‘Don’t you think it’s time?’ Bob Evans opined on his 2006 breakout hit of the same name.
‘Time to start anew, time for changing views, time for making up your mind?’.
Some five albums down the track from Bob Evans’ modest beginnings, Full Circle – The Best Of most certainly arrives at an appropriate time, albeit one for reflection these many years later. Kevin Mitchell was already under the Australian music spotlight as singer/guitarist for indie-rock-darlings Jebediah when in 1998 he found a t-shirt in a Perth op-shop with the number 15 on the back, and the name ‘Bob Evans’ printed on the front. Coincidentally at this time he was embarking on his first solo shows in Perth and a random name on someone’s discarded basketball shirt took hold.
“There was never a plan,” he says. “It’s only in retrospect that I can make sense of a lot of stuff. I think what I was really doing with Bob Evans was just revisiting the way that I started writing music when I was 12 or 13, on an acoustic guitar, listening to folk stuff, like The Mamas & The Papas or Don McLean, just the sort of stuff that was playing around the house at my mum and dad’s place. I was doing that for about five years before Jebediah started and rock’n’roll took over. I guess it was always there; I just felt the urge or the calling to revisit it.
“The circumstances were difficult, too, because Jebediah were quite successful and well-known and I think that’s why I went to such pains to give myself a name and do everything low-key and not go out as ‘Kevin Mitchell from Jebediah’. I did things in a way that maintained integrity for the band and for myself. I didn’t want to ride on the coattails of the band.”
He may have grown out of the t-shirt, but the name fit and has stayed for an impressive solo career. Even, for the longest time, to seemingly under-researched interviewers unaware of Bob Evan’s real-life alias.
“This Bob Evans guy has been hitching a ride in my life for 20 years,” Mitchell laughs. “It’s an unusual relationship to have with something that isn’t real.”
Five years into playing solo shows, the first Bob Evans album, Suburban Kid, emerged in 2003, released via Jebediah’s own Redline Records label. While it didn’t receive much attention outside of WA, it started a new momentum for Mitchell’s solo career, with EMI signing him up for his second LP, Suburban Songbook, recorded in Nashville. Led by the aforementioned single, Don’t You Think It’s Time?, it set a new career path in motion.
“When Suburban Songbook came out and it was embraced and was successful, I had this whole new kind of career,” Mitchell recalls. “It really saved my arse because at the time Jebediah were kind of just burnt out and taking a break, and I… can’t do anything else.
“If that record hadn’t done anything, I’m sure I would’ve kept writing and making music in some way, but that’s the closest I’ve ever come to quitting music as a career option. The success of that record gave me the life and the confidence and the means to continue. Everything I’ve done since then has kind of just been a product of that, which I’m incredibly grateful for.”
With Suburban Songbook winning Mitchell an ARIA Award for ‘Best Adult Contemporary Album’, 2009’s Goodnight, Bull Creek! saw him return to record the last of his ‘suburban trilogy’ in Nashville. He recalls moving on from Suburban Songbook being on par with Jebediah following up Slightly Odway, their smash hit 1997 debut LP. “It was an unexpected success, certainly more than I had expected,” he says. “It’s a strange mental game, making music after that and all of a sudden you’ve got this massive audience you’ve never had before.”
The audience stayed on and several ARIA Award nominations followed, but Mitchell from this point went on to collaborate with Kav Temperley, Josh Pyke and Steve Parkin on the eponymous 2010 Basement Birds LP. Jebediah’s Kosciuszko album was released in 2011, a year which also saw the start of his young family.
2013 saw the release of Familiar Stranger, with Mitchell wanting to make a record “that sounded nothing like any other Bob Evans record I’d made. I didn’t want to make an acoustic or singer/songwriter album, none of those labels. I felt creatively and artistically very confident in that record. I’m very proud of that record, but I had such a grand concept for it that I think I got a little bit lost in it and couldn’t quite deliver it the way that I imagined I would.”
As a result 2016’s Car Boot Sale was about going back to basics. “It was very much a return to the first couple of records that I made,” Mitchell notes, “digging into that singer/songwriter thing that I’d tried to get away from.”
In the same way that Mitchell’s Bob Evans life started as an acoustic return from the rock’n’roll of Jebediah, Car Boot Sale took him back, style-wise, to the start of that very solo career.
So what better time for changing views and, perhaps, to start anew?
Mitchell concludes, “Looking forward, I guess I’m trying really hard to be keenly aware of what I want to do. It’s such a game to keep creatively stimulated and excited.”