By Katie Hirtz
Evan Morris has all the elements for the musician equation: years of familial influence plus experience with several instruments plus lots and lots of formal training equal a pretty solid musician. But Evan is more than pretty solid. He’s fucking excellent.
Evan, a senior SMAD major from Northern Virginia, grew up in a family of musically oriented people. The son of a classical pianist and a DJ, it was sort of inevitable that he would get steeped in music. As Evan progressed through school, it started to become clear that he was one of those people who just intuitively gets music.
As far as instruments go, Evan can pretty much play whatever he puts his mind to.
“In band, in high school, I would just mess around with other people’s instruments and try to play them, so I can at least make sounds out of a lot of different instruments,” he says.
Evan played the saxophone throughout high school. His roommate pipes up: “Don’t be modest!”
Evan shrugs and is modest anyway. “I’ve just always been good with instruments.”
Apparently so. While he has history with the saxophone, Evan plays piano for his jazz minor and has experience with bass and drums. But Evan’s passion lies somewhere a little different.
It’s a warm afternoon when I interview Evan, and I just sit on the couch in awe while he unpacks the wires and machines that it takes to make his unique brand of music.
“I’m pretty good with technology,” he says. It’s starting to make sense; Evan is a natural with both music and technology, so why wouldn’t he blend the two together?
Evan does instrumental hip-hop. Hip-hop music, generally, consists is made up beats and vocals, but without the vocals, the musician has more freedom to create complex beats with a variety of influences.
His interest in instrumental hip-hop came from a number of places. Evan was equipped with influence from his family and artists like J Dilla, Madlib, and Flying Lotus. His DJ father had some programs for his radio show that Evan would play around with and try to create his own songs from pieces of other songs.
This copy/pasting of several recordings to make one entirely different recording is called sampling. Sampling has been gaining popularity ever since hip-hop music came on the scene in the early eighties. Sampling is definitely a sticky legal situation; these days, it can cost millions of dollars to sample someone else’s work in a piece of popular music.
Since Evan is making beats on such a small scale, and, most importantly, not charging for his music, he’s still able to have some fun with the production of his beats and not have to worry about the complicated legalities.
Watching Evan come up with beats on the spot is like watching someone play a complicated video, moving effortlessly from level to level. He explained how the machines work.
Here’s the gist: Evan takes samples from songs he likes (he particularly favors jazz), records them on some of his futuristic looking machinery, splits the samples up across different pads on the surface of the machine, and then taps the pads.
This is the kind of thing that, for me at least, would require a thousand-page user manual and sticky notes with reminders. But Evan just taps the pads and nods his head and suddenly there’s music in the room. It’s amazing. I play around on the machines that he uses and what I come up with sounds choppy, like a malfunctioning Game Boy.
This isn’t just memorizing codes and functions – this takes skill.
“When I making beats, I think of the rhythm before the melody. Like, I know what I want the beat to be before I know what I want the notes to be.” You can see what Evan is talking about when he’s making them. His fingers aren’t just moving on the machines at random, pressing buttons for the sake of pressing buttons. His movements are calculated. There’s a strategy to making these beats sound good.
Evan’s talent isn’t lost on the JMU population. He’s the keyboardist for the popular band Sour Deemsters and performs under the moniker Hydrophonics. At his performances, audiences go absolutely nuts for his music.
One student that was at a recent Hydrophonics performance said, “[Hydrophonics] was one of the most unique and fun shows I’ve seen in Harrisonburg. I can’t wait to see Evan’s stuff in the future.”
JMU is in luck: Evan’s going to be around for the rest of year. But I have a feeling that Evan’s music is going to be around for a lot longer.