Ryan Evans and Jonathan Harms didn’t mean to start a band together.
But while in their sophomore year at St. Olaf, guitarist Evans and banjo player Harms were set to open, individually, for Whim, Po, and Emili. After that band realized they’d double-booked openers, they suggested that Evans and Harms join forces. And so they did, forming the acoustic duo Fox & Coyote.
After a 2012 debut album, If We Stay, the duo expanded into a band, releasing Boardinghouse in 2015. On the band’s third album, Scattered Shadows on a Double Bed, songwriters Evans and Harms begin to diverge from the relationship-focused lyrics for which they’re known, while cellist Katherine Canon, bassist Grant Gordon, and drummer Kenny Befus add an orchestral grace to the band’s plucky sound and tortured vocals.
We spoke to the co-frontmen ahead of their album release show at the Entry on tonight.
City Pages: What’s the story behind Scattered Shadows on a Double Bed?
Jonathan Harms: One of the things that I’ve been dealing with, and that’s changed our music, is starting to understand and deal with depression and anxiety. Some of the songs deal with living that out day to day and grappling with it. There’s some relationship things, some things that more directly with depression and a sense of identity. But this album is a bit more of a combination of all those things whereas previous records dealt a little bit more with relationships.
Ryan Evans: Over the past year, I was diagnosed with clinical anxiety. That was something of a revelation, just to know that that was, clinically, a part of who I am. The songs are split kind of 50-50 between me and Jonathan on the record. A lot of my stuff does revolve around relationship anxieties and function as a way to process those feelings.
CP: Did anxiety and depression have any negative effects on your music-making?
JH: The last record that we made, Boardinghouse, I was dealing with anxiety and depression at the time. I wasn’t able to get any songs done. I might be able to start a little bit, but I didn’t feel comfortable finishing anything. The last record was an EP that was largely Ryan’s music. The depression and anxiety haven’t gone away, but it’s just understanding it and being able to see it for what it. That’s has helped me to be able to finish things.
RE: I think I’m much more intentional now in the things that I write. Writing these songs replaced some pretty critical conversations that I should have been having with other people. These days, I’m not writing about relationship anxieties anymore. It’s been a habit that has had to be broken. This record is a reflection of the past one to three years and I think it also marks a turning point of the kind of music I want to be making. It’s music I’m super proud of, and I think it’s good, and I’m excited for it to be out in the world, but it also represents themes and the kind of songwriting process that I know is just not all that healthy for me and I’m intentionally moving away from.
JH: I think that journey is showcased in the album, where we’ve got songs like one of mine called “Deal” and one of his called “Any Light” where it kind of showcases trying to deal with a relationship through song rather than talking about it. One of the last-written songs on our record is called “Love Is,” that Ryan wrote, and in it it’s kind of a critique of some of the other songs on the record, talking about what is the purpose of writing a song and what can you get and what can’t you get from making music.
CP: What can you get and what can’t you get from making music?
RE: I’ve learned that writing a song cannot fix a relationship. It can’t replace an important conversation. I’ve written songs before that are so specific about a certain feeling or a certain experience and I’ve played them for the person that they are about or who was a part of that experience, and that does not take the place of exchanging ideas and feelings with the person. On the other side, you can self-soothe through music. Other times you can bring up other types of memories or feelings that people have around a certain topic.
JH: Ryan was talking about self-soothing and it made me think of helping to understand identity. There’s one song where I kind of talk about being a “water-breather on land.” Just having that very small but basic metaphor helps to understand my own emotional processes and help to get through the day and understand what my needs are.
CP: In what way do you feel like a “water-breather on land”?
RE: [Laughs] I’ve never understood that, either.
JH: I think part of that was, number one, my own musical exploration. I was starting to get into some weirder forms of music. These forms of music were soothing to me but very strange to other people, so recognizing that I had very different needs. And emotionally, seeing other people do very normal things that would just derail my day, like answering emails, come so naturally and yet were so difficult for me to do at the time, made me feel like a different kind of person. Recognizing that there wasn’t anything wrong with me and it was just something that needed to be recognized and acknowledged so that I could start to work on it was a helpful conceit.
CP: Is the local music community supportive regarding mental health issues or do we have some more work to do around that?
JH: The Minneapolis music scene is such a tight-knit community. I feel like it’s a very welcome and open community. If you build ties there, you can find a lot of support.
RE: I think about the musicians and bands that I’ve developed close relationships with. Sitting down with any of them, I would feel more than comfortable saying, “Hey, I have this mental health thing going on.” I think mental health has come to forefront. It’s a part of our zeitgeist now. Healing and the arts have had a pretty long history of being intersected, everything from arts therapy to the stuff Jonathan and I are talking about of processing your shit through your art. It’s always felt to me pretty comfortable to talk about. In some ways, that comes with the qualifier of if I’m just meeting someone who’s a musician, I’m not going to be like, “Hey! Can I tell you about my anxiety?” It’s still a very personal thing. If I’m up at a mic and introducing a song and the song is about anxiety, I would have no problem saying, “Anxiety is a part of my identity and this song is about that.”
Fox & Coyote
With: Double Grave and Humbird
Where: 7th St Entry
When: 7 p.m. Thurs. March 15
Tickets: $10; more info here