INTERVIEW: Saint Loretto
By EJ Jolly
Saint Loretto is the Austin-based independent alternative pop project fronted by Evan Crowley. He released his first full-length record Passage/s back in March, and it is his most vulnerable and honest release yet. Full of somber lyrics, enveloped in warm synth tones, Passage/s is decidedly unique from your typical pop record.
We got a chance to talk with Crowley about the creative process behind the new record, what it’s like to be a producer and engineer on top of being a musician, and some of his thoughts about what makes music art.
What's your typical songwriting process? What do you have to do / how long does it take to get from “idea to finished” a song from concept to final product?
My last record I knew I was writing for a record, and so I spent a lot of time experimenting and stuff like that. But generally it’s just me sitting down at the computer and picking out sounds and kinda slowly inspiring a song out of that. The first record was more- I was still trying to figure out what I wanted my sound to be. Like my singing voice, how I wanted to do that for this particular project. All the different things that sort of contribute to that.
But this one was—I wrote more of the lyrics first, or I would get into a place where I have the tone of the song and I’d just like kind of listen to the bed track of the song over and over again, get a vibe, and then build it from there. I’d really gone through a lot of ‘life stuff’. It was really hard to go through. So most of my personal time that I wasn’t writing, I was numbing myself and trying to escape the feelings that I had and the things I was going through. But then when I was writing it was about sort of channeling that. So I would really focus and try to put myself in a place where I could feel what the songs that I was writing were about, and really dig deeper into what was going on to try to shape what I was doing. My first record was personal, but again, it was more about exploring sounds and determining the project. And this record was more about this personal statement that I was exploring, what it was like to be going through the things I was going through.
Now that I’m thirty, like- what is that? It’s weird. Especially in music: music is all about being young, and I feel like as you get older you kind of have to reexamine what it means to be in a position that you’re in. When you’re younger it’s all- all ‘my music is very rebellious,’ and now it’s a lot more looking at myself and what have I done with my time.
And I mean, I’m only thirty. Hopefully I’ve got a couple more years left. [laughs]
Weren’t you living in some abandoned house, at the time your were writing Passage/s?
It wasn’t abandoned... [laughs] A friend offered me a place to stay, but it was a house that was being remodeled. It had been gutted; there were still dirt floors, it didn’t have a working bathroom or kitchen. I think I used the space that I was in—both emotionally and physically—to write and record this album. I’ve always wanted to go to some cool place and feed off the vibes of the place. And I think I kind of did that, in a way. It was just a rough experience.
Which of your records do you think did what it was supposed to do better?
I think as a musician, the “what it’s supposed to do” is confusing. Sometimes I have a goal, but then I feel like my goal changes all the time. This record I feel like is the most personal artistic piece I’ve ever done. In that, I think there’s some incredibly happy moments, and some incredibly sad moments, and some incredibly weird moments. But when you’re doing a personal statement like that, sometimes people connect with it and sometimes people don’t. It’s all a communication of your feelings, and the reaction of the world around you as they experience it.
You've also fallen into being a producer/engineer, on top of being a musician. How has that affected working on your own music?
Oh... it ruins it! Immensely! Because I’m thinking about the end result by the time I sit down to when I’m playing. And if the piano sound isn’t what I want, or the guitar part—it’s hard to write. I almost have to have the song beforehand—“Aisles” is a good example of that. I was hung up on the bass tone for that song, because I wanted it to feel like a warm blanket and be so comforting. I probably spent more time on that than honestly anything else. The way it feels to experience the song I think is just as important as what the lyrics are, and what instruments are in the song. Limiting myself is sort of imperative, and I use the tools I have and get creative with it.
My arrangements are laughably dense. And most people are like ‘dude, why?,’ but it’s just so important to me to have the right sound. They will look at me with this look of sheer disappointment. Especially in pop music now, everything’s so minimal. But I don’t really give a shit about that. I just want to write the music that I want to write.
Pop music really has become minimal. It sort of sounds stripped, like it’s not there.
