From back-up singing for Solange to Blood Orange, Eva Tolkin springs out on her own, and she tells us how it all began.
By Sharlene Chiu
For the last year and a half, Toronto-born/New York-resident, Eva Tolkin has been singing back-up for Dev Hynes AKA Blood Orange (her vocals were also recorded on his single, “Sandra’s Smile”), and before that, tours with Lykke Li, Charli XCX… and oh yeah, SOLANGE. Eva’s music journey has been the ultimate tale of being at the right place at the right time, relentless hard work, and really, just going with the flow of what life throws at you, to beautiful avail. Eva’s journey right now takes us to her bright, playful and oh so danceable debut EP “Evergreen,” which came together over the last year and features in your face love songs that don’t beat around the bush, including the polyamorous anthem, “Another Lover.”
Let’s start with how we know each other… vintage hats!
I was just reminiscing about my shop this morning!
Didn’t The Little Shop in Montreal introduce us?
Yes! Jill [owner of The Little Shop] must have… I miss that spot.
I think while I was shopping with Jill, she was like, “You HAVE to meet Eva.”
And she was like, “You HAVE to meet Sharlene.” Haha.
Hahah, and then you had this amazing vintage fur hat pop-up shop in Toronto in 2011, and we finally met!
Yes! I actually just found a picture of it.
Ahhhhh! FLASHBACK! So good. So my memories of you were always with fashion, and I remember one day a few years ago on Facebook, I saw that you were singing back-up for Solange and I was like, “That’s Eva! My vintage hat shop friend!”
Was music something you had always dreamt of doing?
Music has always been a big part of my life. But to be honest, I never imagined that it was at all possible to have a professional career in music. Of course, I always dreamed of being a singer, but I never thought to pursue it seriously.
What changed that? From singing being a dream to an actual thing you could and would do?
When I moved to New York about 5 years ago, I was pretty set on having a career in fashion, and so I started off working for my friend [Gordon Von Steiner] who is a fashion filmmaker. I got into music in the most serendipitous, crazy way – I was living in a film studio in Williamsburg [Brooklyn] and Solange’s manager, who was a friend of a friend, reached out to me to ask to use the studio space to host background vocal auditions. I was a MASSIVE fan of Solange’s EP, “True”—I knew all the words and harmonies—I was listening to it everyday. So, I told my friend that she could use the studio… but that I was going to audition too. It started off as a joke, but I kept making it to the next round of auditions, until finally, I was offered the position!
My first gig with Solange was at the Pitchfork festival in 2013! And the most experience I had, at the time, singing was just with choirs in school.
I love when life flows that way! Did you know in school/in choirs that you actually had a good voice?
No, and believe it or not, that is something I still struggle with today. I was never a very confident singer, and was very shy and nervous as a kid. I always knew that I had a decent voice but I never thought it was great. Even while I was touring with Solange, I was still somehow able to convince myself that my voice was not that good. It sounds crazy but I think, because I sort of fell into the industry by chance, I never believed that I was good enough to be in it. It took me a long time to put out these songs, [because] I had finally become confident in my ability to perform… but lacked confidence in my ability to write and produce! It’s really intimidating when you are surrounded by so many talented musicians – it wasn’t until I started singing with more artists and recording my own songs that I started to believe that I had talent.
On top of gaining more confidence, how did your own musical identity evolve as you gained more and more tour experience?
I have been so lucky to work with some really amazing musicians and I have learned a lot about songwriting and performing over the years. I have also learned what kind of genres I sound best in, and most enjoy singing. I love performing upbeat feel-good dance music, and so it was a clear that was the type of music I would make for myself.
What’s some of the best advice your former tour mates have given you or that you’ve learned from watching them?
One thing I learned is that no matter how successful and talented you are, most people are faced with the same feelings of self-doubt and nervousness.
Haha. Solange is especially inspiring to work alongside. She has so much strength and integrity.
