Evan and I meet one sun-soaked afternoon at the Compass Coffee in Georgetown. Through the din of bicycle bells, trash trucks, and college students discussing Doc Martens and Maman’s sandwiches — both good, from what we hear — Evan tells me about the Rock Creek Kings, being a Jewish songwriter, the forms that inspiration takes, an upcoming concert at Sixth & I, and a whole lot more. Check out the full conversation below, and get to know the Rock Creek Kings!
Samuel: What brought you to the DMV?
Evan: I’m originally from Montreal, Canada. I’m a musician, but I also practice law part-time. I applied to GW to do an LLM program, an extra year of law school essentially, and that’s how I came [here].
Samuel: What’s the genesis of the Rock Creek Kings?
Evan: I quit my first big law job in the throes of my quarter life crisis, and –
Evan: I mean, ‘cause I hated it. The sixty-five hour weeks were soul crushing and I desperately missed the connection to music and the way it made me feel. I got a line art guitar tattoo so I could see it in the mirror every morning when I woke up and be reminded to play. I put a post on Craigslist, and Jonah Belser, the drummer and cofounder of the project, answered it. I didn’t know he was Jewish at the time, but he was. A couple of people came by, but [Jonah] was the best option, and that’s the start of the band.
Samuel: It’s not exactly easy to start and sustain a band. Why was that such an essential need in your life? Why music? Why now?
Evan: I was definitely in a difficult era emotionally. I had quit my job, I wasn’t happy, and I was unsure of what I wanted to do with my life. It all went back to that feeling I had the first times I played in public at an open mic in Montreal. My stomach would rumble, I’d be extraordinarily nervous…there’s like twelve people at this pub, Cunningham’s…but when I would start my set it would be unbridled joy: a true natural high? I missed that feeling and I needed it in my life. I continue to chase that feeling every single time I get back up there, the feeling of being connected with the thing you were maybe put on the planet to do.
Samuel: In the earlier days of the pandemic, Rock Creek Kings held a series of concerts on public land all around DC. Where did that project come from?
Evan: We had been a band for two or three years already, dabbling with cover shows and original shows. About a month into the pandemic, I lived about three blocks from here [Editor’s Note: the Compass Coffee in Georgetown!] in a corner-facing house. I basically just sat outside my front door and played some Beatles. It was very much Field of Dreams – if you build it, people will come, and people would bring blankets out and be able to distance properly. All of a sudden, it became this community event.
Now, Georgetown is a tricky place to do noisy, unconventional things. So, we started getting notes slid into our door, noise complaints, pressure from the ANC, [threats] to call the police…a whole can of worms. I was like: Okay, I want to get things in order because I don’t want to do this in the wrong way. The year before, we’d raised money for Washington Area Lawyers for the Arts (WALA) as part of the Battle of the Bands at 9:30 Club, and WALA connected me with amazing representation from Thomas Mounteer at Paul Hastings, who wrote me a memo [explaining] that if we’re on the sidewalk, playing, it’s technically protected First Amendment speech. We got a permit from the police department and hung a banner that was our sign for “Hey, there’s going to be music.” The police were called, but I had the permit ready, and they said “Okay, carry on,” and everyone cheered.
We started outgrowing the space. The National Park Service was still handing out permits for First Amendment speech, and this was right in the middle of the Save Our Stages movement, so we picked that as a cause – combined with calling for more funding for DC musicians – and it was pretty cool. One of my favorite musical moments ever was playing “All These Things That I’ve Done” by The Killers in May 2021 at a show where we unexpectedly had 500-700 people attend after @popville posted a tiny piece about our show. It was standing room only with people even sitting behind us! I rewatch the video of them doing a phone wave…it just puts a huge smile on my face.
Samuel: There’s a lot of discourse lately about the difficulties of making a living as a musician. What has your experience been, and what can fans do that makes a difference for performers?
Evan: Music is a top one percent industry. Those are the people who can afford it. It’s very difficult to make a living as a musician. Rock Creek Kings is a successful act, but money is stressful; we play well-paid shows, weddings, but I couldn’t pay my rent if I wasn’t also working outside of music. So if you’re a fan of somebody, double your effort to see them live. Go and see more shows. Share music with your friends, your social media. Go see artists and bring your friends.
Samuel: What does your songwriting process look like?
Evan: Generally speaking, if an idea doesn’t slap me in the face, it’s not becoming a song. That just happens to happen to me three or four times a year. With our song “More of You,” I could not wait to see this person again, and it’s a feeling I’ve only felt a few times in my life, and there’s a song. With “At the Edge of It All,” I struggled with insomnia through the pandemic, and it just hit me like a truck. I had to write this song to figure out why I wasn’t sleeping. With “Heather,” well, I was madly in love, and that’s the hardest hitting truck there is.
Samuel: How has Judaism influenced this project – the band, your songwriting, all of it?
Evan: I grew up in a fairly secular Jewish household. I was bar mitzvah-ed, went to Hebrew school, and was very proud of my Jewish identity. There was a time when I stepped away from Judaism and was not sure how I felt about it. But, ultimately, the most important part of Judaism came back to me: family, community. My grandfather, Ted Sheres, was a partisan during World War II; he’s featured in a couple stories at the Holocaust Museum here in DC, and my grandmother as well. Both their families were wiped out. I identify with Judaism and the values it has – togetherness, kindness, hard work, education. Those are all values I try to live.
And above all, the memory of my grandparents are such a compelling force for me. It’s not something I’m ready to do yet, it’s something I’ve hesitated on for a long time, but I have a song in the works about my grandfather, and I’m really excited about it. Judaism isn’t featured in any of my music [directly], but I’m a Jewish songwriter. It’s an intrinsic part of who I am.
Samuel: You and the Rock Creek Kings, along with a few other artists, have an upcoming show at Sixth & I. What are you looking forward to with that?
Evan: First of all, Sixth & I is just so beautiful.
Samuel: It’s worth going just to, like, sit and look at the ceiling.
Evan: It’s amazing. Building community, including but definitely not exclusively a Jewish community, is something I have always strived to do. There’s a great circle of DC musicians that recognize and support each other here in the DC music scene; I want to continue that. Eli Waltz is somebody who we’ve connected with through music and, frankly, until the show, I didn’t know that he was Jewish. It’s cool that we’re going to be able to build and connect more with the DC Jewish community.
Samuel: Alright, one more to close. You’re playing a show and can invite three people to be front row in the audience. Who are they and why?
Evan: Chris Stapleton. I listen to him non-stop. I’ll hear a Chris Stapleton song and go: Ooh, I want to make something like that. Paul McCartney, too. He’s a big influence on my songwriting, just like every other artist. He’s the best ever at [writing] relatable, catchable melody and hooks. It’s easy to write simply, and it can be easy to write very complicated, but the tricky thing is combining the right elements of each and making something great. Probably Billy Joel, too. He’s a great Jewish musician, and I’d love to talk to him. And I’m going to add one more artist: Yola. She’s a British artist, country-ish music, and I’m just such a huge fan of hers. I’m in pure awe of her talent, and I would want to meet her.
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