JOEL EVAN: BODY AND SOUL
Joel Evan calls Arizona his home state, but he aroused a lot of gay male fantasies on an international level when he appeared (under the name Jet Kanashi), au naturel, in the pages of "Playgirl", "Men", and some high-end art photography books. Joel Evan, however, is more than just a pretty face and hot bod, and he wants the world to know it. He's a singer and songwriter with a new album, named "Embracing the Light... and then some". His voice is rich, deep, and highly emotional, with an occasional somber quality that evokes a young Morrissey. Joel laughs at the comparison, stating, "I have to admit, I've never listened to Morrissey. I can just say, 'Uh huh, I guess so!'" As you may infer from the title, there's also a clear spiritual element running through a lot of the songs. During the first half of the album, Joel largely keeps the music very organic and pure. Then, the music gets a bit more daring and experimental, with tracks like the wonderfully self-indulgent "My Former Sins": a song that features some touches of house and '80's new wave. Among the other highlights on the CD are "Each Step is High", the truly beautiful "From This Life", and "Labyrinth", which features a dance tempo adorned by some Eastern-sounding beats. The album was produced by Craig Lawrence, and Joel wrote the lyrics to all but two of the songs. One of those is "Closer to Perfection", an industrial-flavored cover of an A-Teens (Remember them?) song. The other is "Moonlight Densetsu", which Joel sings in Japanese. New York City audiences got a mega-rare chance to see Joel Evan perform live on Wednesday, March 18th, at Will Clark's Porno Bingo at Pieces. Joel performed "A Lighter Side of Sorrow"... and for the show, he wore only underwear, a hat, and high, high boots. Needless to say, there was a collective gasp as the very muscular singer appeared on stage. The song started out slow, and later increased in tempo halfway through, provoking another wave of excitement from the crowd. Evan's musical performance was the climax of a particularly zesty night at Will's weekly event: a night that also included playwright/actor David Drake and infamous nightlife promoter Daniel Nardicio as Will's guests. Nardicio, interestingly, used to work for "Playgirl": He can be seen driving the "Playgirl" van all over town and was once the magazine's "gay marketing consultant" before new management at the mag tried to return "Playgirl" back to being a "women's only" (Yeah sure!) publication. Whether or not it worked seems irrelevant today: The January/February 2009 ish of the landmark magazine (which featured another out musician, Randy Jones of the Village People) was the last printed issue.
On stage, Mr. Evan is definitely an imposing presence. In person, as we talk in a Chelsea eatery, he's quite soft-spoken, and happy to reveal to me his affinity for the Japanese anime "Sailor Moon", as well as that one of the main reasons he doesn't want to move to L.A. or New York City anytime soon is because he's worried he wouldn't be able to take his beloved dog with him. While in New York, Joel also told me that he had an upcoming interview with a major fashion modeling agency... the same agency that sent him away for years because he was, in their words, "not tall enough". He added, "However, I can still do underwear." We can all be thankful for that!
JR: Congratulations on the new album. So, who were your role models, musically?
JE: Roxette. And Ace of Bass.
JR: One of your songs ("Moonlight Densetsu") is sung in Japanese. Do you have an affinity for Japanese culture?
JE: I do. My father was raised in Japan. Our family always had Japanese this and that. When I was a teenager, I started studying it myself. I went to a Japanese school on Saturday mornings in Mesa, Arizona. At the same time, I LOVE-- I'm totally obsessed-- with "Sailor Moon". What can I say? That song is the theme song from "Sailor Moon". I idolize and worship that cartoon, and I'll watch the episodes over and over again.
JR: How has the mainstream press treated you, as an out singer?
JE: I don't think I've had any mainstream press... yet! For my first CD, the only people that responded and said that the had interest were the gay publications. I didn't understand. it made me very depressed, 'cause I felt very rejected. But you know, you get over it. I always assume it's because of the way I look. Maybe I intimidate them when they're straight... I don't know!
