with the name. He hated it. I liked it. We kept it. I think his preferred name was “The New Train Deal”. I should mention that John is a purveyor of good band names. I think he and Kevin (Wannabes) started a band once called “The Fire Marshalls of Bethlehem.” Cause they were the only ones who could say there was no room at the inn. The album title Brittle Stars, well a Brittle Star is a type of fish or something that I saw on a geology chart. Though the image I prefer to think of is ‘easily breakable celestial object’. I think it’s also a good metaphor for someone who’s a celebrity only in his own mind. Y’know, don’t tell him he’s not famous, it might kill him. I feel that way sometimes.
thereivers.net: What are your wishes/goals for the band?
Evan: To make my favorite album. And have it sell enough copies to afford the bi-coastal residencies that I so desire. And to have it sell enough copies so I don’t have to spend too much time on tour. Eventually I’ll use the proceeds to create some sort of fascist island-country.
thereivers.net: And the question I always ask –
What are your top 10 favorite albums; your “desert island discs”?
Evan: Here’s where I blow my Indie Cred.
In no particular order:
Guns N Roses – Appetite For Destruction
Tom Petty – Full Moon Fever
The Next Dynamite Hack Record
Groceries – Knuckleheads and Icons
Marilyn Manson – Mechanical Animals (It really is brilliant. John stridently disagrees)
David Bowie – Ziggy Stardust (Even more brilliant, has the same theme too.)
Hole – Celebrity Skin
Smashing Pumpkins – Siamese Dream (Anyone who tells you Gish is better is just too self conscious)
PJ Harvey – Stories From The City
Beach Boys – Pet Sounds
ZZ Top – Eliminator
(photos courtesy of Evan)