There’s a quote featured on Evan Bartels’ website that resonates loudly with the Nebraska-bred musician: “Evan Bartels doesn’t sound like any singer I’ve ever heard. Ever. His voice sounds old and young at the same time. He sounds like he’s a hard drinker and a gentle soul. He is a contradiction and his writing cuts through the air like a knife.”
Although just 25 years old, Bartels says he has always felt like a much older soul, which could explain his penchant for rootsy, Americana music.
“I always dreamed that I’d be happier 200 years ago in the mountains,” Bartels admits. “I think there’s a part of me that maybe was that man in a past life, like maybe part of that shines through. I shouldn’t feel as old as I do, but I’ve put on some hard miles and I think that’s what connects me to the older self I have. It’s almost an alter ego in a sense.”
In 2017, Bartels released The Devil, God & Me. Throughout the 11-track project, he dives into addiction and how it’s affected his life. With his slick guitar solos and a raspy, bellowing voice, Bartels channels his deepest emotions and wears them on his sleeve.
“The only thing I’ve been hardcore hooked on has been tobacco,” Bartels says. “Everything else I kinda skirted the line and was able to make it out. But I have friends who didn’t, good folks I love and respect who didn’t, and you can see it everywhere on the street.”
Ultimately, he recognizes everyone has a vice they hold on to—from alcohol to anger.
“Whenever people talk of addiction, it’s really easy to picture a burned-out junkie or an alcoholic, but everybody has something,” he says. “There’s plenty of people addicted to attention or even addicted to being angry.”
“I think what’s really interesting is the cause of what drives someone to become addicted to something. In my experience, it’s more often than not something really bad in their life rather than whatever they’re addicted to. It’s just a cycle, some people break it and some people don’t. Either way, there’s lots of stories in there that deserve to be told.” Bartels has become adept at telling such narratives.
For as long as he can remember, storytelling has been a part of his life. It all started with an old, folk song called “The Cuckoo.” As a child, his father would play it to him and Bartels remembers watching him strum the chords and thinking how beautiful it sounded. His obsession with music blossomed from there.
“I liked listening to Chopin and Beethoven when I was a kid, and I still do,” he says. “I like to close my eyes and just feel. I don’t know how old I was but music just made sense to me. I could hear the patterns and I think that it just naturally turned into a passion.”
Bartels is laying out plans for a follow-up to The Devil, God & Me, as well as launching a fundraising event for a national publicity campaign. In the meantime, he’s focused on playing as many live shows as he can, perfecting his pie-crust recipe, and trying not to swear so much. But mostly, it’s all about the music.
“I’ll just play to whoever’s listening for as long as they listen,” he says. “If and when the day comes no one wants to hear what I’m singing, I’ll just play for myself. I don’t know if I’d rather be heard by others or just get out the words—even if I’m talking to myself.”
For more information, visit evanbartels.com.
This article was printed in the September/October 2018 edition of Encounter.