Kevin Mitchell – or Bob Evans, depending from which side you approach him – strikes you as the kind of guy you’d have an easy beer with in the quiet corner of your local. He’s a colourful speaker, a straight-shooter who seems perfectly at ease talking about his music, his kids, or the landscape of live music across the sweep of Australia. Through both his solo work, and his seminal 90s band Jebediah, he’s seen a lot that this country has to offer, and on this latest tour he’s set to see a whole lot more.
“I think [the Australian character] does change a little bit more than people give it credit for, place to place” Mitchell says. “The people of North Queensland – I’ve been watching all this cyclone footage – there’s a different character there than you’ll find in Perth, or in Melbourne. Like any place, there are elements of that character that are good, and elements that are bad. There’s the beauty and the ugliness no matter where you go. But when I’m hanging out in country pubs, seeing the audiences there, they can be the easiest to please because they’re not so spoilt with opportunities to see live stuff. People who live in Sydney and Melbourne take for granted that any night of the week they can usually go and see some international artist. A lot of country towns rue the fact that people just don’t go there, or the last time a band came through was five years back. That’s cool, but I think you really have to love touring, to love that lifestyle to do a lot of regional places. I always have, and will continue to. I think if you only ever play in capital cities, you’re going to run out of places to play and things to say real quick.”
Mitchell’s ‘Bob Evans’ persona was developed back in 1999, mostly as a way of distinguishing between the material he was performing as Jebediah and new material that he’d begun working on. Should you look back at the previous press Mitchell has undertaken to promote his solo self, more often than not you’ll find him described as a ‘romantic’; which is nice, I hazard, but also a little ambiguous. He laughs.
“I guess doing stuff under the Bob Evans moniker, it was like putting on a disguise, to be honest. To try and hide the fact that this music was being made by that guy from Jebediah. That whole romantic thing – and I think I have in the past described myself as romantic – there are some things that you say that stick with you. And that’s fine, and I stand by it, because I think when a lot of people hear the word romance, their mind will go to love and Valentines Day, new romantic music from 80s pop groups. But when I think of romance, I think of it in much broader terms than that. I guess that’s why I can be a bit of a sucker for nostalgia as well. I love breakup songs, breakup albums even more. That feeling of the beauty and sweetness of feeling sad. That’s all part of it. I romanticise things all the time. Even doing tours like this, going out being alone on the road, having a beer at some country pub that looks just like it did in the seventies. All that stuff is romantic as hell to me, I just love that stuff. That’s part of my nature, and has been my whole life.”
Though Mitchell will indeed be alone on the road for some time now – roaming the East Coast from April to June – when it comes to his actual gigs, he has ensured some rather deliberate company. The Lonesome Highways tour will feature entirely female supports, something Mitchell has been championing for the last five years. He, quite reasonably, sees no reason why he shouldn’t help in his own small way to balance a gender discrepancy that has carried on far too long.
“Well, I think it’s pretty fair to make the assessment that in music, much like most parts of society, the female voice is not heard as much as the male,” he says. Though his tone is not angry, he is suddenly much more serious. “People who don’t like to hear that will say, ‘oh, I just like what I like, it just so happens everything I like is male’. But personally, in my own little world of touring, I don’t want my night out to be a fucking sausage party. I’m genuinely happier as a person, and I’m having a better time, if there’s a sense of gender balance in a room. I’ve been having female-only support acts for the last five years, it’s just no one has ever made mention of it before, which is fine. It’s better if people just think that it’s normal. But I’m one of fucking so many dudes with guitars singing about shit. I just feel like it’s a better night out, and hopefully my audience finds this too, when you have some variety. Obviously me making that decision isn’t going to change the world, but I feel that it’s important. If there’s any small thing that I can do to make female voices heard, I can do that by choosing a female musical guest. If that’s a choice that I have, it’s a choice that I’ll make.”
Bob Evans is touring nationally from April 20. For a full list of dates head to bobevans.com.au. Car Boot Sale is out now through EMI Music Australia.