Kent Evans is a professional musician and author from New York City. I traveled to attend his book signing at the Blue Stockings Book Store, and his live performance at White Rabbit in Manhattan in celebration of his new book, A Crash Course in the Anatomy of Robots.
Kent is an out-of-the-box thinker, an unorthodox writer, as well as an experimental performance and spoken word artist. He was willing to share his thoughts and opinions about the publishing industry and his personal experiences as an artist who is working to succeed at his craft. As a published author with two books under his belt, Kent is able to give formidable advice to Think Like a Label readers about publishing and releasing music in a D.I.Y. fashion.
He has been able to balance his professional career and keep a lot of his creative decisions and resources within his reach. Kent is a great role model, and I enjoyed speaking with him! This is a crash course in how to get published, release your music, and how to be just plain awesome!
Did you start your career as a musician or as an author?
Depending on how you define it, both were around the same time. I started writing poetry when I was around 12. It was actually in defiance to a junior high teacher of mine who thought I couldn’t write. I wanted to prove him wrong, and by the end of the year I miraculously changed my grade to an A, and had a poem published in a local newspaper.
Writing is just kind of an outlet for me, especially back in high school during my teen angst years. Then, around 14 or 15, I started playing guitar. My father was a guitarist in Grenich Village, so I really got into it and started a punk band, and that’s how it began.
So, education was something that spurred you into writing poetry, even though it was a negative experience in your early years. Did you go to college, and if so, how did that affect your writing and musical career?
I went to New York University and the experience was actually great. High school was really the backdrop of how and when I started putting music and poetry together, but it was very heartfelt and somewhat amateurish. At that time I was a bit obsessed with Sci-Fi, Horror, and Fantasy styles. When I got to NYU, I started discovering different writers and had some really great Creative Writing professors, like Julian Medoff, who is the author of Hunger Point, and Pearl Abraham who is the author of The Romance Reader, and they were great writing mentors to me.
I attended NYU from 1993-1998 and the whole writing department at that time was pretty outstanding.
What is your book, “A Crash Course On the Anatomy of Robots” about?
The book is pretty much a fictional love song dedicated to the passing of my parents, and the disaster that ensued after that, which included several failed relationships, me hopping halfway across the world over to Asia, and basically self-destructing across the continent…which doesn’t end very well for Damien (the man character of the book), but I turned out O.K.
But to give you an idea about how the book is written; it jumps between all different formats, between first-person poetry and journals to direct conversations with the reader, to narrative third-person fiction, to more traditional narrative styles. But the actual format of the book is, well you can actually figure it out from the title, the title is A Crash Course on the Anatomy of Robots. The crash course refers to the fact that the book is almost broken up like a manual. The book is broken up dramatically as opposed to it being broken up chronologically, so there are six sections and one will be on relationships, and one will be on travel, and another will be on family and death, and another about living as an artist, and all the sections and topics revolve around this on fictional protagonist. And the book jumps through various times in his life over several decades, and even before he was born. The robot part comes from this feeling of social isolation that the character feels.
The main character, Damien Wood, sort of feels like he’s living in a social “uncanny valley,” because of trauma and things that happened to him in his life, he feels like other people can almost sense the damage from him, like something is a little bit off…
How did you get the opportunity to have your book published and your music released?
Since my last book, Malas Ondes, came out in 2003, the idea of E-books and I-readers were not as popular. Everyone still looked at it like “regular print” was the way that books should come out, and now, digital print is pretty much dominating the field. The same thing happened with the music and film industries in the last few years. And of course, the literary field fought this change more than anyone else, but I still love independent bookstores, which is why I did the reading at Blue Stockings’ bookstore, here in Manhattan.
The whole field has changed. The good thing is that it costs a lot less for publishers and independent artists to put their work out because you don’t have the expenses that are associated with printing and storage and everything else. Conversely, there is also a degree of oversaturation; at least a million people have written questionable novels and released them for free, and actually sorting through all of them turns into a big headache.
In the same way I would say it’s similar to the way the music industry has “opened up,” for example, my distributor for the companion album of “A Crash Course in the Anatomy of Robots.” is CDbaby, which is a DIY label where you can get major distribution for everything from Amazon to Itunes. In that way, the field has opened up, and if you know how to use the technology, and learn how to promote yourself, you can really get out there.
Alternatively, there are artists and musicians who do not own the technology that they are actually trying to market to. Do you identify with this?
I didn’t own a Kindle of an iPad until 12 hours ago. This is probably why artists spend time complaining about us, because some are so far ahead and on the cutting edge, that they’re waiting for everyone else to catch up.
There is kind of a bitter irony I have noticed; for example, Barnes and Nobles and Borders ran practically every indie book store in the United States out of business, and now, just a couple of short years later, they are completely screwed because the exact thing happened to them through I-readers and progress.
Do you think this new digital industry is going to destroy the process of what you do?
No, but I think it will require an adaptation. I’m willing to adapt the methods of dissemination. As a writer and musician, my job is to provide commentary on the modern world, and as it changes, what I write, talk about, and comment on will also change.