Evann McIntosh Talks Finding Fluidity on New Project ‘Character Development’

Evann discusses with BRICKS how industry pressure, purple hair and Prince inspired their latest project, out this Friday.

PHOTOGRAPHY Khufu Najee

With only a few days to go, Evann McIntosh is gearing up for their new project, Character Development. The record follows up Mojo, which saw the Kansas musician’s star rise from relative obscurity to online virality thanks to singles ‘What Dreams Are Made Of’ and ‘WIYULD’.  

In anticipation of the project’s release, Evann released the single ‘COCO PEBBLES’, a funk-infused, Prince-inspired jam littered with infectious bass riffs, jazzy synths and sultry whispered vocals. It’s a step away from the sweet ballads that largely made up Mojo, and indicative of Evann’s genre-bending exploration on the new record. While the track has already amassed hundreds of thousands of streams, not everyone was a fan of the unexpected new sound. “I try not to read my comments on promoted posts just because I don’t like to put myself in a bad mood, and I know those opinions honestly don’t matter,” they say defiantly.

A distinct marker of progress, Evann says the response they received from the release was unexpected, but a learning experience. “It’s weird because that song has received the most negative comments – I’ve had people reach out to me about it and everything. But it’s important I think, because it’s the first time that I’ve been able to totally brush it off. You can’t tell me this song isn’t great!” 

Evann’s confident belief in their creative instincts is a clear marker of the ‘character development’ the teen musician has experienced already. Their stratospheric rise so early in their young career led to feeling pressure to deliver on their high standards. It’s a problem that many pop star successes face, especially due to the increasingly young age breakout stars find popularity, and with it intense internet-based fame. “I struggled with that for a while, trying to prove something to myself by proving things to other people,” they muse with mature introspection well beyond their 17 years. 

Ahead of Character Development release on Friday, BRICKS chats to Evann McIntosh about the inspirations behind the new project.

I was starting to feel the pressure to prove myself in an environment that’s very solid as somebody who’s very fluid.

Evann McIntosh

Fighting expectations

For Evann, this project all started with the title. “I decided on the name long before we knew there was going to be a pandemic, but the theme definitely became more relevant throughout,” they explain. “I just thought it was the perfect name for a sophomore album, because no matter what – whether the album is good or bad – the only thing that’s really promised with a new project is progress.”

“Going into this project with the theme of the title in mind, I planned to just talk about whatever I was thinking about at the time, but I think I’d kept some emotions in for a while and that all just poured out into the music. I think it’s ended up being a lot about my state of mind during that time and about obstacles that I wasn’t even aware I was facing, but I was starting to feel the pressure to prove myself in an environment that’s very solid as somebody who’s very fluid. I think that definitely bled into the theme,” says Evann. “It’s been therapeutic, it’s like a time capsule of that period of my life.”

Shaving

The project’s artwork displays a striking image of Evann, who identifies as nonbinary, shaving their face with a razor. They say this idea initially came from a Maggie Rogers interview with Genius: “She was talking about one of her songs and how she cut her hair, and she was talking about how your hair is multiple versions of yourself, because it just keeps growing, and that cutting it is like cutting out the past. And I just thought, that’s genius,” they say. “It got me thinking about ways we can cut out our past, like every time you cut your nails, so we did some pictures like that. And then we ended up using a razor, and that’s how we got this.”

Purple hair 

Evann’s hair has been a strong symbol of their identity, having dyed it many colours throughout their teens. The colour purple, however, stuck. “[Purple hair] is definitely linked to this project,” they say, “I had purple hair for Mojo but it was long and easier to maintain. I went through so many different hairstyles over the process of making Character Development – it started off with the long purple hair, and then last summer I got a shag-mullet and kept it purple. I kept shaving it on the sides shorter and shorter, and then in January we shot the cover artwork, which is funny because a few weeks later on my birthday, I shaved my head.”

“It was so important to me and so huge to just shave it all off,” they admit, “because I remember wanting to do it for so long. This year on my birthday, I’d done something really huge the day before – I spoke to a person who I hadn’t in ages and I was very scared about it – but I faced it. While we were speaking, they were teasing me about my hair and when I suggested shaving my head, they pulled a weird face. I just thought ‘fuck it, I’m doing it’ and I had a hair appointment the next day, and I just did it. It felt so good, like I really did feel like I was looking at a portion of my life that I was leaving behind and didn’t have to worry about anymore. It’s gone.”

When I’m in situations where I’m anxious or I’m nervous, I think ‘What would Prince do?’ and then I just try to enjoy myself and be cool.

Evann McIntosh

Prince

The Purple One himself, Evann recalls discovering Princes’ Sign of the Times album and the impact this had on their musical progression: “I totally try and channel Prince – I discovered his music during some very formative years especially for my music. I just look up to him so much and when I’m in situations where I’m anxious or I’m nervous, I think ‘what would Prince do?’ and then I just try to enjoy myself and be cool.”

Their mentor, Maria

“I try to surround myself with people who are uplifting,” says Evann. Having written, recorded and co-produced the project from home with family and friends around them, Evann says the lockdown made them appreciate the support network they have around them. Most notable, they say their mum is their “number one cheerleader”, along with musical mentor Maria.

“Maria sent me a song demo she called her rip off of Cellophane by FKA Twigs, because it sounded way too much like that, but it started off with the line “you could have loved me, but she didn’t dare / because love is selfless / and you couldn’t carry it as a badge of honour,” I just thought it was genius! 

It lingered around my head for a really long time, and I ended up starting ‘Guns in America’: “you could have loved me but you didn’t try to”. It’s not the best lyric on it – it’s probably one of the most boring – but I think I imagine it from the perspective of a child, you know? Like that innocence. I feel like that represents this project in a way, and the next project will represent finding validation from a more healthy and reliable source.”

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