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The Buddy System

In a bad economy for musicians and everybody else, emo troubadour Evan Thomas Weiss finds salvation in collaboration.



Evan Thomas Weiss doesn't exactly have a lot of name recognition—the 26-year-old emo troubadour, who plays a mix of singer-songwriter ballads and heavy pop-punk tunes, does most of his recording as Into It. Over It., and that can't be helping. But this year alone he's released five split seven-inches with five different collaborators for a project he calls Twelve Towns; he's written and recorded five songs with a new side project called Stay Ahead of the Weather, where he sings and plays guitar; and he's written and recorded five more songs, specifically about his life in Chicago, for IIOI/KOJI (No Sleep), a brand-new split album with one of his frequent touring buddies, Pennsylvania-based Hawaiian singer-songwriter Koji. If you put out that much music with that many different people in that short a time, it seems, an audience will find you.

For the past seven months Weiss has spent at least half his time on the road as Into It. Over It. In May he had to give up his day job, as an assistant retail manager for Threadless, because his schedule was taking him away from Chicago too often. Music is now his day job and his night job too, though it's far from the best time to get into the business. Revenue from U.S. music sales has fallen to less than half of what it was a decade ago—from $14.6 billion in 1999 to $6.3 billion last year—and even touring income, which rose for most of that period, has taken a hit from the bad economy. Gross revenue for North America's top 100 tours was down nearly $200 million in the first half of 2010, compared to the same period in '09. Though those numbers don't say anything directly about tiny acts like Into It. Over It., they do suggest that indie bands are taking their small slice of a shrinking pie.

"It's stressful," says Weiss. "I'm not doing well for myself, but I'm not doing bad for myself either. I'm making enough to pay my rent, I'm making enough to eat, and I'm making enough to have clothes on my back. So, the fact that I'm doing OK enough to survive is enough for me to want to keep going."

Weiss often plays shows with no guarantee, but as a fervent believer in DIY culture, he's convinced he's part of a community of fans and fellow musicians that looks out for its own. "I played Brooklyn last night, didn't make any money, like merch or door," he says. "But I played in Pittsburgh and made $100 on the door and sold like $300 in merch." Occasionally, though, he supplements his income by selling bits of his record collection on eBay.

When Weiss started Into It. Over It. in 2007, it wasn't a solo vehicle but rather a mammoth side project. He was living in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, working full-time as an office manager at Sourpuss Clothing in Gloucester City, and playing in three bands: the Progress, an emo-inflected group he'd cofounded in 2001; Up Up Down Down Left Right Left Right B A Start, an indie-pop act led by his friend Steve Poponi and named after a Konami cheat code; and It's a King Thing, the pop-rock group of another friend, Brian Mietz. But in short order he found himself in need of a creative outlet: he left UUDDLRLRBAS, the Progress was headed for a breakup, and with It's a King Thing he didn't do any songwriting.

Weiss created a challenge for himself: he decided to write and record a song a week for one year, without using old material or working ahead. He usually recorded and mixed each week's tune on Wednesday—often with assistance from Poponi at Gradwell House, the studio he co-owns—and posted it the next day to the Into It. Over It. site. The songs alternated between acoustic ditties and hard-edged, full-band pop punk, and Weiss sang and covered all the instruments on nearly every one, with the major exception of the drum parts—those were covered by Poponi, Jason DiNapoli from the Progress, or Mike Howard from posthardcore metal band Fight Amp. The first song went online September 27, 2007, the day Weiss turned 23.

"I think by the time week ten happened, people were starting to take notice," Weiss says. He hired a publicist, Chuck Daley of North Carolina-based Beartrap PR, and around week 28 he launched an iTunes podcast for his project. By the time the year was up, more than 300,000 people had visited the IIOI site to download at least one of the 52 songs.

But Weiss had made one of the most important connections of his career even before his project began attracting serious traffic. In October 2007, at a Wonder Years show at the Gibson House in Marlton, New Jersey, he met Chris Hansen, founder of a record label called No Sleep.

"We just hung out, talked about hardcore, kind of just shot the shit. I was like, 'Hey, I'm doing this thing, you should check it out,'" Weiss says. Six months after Weiss finished his 52 songs—he posted the last one, "No Big Chorus," on September 18, 2008—Hansen agreed to formally release them.