JR: Do you ever get tired of people describing you as "Playgirl model turned singer", or some variation of that?
JE: Well, it's not true. I had already recorded my first CD before I posed for them. I also posed for "Men". People tend to forget that, which is weird because I was on the cover of that one. But even then I was working on the CD before I posed for them. The thing that bothers me about the whole nudity thing is that they just don't get it. They don't understand that I just enjoy being nude in front of a camera, and that it's a form of self-expression. It's not about being a whore or being a slut. You know, sex can be art. These people that are interviewing me just don't get it. I don't want to say they're ignorant, but they're very closed-minded.
JR: Do you feel that, maybe, they believe that you were doing this for publicity for your music?
JE: I WAS doing it for publicity. I wanted to promote the album. I've done nude modeling for years. When I started doing it, it never occurred to me that "Oh my God, this is immoral or wrong!" or that people were going to judge me. It felt very normal for me.
JR: Do you feel that people judge you for it, sometimes?
JE: Ah... Yes!
JR: You'd think that people would be past that by now, in this day and age!
JE: Well, I've heard my fair share of "He really can't sing, and he just looks good."
JR: That's B.S. From what I saw last night, I think that the audience at first reacted the same way they would normally react by seeing a good-looking, buff
guy on stage. But then after that, they really liked the music... So, when you were a kid, did you ever look at "Playgirl"?
JE: No. I never even heard of it when I was a kid. Did they have it?
JR: (Laughs) We've had it since the '70's! It was a rite of passage for a lot of gay men. At least when I was growing up...
JE: I never even heard of it, until I was an adult.
JR: There was no Internet, so everything was in print. If you were a kid and you were lucky or bold enough to get a snare a copy of it, you were like, "Wow!" 'Cause you just could not see naked men anywhere else.
JE: I saw "Playboy" when I was little. I said "Wow, that looks funny. I don't think I wanna touch that!" (Both laugh)
JR: Do you have any interesting stories after you appeared in "Playgirl" or "Men"? Did you have any unwanted attention? Did any guys try to find you or contact you?
JE: My "Playgirl" spread-- This is the honest truth-- went unnoticed. I got one fan letter after I posed in there. Because, they gave me a tiny spread. It was two pages, and it was grainy. I felt like I was abused by them. I was mad. I complained. And they used the wrong name at the time.
JR: Were they going for some "artsy" look? Was that why it was grainy?
JE: I don't know. It was just stupid. It said "Afternoon Delight: Having Fun with Joel and His Pole" or something like that. It was just a bad choice of photos. There was one or two good ones, and most of them were just really bad. And I asked my fans. I told them about it, and they were like, "Yeah, this is terrible!" "Men" treated me like a god. They put me on the cover, they gave me a full page spread and interview, and in two proceeding issues after that, they would mention my CD in the little "Letters to the Editor" section. So, they treated me with respect... and "Playgirl" was just like, "Here's your money. Go away."
JR: So, I take it you don't have any kind of relationship with "Playgirl" now?!
JE: I don't.
JR: When you appeared in the magazines, did people recognize you on the street?
JR: No one looked at you a little funny?
JE: Everyone looks at me funny! It's 'cause I just stand out, physically.
JR: In this town, to stand out is a great thing. Especially in this neighborhood, where so many guys look like models!
JE: Nobody's ever said, "I've seen you somewhere before." But, I don't go to gay places. I go to the straightest gym in the world, with the ladies with big boobs, and muscle guys that hold on to their girls the whole time they're there...
JR: Well, maybe they're doing that so they don't look gay... They're insecure! (Both laugh)
JR: How long have you been involved in making music?
JE: I started when I was 23, and I'm 26 now. But I've been toying with lyrics since I was 18, when I actually decided that I wanted to be a singer. Through the help of Craig (Lawrence, the album's producer), we actually changed words on paper into actual songs. I always wanted to do it, but I was so scared. I didn't even have a voice. I used to whisper when I was younger!
