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Fixer | interview | Evan Saffran | alternative | rock | Lollipop
Working Rock 'n' Roll Magic
An interview with vocalist Evan Saffran
by Jaime Kiffel
photos by Pia
Grab a guitar, run onstage, make some noise: Everybody wants to be a star. Angsty rock kids flood every beer can and ashtray club from here to Saschetchewan.
The music market is glutted. Give up.
And then, just when you think there's no such thing as a band making it on their own anymore, a brand new, unsigned act actually creates a buzz. And to your horror (and maybe even hope), you find yourself thinking, "These guys might really make it."
Within the past few months of its two-year life, Fixer have played the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, Marilyn Manson parties, won battles of the bands and built up a slicker website than almost any band you've heard of (www.fixermusic.com). I called 24-year-old lead singer Evan Saffran to find out how the hell he does it. I learned that the impossibly muscular-lean boy who wails like Freddie Mercury, seizes his inner rockstar by the clothes and make-up and command-struts the stage like Mick Jagger, makes it happen with confidence, brains, and maybe some magic.
It started, as so many romantic stories do, in Paris. Evan, a Skidmore French and psychology major, was 20 when he packed his bags and headed for France.
"I didn't have any friends and didn't know anyone there," he remembers as we chat one late night. "I'd been there for about a week when I bought this music magazine." That magazine would change Evan's history. In the back were ads for singers for rock bands. Between classes, The Louvre, and figuring out the exchange rate, Evan decided to brave the Metro system and stumble his way over to a few auditions. What did he have to lose?
"They all wanted me," he declares.
"I was American and I could sing," he says. "So I picked this one band - those kids were so rock 'n' roll." The combination was magic: like crêpes and Nutella. "We gelled immediately. They taught me French, they hung out with me, they became my best friends. I even stayed the summer with them, and we had a record label interested in us, but I really wanted to come back and graduate."
But when he left Paris, he was infected... with rock 'n' roll. It was time to start a band, and the first person he went to was J. Brown, a bassist he'd known from college.
"I guess I was in training then," says Evan. "I was trying to sing like whatever singers had the highest voices. Like Brian Johnson from AC/DC, Freddie Mercury, Axl Rose."
The band fell apart after school ended, but Evan wasn't done. Like a lovesick boy chasing his muse, Evan followed another band down to Philly. "They had a big manager, big studio, big money behind them, and it seemed exciting," he says. But the guys didn't bond; the Parisian magic wasn't there. So the young musician headed north to New York where he found J., then gathered guitarist/vocalist Wilson and drummer/vocalist Tim Newton through mutual friends. And suddenly, the music was hot again. The sound was raw. The magic was back.
But now, it was time to work.
"We weren't really accepted at all on the NY scene," Evan sighs. "The Strokes were breaking, and it seems like the entire scene has turned into that lo-fi, retro rock. We're hard rock, and we didn't really fit."
I muse that Fixer sound more like a band from the '70s or '80s than anything else.
"We get compared to that a lot," Evan says. "The way I sing is very high, very powerful, and there's really nothing around to compare that to but what went on in the '80s. There was so much controversy about our look, our website" - Evan wears eyeliner, for instance - "it made me so fierce, it made me want to do it in an even more exaggerated way. I don't have a fuck-you attitude, I don't want to be arrogant, but as a young band, you're sticking your neck out, you're getting up there for the sake of creativity, for the sake of being an artist, for the sake of doing something original, and then someone tries to turn around and knock it down. So I'd advise any young band, if you've got something in you and you want to do it, don't let anyone tell you otherwise."
So Evan kept calling the clubs, scrambling for booking: any booking. "You e-mail the bookers and call thousands of times; they give you a shitty slot and even after you promote the hell out of the show and bring in 50 to 100 people, you still have trouble getting booked again," Evan groans.
But that funny magic was still there, and the buzz started anyway. Boston clubs booked Fixer for midweek, midnight slots and they still drew 100 people per gig. The Boston Globe covered them. They got off-stage to find magazines clamoring for impromptu photo shoots.
And then the music festivals wanted them. One was Musicians and Emerging Artists of New York. "We showcased at 7pm at CBGBs on a Saturday night," Evan remembers. "It was 6:55 and we're still setting up and nobody's in the club. I'm like, oh Christ." And then, like Casey at the bat, a miracle happened. The clock hit 7:05, Evan looked up, and there was a packed house. The kids in the Fixer t-shirts, the waving fans: the whole rockstar dream had come true. And the band won a trip to play at the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame.
From there, the band played the Dewey Beach Festival in Delaware. They were greeted with radio interviews and a club filled to capacity. The buzz kept going.
But at what expense?
"I try to have a social life," Evan says. "I had a girlfriend for a while. That was pretty hectic; I wrote a lot of songs about it because it caused me so much pain. But right now I'm single. I guess when I'm not playing I like to see other people play. That's where you can find me: I'm in some club, someplace."
And he's working.
"I basically have a 40-hour minimum work week: I'm a recruiter for Wall St. I'm like the Jerry Maguire of the finance world. At night, I go straight to rehearsals; we have gigs; we play on the weekends. I even have to take off work sometimes. I'm pretty much on the edge of this double-life."
So what's next?
"We just cut a new record - Bend - we think it's our best work ever," Evan says, getting revved up. "Until now, we were in such a rush to get our ideas down - it just came out a little poppy or a little... I don't know. Engineers never captured our live sound. We're raw rock 'n' roll, hard rock, and tons of energy, and we just didn't get that.
"Now, we're working with Jason Corsaro, an engineer and producer who worked on all the Queen albums, Buckcherry, Madonna, Duran Duran, Motörhead, Soundgarden. The result is that the record is so rocking. It's just ferocious raw energy rock 'n' roll. We cut four songs with him in two and a half days. We worked around the clock, it was absurd. But it was that mentality, that pressure, that attitude, and that cohesiveness, where we just nailed it. 'Bend Over Backwards' is our single on mp3.com, and the rest are on our website. Jason always says, 'Forward motion, positive thinking,' and that's where we are now."
So I have to ask. Evan, who's quick to throw off his shirt onstage, revealing the kind of flat abs I thought Abercrombie and Fitch ads had patented, must spend all his time at the gym, I think. But I'm wrong. Turns out he sweats at home, on the rowing machine. And then he shops. "I got a new pair of leather pants this weekend," he laughs. "Very sexy."
Well, as long as we're talking about sexy, I have to know where he stands on the spiritual plane.
"I read a lot about philosophies: three in particular," he says. "Buddhism and Taoism, and most specifically Tao Te Ching. I think that says a tremendous amount about maintaining a good balance and not getting stressed by overworking or stagnating. Never compete or compare and people will respect you." He mentioned there was a third philosophy. "Well, the third," he says mysteriously. "Which is a lot of meditation and geared toward maintaining balance, is... witchcraft, actually."
In other words, magic.
He says he meditates and does a little bit of candle magic. I say whatever he's doing is working. And if you watch a stage near you, you might be lucky enough to catch the spell in action. Fixer are making the rock world take notice. Get yourself to one of their shows before a big label inevitably gets bewitched... and you find yourself enjoying the enchantment from the nosebleed seats.