Evan Weiss of Into It. Over It. (Photo: Shervin Lainez)

In Under The Influence, The A.V. Club asks a musician to pair three of their songs with a non-musical influence.

Into It. Over It. is a band that’s constantly transforming. Though it started as the nom de plume for Evan Weiss’ songwriting project—the culmination of his weekly challenge being 52 Weeks—in 2012, after the release of its first studio full-length Proper, Into It. Over It. toured as a full band for the very first time. Since then, the band’s members have fully changed over, but Weiss is still at the center of it all. For the band’s third full-length, Weiss and drummer Josh Sparks decamped to San Francisco’s Tiny Telephone studios to record with John Vanderslice. The result is Standards, a record that shows Into It. Over It.’s full range of sounds while making its most cohesive record to date. The A.V. Club talked to Weiss about three songs from Standards, each one telling a story that’s as diverse as the record itself.

Song: “Your Lasting Image” from Standards
Influence: Recording of the OSCAR 1 satellite from December 12, 1961

Evan Weiss: I stumbled onto this video on YouTube of satellite sounds from the first-ever satellite. So I was scrolling through these different sounds and there was this one, OSCAR 1, December 12, 1961. And the song “Your Lasting Image,” the first verse is about this time the band went to the Grand Canyon. We got there at like 5 p.m., and it was fall, so it got dark at like 6:30 p.m. We brought a little bit of weed, and brought a half bottle of whiskey, and just went out there. When you go to the Grand Canyon, on the south rim, you can just walk up to the cliff’s edge and hang your feet over it, or walk down the rocks that border it, and you’re looking down this 10-story drop. We were the only people left out there and it got dark, and when it’s dark at the Grand Canyon there aren’t any lights. So we’re a little tipsy, and just laying down on the ground as the stars and satellites come out, and that was the first piece of imagery that I used in the song. I thought, what would be a good sonic piece of imagery that I could use to portray that visual? I tried explaining to [John] Vanderslice, “How can we recreate this feeling? Imagine this sound and being in this vast, open area.” That’s kind of the inspiration for how that whole song came together.

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AVC: The opening of the song has a loop that’s strikingly similar to the OSCAR 1 recording.

EW: I tried to get it as close to a satellite loop as I could. The whole intro and outro is kind of like this glitchy thing that we made. It’s a bunch of instruments and it just creates this glitchy, beep-and-boop sound, but in time. It felt like it was the most beautiful of all the satellite sounds I found. It’s not very aggressive. It’s just arrhythmic and soothing.

AVC: Had you found that recording before you started working on the song, or was it the last piece of the puzzle?

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EW: We’d written the song and I was looking for a way to create a rhythmic pulse without putting drums on it. That felt, at first, like a really good approach that would symbolically tie together the visual of the song while, at the same time, suiting the sound of the song itself. It’s a pretty spacey, very delay-laden, expansive sounding song. The visual that I would like to plant in peoples’ heads when they listen to that song is: You’re at the Grand Canyon, and you’re kind of drunk, and you’re laying on your back just enjoying the landscape, enjoying this wide-open area without being bothered or intruded on by anybody.

AVC: Was that the first time you’d ever been to the Grand Canyon?

EW: It was the third. I went once with my family when I was 21 or 22, for my parent’s 30th wedding anniversary. Then I went alone on another tour. But this was the first time I went with Into It. Over It. as it stands now, the current iteration. It’s still just as overwhelming every single time you go.

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That time was the coolest time, only because no one else was there. The weather was great, it was at sunset, not a cloud in the sky, and you could really see it and enjoy it. The photos we got from our phones and our crappy, point-and-shoot cameras all look insane. Every photo we took looks like we Photoshopped ourselves into them.

AVC: Was it hard to convey that mental image?

EW: To be able to create the visual sonically, that was pretty hard to do. It actually took a lot of work and a lot of prep. But I think giving that to John really helped him. I was like, “Imagine you’re doing this,” and he was like, “Got it.” And he was able to make that effect work.

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AVC: Was that a strength of recording with John, being able to express these abstract concepts and have him immediately understand?

EW: I’d be working on a part and be like, “The color blue.” And he’d be like, “Okay. I know what you’re going for.” I don’t have synesthesia, which would mean being able to see music, but I know people who do and that’s fucking insane. But I’ve gotten a lot better at explaining music in terms of visuals or color. The more you get involved, and the more you research and read about famous records in history, if someone says a color like “blue” or “red,” you know exactly where they’re going with that. It’s basically the difference between a song being cool or angry. Years ago, I thought that was ridiculous. But now, as a grown man, I have a little more of a concept of that. But John is excellent at it.

There’s a song that’s a B-side on the record—that will probably come out later next year—and there’s a visual I gave him where I wanted it to feel like you were driving in your car, you’re on the highway and it’s dark, then all of a sudden you hit a tunnel. You go from pitch black to a well-lit, bright tunnel, then back to dark again. I wanted to capture the kind of sensory overload that hits, and he was able to achieve that, too. Then I could be like, “It’s not tunnel-y enough!” And he knew what I was talking about.

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Song: “Anesthetic” from Standards
Influence: The experience of being under local anesthetic

EW: A couple years ago my friend Nick [Wakim, of CSTVT and the previous drummer of Into It. Over It.], who’s a doctor, was doing his anesthesia rotation. I wasn’t really familiar with what anesthesia was or what local anesthetic was—how, essentially, they’re killing you. They’re putting you under and turning you into a corpse in order to perform an operation and then they’re able bring you out. I felt, lyrical content aside, I wanted to capture sonically what it would feel like to be under local anesthetic, and what does your brain think of, or see, when you’re technically dead. What would those sounds be? What would the tones be?

