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Bob Evans (Jebediah)

In late 2004, Kevin Mitchell - vocalist/guitarist for beloved Australian indie pop outfit Jebediah - was in the midst of touring his band's Braxton Hicks album when an old friend came a' calling. The year prior, under the guise of `Bob Evans’, Mitchell had released a low key solo LP, Suburban Kid, an acclaimed debut that showcased another, more intimate side of his songwriting ability. With the cycle of touring nearing an end, Mitchell felt compelled not only to revisit the moods and mode of Bob Evans, but to exceed it on what would become the follow-up album.

Ambitions were high, even if circumstances were initially uncertain. Without a record deal and staring his first ever bout of writers block in the face, Mitchell set up a modest recording space at home and decided to simply write his way out of the fog. "It's because of these circumstances that I am so proud of the record and regard it as a small, personal triumph," he says of the new Bob Evans album, aptly titled Suburban Songbook.

Going to work each day in the back sunroom of his home, Mitchell began recording songs purely for his own listening pleasure, daring himself to write orchestral epics via synthesizer and pop songs that blasted with horns one minute and thumped with pianos the next. As the months rolled by, the cloud began to lift. “I was just totally indulging my own little fantasies,” he recalls, “just being really ambitious because it was just for my private universe. I became more and more obsessed with the process and started treating the demo as if it were the actual album because I was getting so excited by the results. That’s how I was doing it for months, then eventually some people heard it, and dug it.”

By the time EMI Music indicated their interest, Mitchell had demoed more than 20 new songs, eventually choosing 12 he wanted to feature on the new LP. In the search for producers, Nashville-based Brad Jones (Josh Rouse, Yo La Tengo, Sheryl Crow) surfaced as an immediate (and enthusiastic) protagonist. Jones took Mitchell’s wide-eyed-and-gritty vision for the album and suggested a more refined, listener-friendly approach. In September of 2005, Mitchell had packed his bags and was ready to work. “By the time I arrived in Nashville I’d refined it down to making something more cohesive, structured and workable, rather than making this full on record where every song is just all over the place,” he recalls. “I didn’t want the sentiment of the songs being lost amongst my musical ideas.”

With access to some of Nashville’s tastiest players (including ex-Wilco drummer Ken Croomer) work began on an album that would be “heavy on varied instrumentation without being some kind of overproduced monolith.” So while there may be an abundance of horns, pedal steel, cellos, violin and flute to be heard here and there on the LP, they’re all staying true to the suburban kid. “We always thought about it as making a record rather than recording a bunch of songs,” Mitchell explains. “That was foremost in our minds. We wanted to make a classic album, something true sounding and cohesive. Pure and natural, all those kinds of things rather than having any illusions about making the next White album.” The result is an album that shoots for the sky and keeps its feet on the ground. First single, Don’t You Think It’s Time? is a warm hug of alt-country; I’m Coming Around and Don’t Walk Alone wail with horn arrangements that complement Mitchell’s solo confidence; while the troubled dreamscape of The Battle Of 2004 - the first song written for the album - is lifted to heavenly places via pedal steel and strings. Interestingly, while Nashville was the birthplace of this recording, the music floats around that environment and beyond it. “Nashville had a profound influence on me personally,” Mitchell reflects, “it was life-changing. “But apart from having lots of really great players living there I don’t think it really affected the sound of the album. People will listen to it and hear pedal steel, but those who know me know that that’s an instrument I would have wanted anyway.”

Lyrically, Mitchell transcends the country tinges to focus on homespun intimacies. Big adventures can indeed happen in little worlds and it’s in this realm that the personal can evoke the universal. “I wanted to really push the idea and feeling of turning the `Suburban Everyday’ into something of almost fairytale quality,” Mitchell explains. “Of romanticism. That magic can happen in the suburbs every single day. Almost like making a record where within the stories it’s like everything’s happening on Christmas morning. There’s that little hint of magic in the air.” Suburban Songbook is an album of songs about home by someone who spends a lot of time away from it. Mitchell admits to being unashamedly nostalgic, which is not surprising from someone who can sit in a pub with a beer in one hand, a steak sandwich in the other and say, without embarrassment or affectation, “I’m a big fan of romance.” It’s a sentiment echoed in the track, Friend, a song carried by the open-hearted but all-too-rarely stated sentiment, `I believe in love’. “There’s these universal truths that people won’t admit to or talk about,” Mitchell says, “but if you press them about it they’ll say `of course I want the world to live in peace and for there to be no wars and everyone to love each other’. You have to push people to open up about that sort of stuff but the vast majority of human beings all feel the same way about it.” And there it is, the Hardline According To Kevin Mitchell. Well, actually, it’s the Hardline According To Bob Evans. Or is it? “I’m not sure,” he says. “I think Bob Evans is more me than Kevin Mitchell from Jebediah is! In that way it’s like a reverse alter-ego. It just allows me to push things a bit. Bob’s been enough under the radar to give me, creatively, a lot more freedom than I might otherwise have.”

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