You mentioned it took some time to work up the courage to put out your own songs – how did the “Evergreen” EP finally come about? Which song came first?
I made all these songs with one my closest friends, Eric Cross. We were introduced by a mutual friend and started writing together in New York about 3 years ago. After only a few months of knowing each other, I offered to help him drive across the country and move to L.A. with the goal of writing songs and having a wild adventure. By the time we got to LA, we were best friends! Eric has been such a positive person in my life. He pushes me to write more, and challenges my voice in really great ways. “Evergreen” [the self-titled track] was the 4th song we wrote together. I’m planning to release the first songs we wrote together too at some point. Over the past two years, I have made several trips to L.A. to write with Eric. We rent an airbnb and turn it into a DIY studio.
When I listen to your EP, I get the happiest feeling of nostalgia, like Paula Abdul “Spellbound” vibes, and just want to play it loud and dance around for hours. Who were some of the artists that inspired the sound on “Evergreen”?
Amazing!!! I think my music is very inspired by a lot of the musicians I fell in love with growing up in the 90s: Janet Jackson is a big one… I was completely obsessed with Selena and Mariah Carey… A lot of female artists that make me want to dance.
Your video for “Another Lover” is so much fun – it’s a song about bringing another lover into a relationship. How did that idea come about?
I have been in a relationship for many years now – it’s wonderful but it can get monotonous at times. I think I met a cute boy on the street and thought, “If only I could just casually ask my boyfriend if I can go on a date with this person.” I was actually walking around Brooklyn and the chorus just popped into my head. I thought it was such a funny concept, so I decided to develop it further. A few girlfriends had brought up the topic of open relationships recently too, so it was on my mind.
No one really talks about polyamory.
It’s a really difficult thing to bring up. The logistics are tricky too. I wanted to write a song that discusses the topic in a very nonchalant manner.
If you could bring in another lover, what would your approach be?
I would just put my music video on and make my boyfriend watch it on repeat!
You also styled and co-directed the video. What was your style inspiration?
I referenced some really amazing fashion commercials directed by Richard Avedon in the 70s. A lot of the clothes in the video actually came from my own closet! I wanted the clothes to be pretty showy and luxurious.
THAT black bodysuit.
The bodysuit was found at a garage sale by a friend of mine. She found me and was like, “Run down the street, there is a jumpsuit there that was made for you.”
I love the contrast between these luxurious pieces with the topic of polyamory, which some consider as a dirty topic.
Totally! I wanted to sort of turn everything on its head, not only by talking about something so taboo in such a casual way, but also by presenting it visually in a very tasteful and elegant way.
Do you still work on fashion campaigns and editorial? Slash do you have the time to still do that??
I do! I still work in fashion on the side. I do music supervision for fashion campaigns and sometimes do styling – I am usually doing a million different jobs at once! I get bored easily, so I like to change it up.
Alright, let’s do this fun rapid fire. If your music was an item of clothing, what would it be?
It would be that sequin black jumpsuit in my music video!
First music crush?
So embarrassing, but probably like Brian Littrell.
What could you eat every day?
A turkey sandwich.
Favorite place in the world to travel to?
Honestly, my family farm in Picton, Ontario.
Are you heading back there for Christmas?
Yes! I can’t wait.
Dream musical collaboration?
Haha, oh my! Why not, Janet Jackson!
If your life was a soundtrack, what 3 songs would have to be on it?
“Don’t Take It Personal (Just One of Dem Days)” Monica.
“All Around the World” Lisa Stansfield.
“Hold Me” Fleetwood Mac.
Those are so random, but they came to my head.
Okay last one! Most pinch me moment on any of the tours you’ve been on?
Performing at Coachella with Solange when Beyonce surprised the audience and jumped out on stage during “Losing You”!
Listen to EVA’s Evergreen EP on Spotify and stay tuned for EP #2 (and more fashun looks) in the new year!