"I don't think there was ever a moment in my career where I had delusions of grandeur that I'd become famous, but there was certainly a sense of 'I'll do whatever it takes not to get a job'," says Into It. Over It's Evan Weiss, moments after clocking off from the 9-to-5.
Yet 2017 was Ground Zero for the Chicago-based musician. After years of working through the write-record-tour cycle he'd found himself $40,000 in debt and, after fulfilling his contract, without a record label. Josh Sparks, his longstanding collaborator, had announced plans to leave, and less than a fortnight later he would split from his partner of eight years.
To top it all, he found himself caught in the blowback of his manager's misconduct, something Weiss concedes falls on his shoulders due to a failure in leadership. Since then, these incidents – the relationship breakdown, the band split, the debt, and the mismanagement – have seen Weiss re-evaluate his behaviour, outlook, and aspirations for the band.
On a practical level, he's reduced his reliance on touring as a means to survive, acknowledging that it can become an unhealthy space for bad habits and behaviours, while he's also taking personal steps towards self-improvement through leadership classes and HR training. Unsurprisingly, however, the experiences of the past four years sink soul deep into 'Figure', Into It. Over It's fourth album.
"It seemed like an appropriate moment to take a step back and re-evaluate what I was doing and why, and if these were good decisions," he considers. "It was a chance to reconcile with some crappy behaviour and realise that touring hard and pursuing music that hard was not bringing out the best in me as a human."
In turn, this has led to something of a volte-face for Weiss, readjusting his viewpoint towards making music for the more straightforward, principled aim of finding enjoyment in creativity, rather than the desire to become as big as possible or to tour as hard as possible. Combined with the stable income provided by the day job, Weiss can now explore music creatively without needing to lean on it for survival.
"Did I ever think that, when I was making '52 weeks' and living at my parents' house, I was worried about survival? Not at all. It was totally for fun," he attests. "I can now look back on that moment rather fondly – like, yeah, some of the songs are good, but not all of them are – but that wasn't the point. The point wasn't to make money or become famous; the point was to fucking write some songs.
"I would definitely say that my outlook on being a musician is nothing like what it was four years ago. It's a much healthier way of looking at it, and I'm a better person for it.
"Now the difficulty is trying to balance pursuing music as much as I can while also having a 9-to-5. That's a way different struggle to being literally starving or being so deep in debt that you have to play some crappy festival that's sponsored by fucking Budweiser or something, just because you need to pay rent that month."
This desire to strip everything back and get back to the fundamentals of making music for more genuine aims also comes from the start of a new working relationship with drummer Adam Beck. The partnership started with the low-key objective of just making noise, with the duo collaborating for two days a week for the best part of two and a half years, first writing 30 songs, then whittling these down to just 12 – the songs that make up 'Figure'.
A deeply personal album, it is the first Into It. Over It record that Weiss is comfortable calling a break-up record. And that's not just in the literal sense – although it plays a significant part on songs like 'They Built Our Bench Again in Palmer Square' – but conceptually, where Weiss is reconciling with a decade of bad decisions.
It's not necessarily a hopeful record, nor is it the triumphant return with the narrator declaring that he's successfully battled his demons and is ready to move on with his life, but it instead weighs heavy with ideas of accountability, regret and chagrin. At times it finds an inner peace – a calm like when you first wake, but before the stresses of the day come into focus – yet such moments of tranquillity are fleeting.
"The word Marcus [Nuccio] from Pet Symmetry chose was 'reckoning'," says Weiss. "I thought that was pretty accurate." And it does indeed have all the hallmarks of a reckoning – only this time, Weiss has turned the anger inwards.
"In hindsight, I noticed in my songwriting that I'd almost always be playing a victim; like, 'It's not MY fault this has happened, so it must be someone else's fault'. I'd be writing these very stinging lyrics, and I felt that it was important not to do this because the things that I went through weren't anybody else's fault. If I was gonna turn the pen on anyone, it had to be myself."
Not that it means 'Figure' is a woe-is-me pity party – although Weiss accepts it might not be the ideal album for people who find themselves struggling with the pandemic – but there is a modicum of defiance within its make-up.
It's a record forged on its own terms, and this independence has given rise to creativity and collaboration – something that might have been stymied if made in less turbulent and more traditional times.
Weiss admits that there was no goal for the record and that Into It. Over It were free to write whatever they wanted. In turn, this led to greater co-operation – it's the most workshopped Into It. Over It record to date, he says – and a reliance on community to get the job done, right down to enlisting friend Lynette Sage to help with the album's striking artwork.
As if buoyed by this grassroots level of creativity, Weiss has established a new Patreon, Storm Chasers LTD, which aims to support his many vehicles, including Into It. Over It, Pet Symmetry and Their/They're/There, as well as the other acts his partners are involved in. Weiss sees such a move – as well as a further way to break the write-record-tour cycle – as a chance to strengthen the standing of the local musical and artistic community.
"At any moment, any person in our broad circle has the empowerment to promote what they're working on or share some content of their own," he says. "It's like they're a part of this larger thing that pays out based on people's contributions to the product; it's not just a singular artist promoting themselves. This is a way for us to build our intimate community into something much bigger than it is."
On the face of it, it's doesn't look groundbreaking – it's tied to the name of Weiss' record label after all – yet when set against the challenges of 2017, it represents a monumental step forward on a personal and professional level. Ultimately, it allows Weiss' art to thrive independently, removed from the traditional methods of the music industry – methods which contributed to Weiss' shortcomings.
Reflecting on 'Figure' and the challenges of the past few years, he is appropriately restrained about what it means for the future.
"This album is about a general emotional recovery. I was so beat up; actually, I shouldn't say beat up, as that makes it sound like I deserve sympathy. I don't deserve sympathy, I made mistakes, and I had to reconcile with those mistakes.
"This album is about those reconciliations and hopefully coming out of it a better person than when I went into it."
Taken from the October issue of Upset. Into It. Over It's album 'Figure' is out now.
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