Mitchel Evan says artistic beauty lies in imperfection. Back & Forth, the album that his band, Mitchel Evan & the Mangrove, is getting ready to release, is a partial attempt to document the struggles he’s experienced in his own life.
The 23-year-old singer-songwriter born Mitchel Evan Bamberger grew up in Richmond, Virginia, singing with a choir and performing in musicals. He soon found his own life’s difficulties reflected in the songs of Damien Rice, Conor Oberst, Glen Hansard and Jeff Tweedy.
From them, “I realized that it was okay to be raw with my voice and express a more human element,” says Evan.
His life took a downturn when he was sixteen and started using opioids; when he was seventeen, he learned that a childhood friend had killed himself. To deal with the grief, Evan began using heroin, which he continued to abuse through the two years he spent in college before dropping out during sophomore year and moving in with his parents.
Within two weeks of quitting school, he overdosed twice. “That was the catalyst that propelled me into rehab,” he says.
His parents, while supportive, issued an ultimatum: Get help or get out.
“I was really out of options,” he says. “I knew that I was incapable of providing for myself and living on my own. I also knew that I was going to die if I didn’t stop using, and despite my desperation, I didn’t want to die. I just couldn’t imagine life sober.”
Nonetheless, Evan started down the path to recovery. He entered rehab and began focusing on how to create a career based on his passion for music. When he was released from treatment, he moved from his home in the suburbs of Richmond to Colorado.
“I relocated to the Boulder area to pursue sober living and to make music full-time,” he says. “I love it here. The mountains and the music scene are inspiring, and it’s alway great to know that after a tour, I’m coming back to a wonderfully creative and active place.”
Evan, who now lives in Louisville and works as a barista, has a couple of well-polished releases under his belt — one recorded at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and another at eTown Studios in Boulder.
At times his voice evokes Ryan Adams; physically, he bears a passing resemblance to the late Jeff Buckley. He cites Nick Drake, Elliott Smith and Jason Isbell as strong influences. Like his songwriting heroes, his compositions are intelligent, reflective and thought-provoking.
“There’s a vast range of themes that occur in my songs, from love and relationships to addiction and dependence,” Evan says. “Probably the most prevalent theme for me is the internal battle that we have within ourselves. We create our own happiness, but also our own misery at times. I write songs because they come to me. It’s a form of expression and catharsis, but also a documentation of where I’m at in my life and what I’m experiencing.”
He builds his songs through stream-of-consciousness writing. “The process usually starts with an idea — one line or a phrase that unfolds into a theme,” he explains. “I’ll take the muse and run with it and write several pages of lyrics for one song and not even know what it’s about. Then I sit with the words and find the story within them. I chisel away and keep only what’s necessary.”
The results of his considered craft are effective, and his gigging career, both locally and nationally, is picking up steam. Sometimes Evan plays solo; other times he performs with his band, which he says has a rotating cast. His favorite places to play include the hi-dive, the Larimer Lounge, Lost Lake Lounge and the Walnut Room.
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“I love the intimacy of smaller spaces, where I can really connect with an audience,” he says. “In my songs, I try to be as honest as I can be. Music is therapy for me. My songs help me get through difficult times. They’re like my confidant: I can talk to them, and they’ll always listen. And when I’m playing at a small place, it makes it easier to convey that honesty.”
Evan places faith in his music and is fully committed to his songwriting career.
“I’m going to take this thing as far as I possibly can,” he says. “The goal is simply to reach as many people as possible, because I believe in what I do, and it’s important to share it.”
Mitchel Evan & the Mangrove album release, Thursday, October 19, Syntax Physic Opera, 554 South Broadway, $7.