JR: Out of all the songs on "Embracing the Light... and then some", is there one that's most important to you?
JE: The song that means the most to me? "Good Job". It's kind of like an explanation that: I am one, and I am many at the same time... and that everything I've been is also everything that everyone else has been. It's that "one in the same, union of human nature" kind of thing. And plus, it's really fun to sing live.
JR: It's interesting that you performed at Pieces wearing, shall we say, next to nothing. You didn't try to downplay any sexy aspect of yourself, like "I want my music to be taken seriously!"... On the other hand, a lot of artists who appeal to our community exploit their sexuality, but don't have any real talent underneath to offer. You seem to feel really natural about it.
JE: I will tell you, have performed in many different attire. And when I'm fully clothed and singing, I don't feel comfortable. I start sweating and feel really constricted. The less I wear, the better I feel. It's the same thing in front of the camera. But the weird thing is that when I'm me, just Joel walking down the street, I like to be completely clothed. I don't even like T-shirts! Plus, it was Porno Bingo. They told me I had to outdo the porn stars! I was like, "OK. I'll wear something good!"
JR: Do you feel that the taboo on full frontal male nudity in the media has been at least somewhat lifted? Like, nowadays, you can see it on TV in shows like "Oz", and in some R-rated moves... Years ago, R-rated movies never showed full male nudity. And now you see Jason Segel's penis many times in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall", for example.
JE: I think that started with "Scary Movie"! (Laughs) The Wayans brothers and all their penis jokes. I think that's where it started...
JR: Well, I guess that's progress in a way! (Laughs) But, when I was a kid, as soon as I had a VCR, I would rent foreign movies just because I found out they had full frontal male nudity. You just didn't see it in American movies! This was before the advent of the Internet.
JE: I think that Americans still have yet to embrace the idea that it's a beautiful thing-- just like they view female nudity as art, as a beautiful thing. I think the mainstream media still has yet to see that with men because it's still used as a form of humor. In the James Bond movie, they'll maybe Daniel Craig's "boo-tay", but there not gonna show his ding-a-ling.
JR: Yeah, definitely not!
JE: 'Cause, people would laugh at it. 'Cause we were taught to laugh at male nudity.
JR: That's too bad that we can't get past that! So, what do you do in your spare time, when you're not performing... besides, obviously, working out!
JE: (Laughs) A little bit! I'm very simple. I like to read, to do nothing. I do lots of nothing! I customize "Sailor Moon" dolls. I buy the old ones on E-Bay, and then I learned how to re-do the heads. I give them new outfits, and sometimes makeup, and then I re-sell them. It's the "girl" in me... What can I tell you?! .
JR: Wow! That's interesting. That's a very cool pastime. Is there a cult dedicated to Sailor Moon?
JR: In a sentence or two, what makes your album "Embracing the Light... and then some" a unique experience?
JE: Nobody talks like me! My lyrics are really weird. I say basic things, but I also say things that nobody else say. The opening line of "I'll Keep Smiling" is "I wish I knew you the day you were born. Maybe I'd know you better." Who says that? The second verse goes, "I think I knew you before you were born. You were much happier then". Who says that?! Rihanna doesn't say that! Britney Spears wouldn't say that. (Both laugh) You can't always just keep saying the same message... well, you can; that's what sells! But you know, it's a shame. People should look into themselves.
JR: So, what are your plans with the new album?
JE: I'm actually ready to move on to album number three! But, you know, I'll promote "Embracing the Light... and then some" as much as I can!
JR: Any plans to come back to New York yet?
JR; Oh, come on! Give the people what they want!
JE: I should! (Jokingly) I'll come back next week for one day only. I'll run naked through the street. But you all have to be there!
Joel Evan's video for "I'll Keep Smiling" is currently the #8 most requested video on MTV LOGO's "Click List". Go to www.LOGOonline.com to check it out and vote!