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In that song it’s very soft. Everything’s kind of a little muffled, like it’s underwater. That was definitely a visual and auditory component in putting that song together. There’s some loosely based lyrical imagery, but a lot of sonic imagery that I wanted to be able to portray with that song as well. After Nick went through that rotation and talked about it, he wrote a song about for his band [CSTVT], which was called “Ghost Boat,” I started looking into it and what the body goes through in that process. What you would see, and what you would dream, in that lucid, death state? Or would you see anything? Would you dream anything? Would you experience anything? Would you even get sound, or would your brain even process what’s going on in the hours, or even days, that you’re under a local anesthetic?

AVC: It’s interesting to see this subject matter approached in a more delicate way, as it seems most bands that take on surgery and the mechanics of it focus on the more horrific elements and end up sounding like Iron Lung. This song kind of seems to focus more on the trust inherent in this process instead of the potential hiccups that could come along with it.

EW: Yeah, exactly. I don’t know if I thought of it quite like that, but… I think I fear death in the same way a lot of people do, but I don’t have this brutal, evil imagery attached to it. I have this peaceful, calming, closure imagery tied to it. I fear it for the same reason I fear closure in a lot of things, but I definitely don’t have as much dark or angry imagery attached to it.

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It’s kind of like there’s a haze over it. That’s how I feel at 30 as opposed to how I did at 20, or opposed to how I did at 15. Things just tend to get progressively, more and more… There’s just a glaze over it. It’s like someone is staining wood. Once every 10 years, it’s just a little thicker and darker and cloudier than it maybe used to be. I can only imagine as you get older and older it becomes even more so until you’re gone. I realized it later, once the record was done, how much imagery involving death there is on the record. Which is insane, because I actually don’t think about it ever.

AVC: The record has this understated sense of loss and change, but not necessarily in a negative way.

EW: I think I’m hitting that age now where I maybe feel like half my life is done, and that the people that are close to me, in a family sense, I am beginning to see them age. Kate [Grube of Kittyhawk] and I went home for Christmas this year and it was the first year where everyone just seemed really tired. That was hard to swallow a little bit. You begin to see everyone old, and it’s not the same youthful family you remember. And it’s even harder for me not living in close proximity to my family so I only see them a few times a year. But I’m really beginning to notice their age in a way that I hadn’t before. I think that’s a big thing that’s kind of weighing heavy.

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The most generic shit that you’d kind of write songs about, none of that is going wrong right now for me. I live in an apartment that I like, and I’m dating someone that I’m really happy with, and the band is going really well, and I’m happy with my friend group, and I’m happy with my work, so when you begin to find satisfaction in the stuff that’s really important to you, and the stuff that’s really close to you, you begin to kind of see the things you’re maybe not so close to and the flaws in those things, because you’re looking for something to write about. That’s been a big point of interest for me lately. Seeing how people I maybe haven’t spoken to in a long-time, seeing how they’re doing, and trying to play catch up with that.

Song: “Open Casket” from Standards
Influence: His love-hate relationship with New Jersey

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I found out like five or six of my friends had just gone through, or were about to go through, a divorce within a three-month period. It was all between when we wrote the record and recorded it. And they’re all my age. They’re all from where I’m from. It’s like, where have I been? How did I miss all of this?

AVC: And having a vastly different experience from that.

EW: Yeah, at least so far. It was kind of a shock. I don’t go home to New Jersey very often, but when I do I try to catch up as much as possible. And for everything to go from being really awesome to, all of a sudden, not so awesome anymore, just through sheer minutia and monotony, was kind of hard to swallow. I think that’s a common thing for a lot of people to have a love-hate relationship with where they’re from, but mine has only grown exponentially in the last year. At least how much I have a distaste for where I’m from and I don’t think I could ever go back.

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AVC: What do you think has sparked that in you?

EW: For the longest time I felt like, not that I felt like moving to Chicago was a mistake, but it definitely felt like I had maybe ditched out on New Jersey and Philadelphia a little too soon. I had gotten disenchanted and made kind of a rash decision to come here.

AVC: How old were you when you moved to Chicago?

EW: 23, right before I turned 24. I’m 31 now, so I’ve been here just about eight years. I felt maybe I kind of made a rash decision to come here and I hadn’t really thought it through. I just had the opportunity to leave and I split. But then the more and more I go back I see my same friends, who I love, they are working the same jobs or dating the same people who they don’t like. Or it’s day-in and day-out at the same bar, doing the same drugs, still living with their parents and complaining about the things they wished they’d done and hadn’t done. It’s like, “I could lose all of this!” It’s like, fuck. I come home every year and still they complain about it.

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AVC: They’ve made no noticeable progress.

EW: I think that’s common for people who come from the suburbs and move to a city. But then they all ask you, “How do you do it?” And I don’t know. I just did it. I took a risk.

That’s been a big thing for me as well, regaining that confidence about it being a good idea that I left. Because I absolutely could have fallen into that trope of, “I’m from the suburbs and I’ve got the safe job. I did it!”

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AVC: Got the job, got the house, got the kids, got the divorce.

EW: Yeah, right. Then you’re back in your parents’ basement. You’re back at Brewers, the Haddon Height’s bar, or Connie Mack’s or something.

AVC: It’s a song that plants an image in the listener’s head of their own experiences with people in their life.

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The main thing with the newest Into It. Over It. record was trying to convey the visual with the audio. So the angriest song has the gnarliest overdrive on it. There’s a song called “Required Reading” that’s just about talking in circles about this really abusive scenario, and how the song kind of feels like this motor humming, like it’s a belt sander or something. That was all intentional. Thinking about the sonic treatment and thinking about how the lyrics were phrased, and how they were written, were supposed to make you feel like something was a little wrong, or maybe way too right.