Yeah, yeah. Well, it’s weird. There’s ups and downs to both things. There becomes this trend of doing things a certain way. And artists that would typically do something really cool that’s their thing, to stay relevant have to do this certain thing, otherwise you’re not cool. But I think it’s the artists that generally do their thing and just keep doing their thing. They explore new production methods and stuff like that, but they’re not just gonna change every time something new comes out. I think those are the career artists and people that don’t burn out. Because it’s really hard to keep following trends. I don’t mean to speak ill of the people that do that. Being a musician can be really trying, especially when people are coming at you from all sides telling you need to do X, Y, or Z. That can be really hard to navigate.
You get to that question of authenticity, too.
Well, yeah. But when I first started playing music, a lot of the musicians I looked up to were really open about their views of what selling out was. They did things to sell records, it wasn’t always about the “we want to be original and true to ourselves” thing. The art was in the sound that they made, and the expression that they did, and all that stuff. To be a great artist, you have to do it a lot. And to be able to do it a lot, you have to be able to sustain it. And to sustain it, you either need to get a job outside of music that is easy to work around, or sell enough records—I guess in this day and age, find a way to make enough money - so you can continue doing your art.
You've opened for COIN a few years back and Blue October…two very different bands for sure. Where do you think you best fit in the current vibe of the pop industry?
I don’t know that it does! I write what I would consider to be probably alternative pop music. It’s still a little bit indie rock or rock, sometimes. But I don’t really feel like- if I said indie rock people would be like, “That’s not what I was expecting.” But I think that’s kind of the cool thing about what I am doing: it can kind of do both. Weirdly it fits in both categories, but kind of neither at the same time. And I think that hurts me—people don’t really know what I’m doing, and I don’t know that I always know what I’m doing. But as an artist, in today’s world I feel like sounding original doesn’t get you plays or views or hits as immediately. But I think it contributes to a longer-standing thing, you know? When you look of bands that were a part of a genre, like alternative rock or rap or whatever, they were the ones that sort of made their own sound within that genre.
I don’t think anyone’s asked you before, but why the name "Saint Loretto"?
Choosing a good band name is really hard. For anyone’s who’s never done it before, it is one of the hardest things about starting a new music project. And it’s so funny, when you’re in a band, everybody comes up with different names, nine times out of ten you’ll be like, “That’s stupid!” and no one can agree on a good name. But when it was me, it was nerve wracking because I didn’t really have that opportunity to come back and forth with ideas with people. It was just sort of like, “Okay, I have to come up with a name for this now…” And I had actually done a lot of research on religion when I was younger, because one of the cool things my parents did was encourage me to understand other cultures. So I’d done a lot of research on every faith outside of Catholicism. But when I was in high school, I had a friend who’s mom would force him to go to mass every Sunday. And I just remember in one particular mass, they were talking about the patron saint of flight—which is Saint Loreto, with just one T. Basically, the Holy House of Loreto had been lifted up and moved physically by angels three times. And that was the one thing I remember about all these times of going. That sort of stuck in my mind. And as I was thinking about what I wanted to accomplish with this project, I thought, “I hope that it helps people” and ‘lifting people up’ became this thought. And that began to resonate more - here’s this really beautiful but kind of impossible story about angels picking up this house and moving it multiple times. I just thought that was really fascinating.
If you google my name—Saint Loretto—I’m the first few results, then the rest are about this [laughs].
From any standpoint—musician, fan, producer—what's something you want to see change in the music industry?
I feel like this is a really old dude thing to say, because I actually really love technology. Technology is moving forward no matter what, and if you try to stop it you’re just fighting the inevitable forward movement—like, it’s gonna happen. And so if you’re fighting it, you’re really not embracing it and trying to find a way to operate within it, and create things in a way that works with the world that you exist in. I feel like there’s a time to rebel—and there’s cool stuff that people are doing with analog recording now to try to go back to the old way of doing things, which I think is super cool!—but I feel like people are so hung up on certain things. In that same breath, I feel like there’s this big push with numbers on Spotify and Youtube, and things being viral. And I feel like the emphasis on that changes the approach that we have as artists to do what we do. A lot of people just don't really know what goes into creating a song. I wish that - fans, and really anybody in the industry that isn’t necessarily directly related to the songwriting and recording process—I wish people cared as much about that as they do now about like, the food that they eat. There’s this big organic movement. People wanna know what they’re experiencing and ingesting, and I would hope that at some point it changes where the music industry is that way. People could look into what they’re listening to a little more.
Cover photo by Anna Lee Media