"He wanted a label to do it, and I was more than happy to do it," Hansen says. "I could play all 52 songs, and just let it play in the background, and I didn't get tired of it." No Sleep covered the cost of remixing and mastering the songs, which became a double CD called 52 Weeks, released in June 2009. (Weiss removed the music from his website after he struck the deal.) Since then No Sleep has sold out the first run of 1,000 copies, and Hansen is looking to re-press.

By the end of the 52 Weeks project, the Progress had called it quits, and since July 2008 Weiss had been playing bass with experimental indie act Damiera—in fact he wrote and recorded the last two 52 Weeks tunes on tour, in the van. But Weiss had his sights set on Chicago. He'd already convinced his girlfriend, Stephanie Baum—who creates plush toys full-time as Steff Bomb—to move here, and she'd taken up residence in Logan Square.

"I was planning on moving after finishing Into It. Over It. I wanted to go to Chicago no matter what," Weiss says. He'd lived here briefly before, subletting a Logan Square apartment from Damage guitarist Brian Adoff for four months in 2003.

"The Fireside [Bowl] was right there; I used to go to the Fireside all the time," Weiss says. "When that's your first experience . . . that's probably the best experience you could have when you're an 18-year-old punk kid. That made me fall in love with it."

In October 2008 Weiss moved in with Baum, and the rest of Damiera followed him to Chicago. The band toured infrequently after that, though, and in November 2009 Raymond asked Weiss to leave the group due to creative differences.

The timing of his ouster actually worked out well for Weiss. In August he'd started working on the next Into It. Over It. project at Andersonville's Drasik Studios with producer Mark Michalik: Twelve Towns, a series of split seven-inches about his experiences on tour in different American cities.

The first split—with former Braid front man Bob Nanna and one of his bandmates from Certain People I Know, Lauren Lo—came out in February on Evil Weevil Records. The sixth and final split—with Such Gold, a pogo-punk band from Rochester, New York—will be coreleased by No Sleep and Mightier Than Sword early next year. Each is being pressed in an edition of 500, and two of the splits—with Philadelphia indie rockers Everyone Everywhere and Chicago emo act Castevet—have already sold out.

The Twelve Towns series is conspicuously missing a Chicago song, but the city is the focus of Weiss's side of his split album with Koji, which came out this week.

"The initial idea was to write these songs about Europe, but when I started sitting down to write, all these stories about Chicago started coming out," he says. He wrote the five songs in 20 days and recorded them in seven, and though they're technically about Chicago neighborhoods—Wicker Park, Humboldt Park, Ravenswood, Pilsen, and Logan Square—the album itself is more about community than geography.

"The thing that we really wanted to make sure people knew about the split was how much of it was a collaborative effort, how it was basically friends coming together to make something," Weiss says. He worked with Koji on the latter's side (and vice versa), and for his own songs he brought in friends to fill out the tracks: Castevet front man Nick Wakim played drums, Phil Vickers of Zach Pietrini & the Broken Bones fiddled with a slide guitar, and Weiss's friend Kate Grube added some vocals.

His love for Chicago notwithstanding, Weiss has spent almost half of 2010 away from the city, touring solo with an acoustic guitar to keep his expenses down and supporting himself mostly on door money. This summer he traveled to Europe for the first time, opening for scrappy local punk band Grown Ups on a 40-day tour that took him to 11 countries. On Halloween, Weiss made his first appearance at the Fest, a punk-centric blowout in Gainesville, Florida.

Next month he'll open three dates for labelmates Atlantic/Pacific (whose lineup includes former Texas Is the Reason front man Garrett Klahn), ending at Schubas on December 3. Then No Sleep will release a seven-inch EP by Stay Ahead of the Weather—where Weiss is joined by Wakim on drums and Bobby Markos of northern Indiana band Native on bass—and after Christmas they'll tour with Castevet, wrapping up at Subterranean on January 2.

Weiss doesn't necessarily get to rest when that's over, though. He's scheduled to record a full-length album in February—it's due in the summer on No Sleep—though he hasn't yet had a chance to write any of it.

"I just have to keep going for it, because if I don't go for it now, I probably won't ever be able to make it happen," he says. "So, I just gotta do it, and if I'm fucked, then I'm fucked, and if not, it's awesome. But either way, I'll figure it out."   

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