Boisean Ned Evett has become synonymous with the fretless guitar. He was a featured performer at the world's leading fretless guitar festival, La Nuit De La Fretless (Night of the Fretless) in France, released an innovative debut album, An Introduction to Fretless Guitar, performed on the album Fretless Guitar Masters (which he also co-produced) and won the North American Rock Guitar Championship, arguably due to the fact he played a fretless. Evett is clearly a master in his field (he also created a fretless glass-necked guitar), but there's more to this tall almost-40-year-old phenom with curly red hair and an easy smile. With an interview in Guitar Magazine due out in May and a new solo album, Middle of the Middle, poised to hit shelves this month, Evett has a lot to be proud of.
Boise Weekly: How long did you work on the new album? What was the impetus behind it?
Ned Evett: Two years almost to the day. About a month before starting the album, I broke up my band and I stopped working with my management team. I wanted to focus on making a really great record. Sometimes your career takes up all your time; managing your career becomes the thing that you do instead of really focusing on making music. As cliché as that sounds, it's pretty true. You can be a victim of your own success to a certain extent. You become a victim to the pursuit of success, I should say.
So it wasn't anything in particular that happened? You just thought, "I want to make a really good album?"
No, nothing happened. I [wanted] to make a good album, and the only way I can conceive of doing that is to not have a career that's on my radar every second of the day.
In letting go, how did you manage over the last two years? Did you set up your own shows? Did you sit at home and write?
No, I toured. I flew over 120,000 miles around Europe. I toured as a solo artist. In breaking up the band, it freed me to do more solo gigs and not have to worry about keeping a band together. The band had been together for two and a half years and had done two records, Circus Liquor  and iStole , with the same personnel on both albums. When I broke up the band, I kept my drummer, Brett Porter. This is very, very important to me: He's been the anchor of the Ned Evett pop sound. The drums are practically the most important foundational item in a pop recording. Brett is an amazing drummer. He's a keeper.
Was it scary to be out on your own, or totally freeing?
That's a great question. I like the challenge of taking [my] songs and going in front of a crowd with a guitar and that's it. That's all you've got. I makes [me] really value the songs as opposed to the instrumentation of the band. It cuts it down to the very core. Going solo was really good for me. It affirmed my identity as a songwriter.
Did that make you think more about things like lyrics and phrasing, and did that change your sound?
Sure. Things are always evolving. Things evolve over a period of time.
You hope they do at least.
[Laughs] You hope they do. Some people have different philosophies on it. Generally, you record a record and then you tour. So by the end of a tour, the album might sound a lot different than when you started off.
Because sometimes with a band, I focused more on my fretless guitar playing, which I'm pretty well known for. Some people show up just to see that [my guitar playing] specifically.
Here's the guy who plays the fretless, glass-necked guitar.
Right. And that's fine, but it has a sort of a "monster truck" aspect of the entertainment side.
You're a novelty.
That's part of it and I'm comfortable with that, but I really feel I can put both things [guitar playing and songwriting] across on an album and on stage. Going solo really proved that to me.
And maybe the novelty of seeing the guy who plays the fretless guitar gets people to your shows, but hopefully, it's your songwriting and music that brings them back.
Thank you. Yes. That's exactly it. Plus for me what's interesting is that a lot of guitar players are aged 30 to 50. It's an older demographic. Many of them have wives or steady girlfriends. But I'm the kind of artist that when [those guitar players] drag [their wives or girlfriends] along to the show, they generally will appreciate the songwriting and singing. That's proved very valuable to me. I feel like I'm an artist who appeals to all kinds of people.
So, did you write the entire album while you were on the road?
On this album, I can almost tell you the country that each song was written or recorded in.
Do that ...
"Middle of the Middle" and "Get Back to England" were written in France. "Every Ten" I did in Australia. "Soul Inside" was in Florida, a country unto itself [laughs]. "Do You Remember Our Life" was recorded in my 20s. It's an old song. This is interesting too: "Fear" I recorded in London, the summer of the two bombings. I was in London that night in 2005. That song is largely about [how] I had to walk seven miles outside of London with my gear because the whole city was shut down. I had to walk to get to a place where the promoter could pick me up for my next show. "Fear" is largely about exiting a major metropolitan area on foot with everybody else in the city. "Through It" was recorded in Oregon. I was on tour, and I got pulled over for speeding. I was in the car with my friend Franck Vigroux. We thought we were going to jail for sure.
What's the message behind "Faded Away?"
I'm glad it's on this album because "Middle of the Middle" is about being in your late 30s. You're still young enough to remember your school year,s and you're still trying to make sense of it all. You still haven't let go of everything. It [late 30s] is a great time to embrace and celebrate some of those emotions and to relive some of the painful stuff. Songwriting is very cathartic, and it can become very real on record if you can capture some of that spirit. "Faded Away" is a little bit of a time line. Third grade, fourth grade and then a big blast of adolescence in the middle and then the big heavy break is everything you go through after 6th grade and then pick it up again senior year, and then the die is cast for a lot of us. We follow that path.
That comes across in the song. And your voice is so strong on this album even when it's filtered. It's such an important instrument on Middle of the Middle.
Thank you. I like the sound of that. I've always been a fan of drum machines and synthesizers and processors. I grew up at a time when that equipment had become pretty affordable really. But it was always about the latest and greatest thing. The newest thing would come out and nobody would want the thing that was just cool a year ago. I was always the guy who bought that stuff. Used! So I always had new tools. One of the reasons I really like "Middle of the Middle" is I've always liked the sound of a real drummer clashing with a drum machine, or an acoustic guitar against a synthesizer. I've always liked that mix. This is the first time I've ever actually gone with that sensibility. I played everything on this record except for the drums.
What is behind "Middle of the Middle" and how did that become the title track to the new album, and why is it so far down on the tracklist?
First of all, "Middle of the Middle" is the middle song. I liked the idea of it being exactly in the middle of the running order. It's a song about the relative worth of your persona, your celebrity--whatever that is--versus your relationships and your friends and how you can create a a lot of that stuff in your head as your pursuing success. I want to be very clear about that. As an artist, I'm not a hugely successful artist. I pursue it, so most of the ... let me clarify: It's not like I had a hit record 10 years ago and I'm still trying to cash in on that success. It's taken a long time for people to warm up to the idea of the fretless guitar. It has been a plus and a little bit of a barrier at times. A lot of people think I'm this avant-garde stylist, and I'm not. I'm a pop songwriter. There are reviewers out there who wish I'd just do instrumental guitar records. I'm not going to do that. You have one life. You get one shot. I'm going to do what I want to do. "Middle of the Middle" is about me being out there. I've put myself out there pursuing something. "Middle of the Middle" is largely about the head games encountered while pursuing success. And, really, any pursuit of the arts is not cash heavy. You make some severe sacrifices. And you pass those sacrifices along to your family and friends. Even stretching back to high school, I spent hours and hours and hours working on my guitar playing instead of hanging with my friends. "Middle of the Middle" is a resource song [laughs]; it's about internal resources.
Ned Evett performs songs from Middle of the Middle at a free in-store show at Record Exchange on February 27, 5:30 p.m. Check out www.nedevett.com for more information on Evett and fretless guitars.