Japonize Elephants, Rogue Wave guitarist dead at 33
Bloomington musician Evan Farrell is being remembered in 2008 for his work as a guitarist, his gregarious personality and a sincere, honest and generous approach to life that deeply moved friends and colleagues. Farrell was best known for his work with Bloomington/Oakland circus-rock group The Japonize Elephants and Oakland indie-rock band Rogue Wave.
The 33-year-old died Dec. 23 in Oakland, Calif., from injuries sustained in a fire. Farrell was in the Bay Area to play live dates and record an album with The Elephants.
Farrell was a mainstay on the Bloomington music scene, not only as a member of The Japonize Elephants, one of the first bands to sign with the then-fledgling Bloomington independent label Secretly Canadian, but also through his latest group, The Hollows, as well as in countless side projects and late-night jam sessions. He played bass and pedal steel for the fall 2007 tour of another Secretly Canadian band, the alt-country Magnolia Electric Company.
“Everyone knew him in Bloomington,” according to Japonize Elephants saxophonist Mitch Marcus. “Even if they’d met him once and just for a minute, you never forgot him.”
Farrell also spent time in the Northern California music scene as bass player for Rogue Wave from fall 2004 through spring 2007. He played on the band’s second record, Descended Like Vultures, released on Sub Pop in October 2005.
Joining the Elephants
The Elephants, who describe their music as “hardcore-gypsy-circusgrass-pirate-clown madness,” were born in Bloomington in 1994 and relocated to the San Francisco area in 1999. Farrell joined the band shortly after it formed, and although he didn’t follow his bandmates to live out West, he reunited with The Elephants for tours and recording sessions.
Elephant Sylvain Carton remembers the show at Borders bookstore in Bloomington that earned Farrell his place in the band: “At the time [of the show], we didn’t have a bass player: We had guitar, banjo, accordion, flute, fiddle, junk [percussion], everything but the bass. There weren’t many people there; only about 25 or 30 people. Evan was sitting there in the front row, and the entire two and a half hours that we were there playing, he was dancing in his seat and being just absolutely hilarious. It was totally detracting from our show.”
Carton continues, “So after we got done playing, we realized that he had been entertaining us more than we had entertained anyone else. So we just said, ‘Evan, you’re going to play bass with us, how about that?’ It didn’t stop there. Once he joined the band, there were just endless hours of entertainment.”
Songwriter, crooner, steel guitarist
More than a bass player, Farrell contributed his unique energies and talents to the songwriting process. “He would come up with funny turns of phrases that none of us would have ever thought of,” Carton says. “There were images that he would come up with that were pretty hilarious and pretty much unique to him.”
Elephants junk percussionist David Gantz says that Farrell not only exposed the group to new music, he also taught them how to entertain an audience: “He was just a confident person, and so confident on stage, so able to work a room, that it really showed us how to do that … He was young when he first started playing with us, but he had that natural ability to really take control of a room.”
The band was also impressed by Farrell’s singing abilities, according to Marcus: “Besides being an important force in the songwriting, he could also sing anything. His range was from that of a crooner, to metal-type screams, to Willie Nelson or Neil Young, even mariachi!”
Farrell, a versatile instrumentalist, was preparing to lay down pedal guitar tracks for a new Japonize Elephants album while in California, an instrument he had recently added to his repertoire of guitar, bass and dobro.
Actor, amateur comedian
Farrell also starred in a series of short films directed by Elephant David Gantz (available on YouTube through a search for “Evan Farrell”). One of the films is a recording of Farrell’s lounge act, which he performed under the moniker “Gogo Yaya.”
Kevin MacDowell, a Bloomington-area musician who performs as Kid Kazooey, “The Singin’ and Swingin’ Librarian,” is just one of many of Farrell’s friends that fondly recall his sense of humor. MacDowell first met Farrell when, in 1998, he was asked to join Sylvain Carton’s klezmer band, The Hunted Haunted Bazerghan Klezmorkestra, one of many short-lived groups to which Farrell lent his talents.
“I tried to show up places where I thought he would be, just so I might laugh out loud for a half hour straight again,” MacDowell recounts. “‘Cuzin’ Evan’ said it made him uncomfortable when I told him that he was the only guy that could make me pee my pants, but it was true. And it remains true, as even just his face in my mind’s eye can still split my side! And so his spirit lives on. That fellow is immortal, I’m sure of it.”
Putting it all together
Summing up his musical legacy, Marcus says Farrell was “probably the single most creative musician I’ve met. [He was] an unbelievable resource of songs, anything from TV show themes, to pop music, to tin-pan-alley, or old jazz standards.”
Conjuring up Farrell, MacDowell asks, “You know the type of musician that plays one note and you melt? How about the type that reminds you to practice more? Or the type that makes you never want to stop playing?”
And bandmate Carton calls him one “of the most honest, sincere, friendly, funny people I’ve ever known,” going on to say that “as crazy, boisterous and out-there of a person as he was, he was always the first person to notice if someone needed help.”
Farrell is survived by his wife and two sons. There are several ways to donate to help his family: a donation box at Bloomington’s Landlocked Music, a PayPal site available through www.splendora.com/node/298961 and a Jan. 20 benefit concert at Bloomington’s Bluebird Nightclub.