Editor’s note: Oklahoma Gazette is featuring Norman Music Festival performers each week leading up to its 2018 event April 26-28 in Norman.
Evan Jarvicks is weeks away from his first appearance on the Norman Music Festival main stage, which is a remarkable accomplishment for someone who, just 10 years ago, had no knowledge of the local music scene and had never even recorded a song.
These days, Jarvicks can be seen across the metropolitan area performing as Jarvix, the name given to his unique solo music project based mostly around his ukulele, looping pedals and trademark ingenuity. He has also built a reputation as one of the local music scene’s greatest cheerleaders and most comprehensive critics, with popular year-end album lists published on cellardoormusicgroup.com.
However, not too long ago, he was a complete novice to local music, sitting in his local library, thumbing through Oklahoma Gazette as a curious outsider to the art scenes in which he would one day entrench himself. It was on such a day in 2008 that he noticed a cover story on the second Norman Music Festival (NMF), which featured Kevin Barnes-fronted experimental indie-rock band Of Montreal as a main headliner.
“I was like, ‘My brother loves Of Montreal; I have to let him know!’” Jarvicks said. “And he had no idea.”
Jarvicks performs 1 p.m. April 28 on NMF’s Fowler Automotive Main Stage in downtown Norman. His set comes nine hours before the day’s main headliner, the Merrill Garbus-fronted experimental pop project Tune-Yards, hits the same stage. Jarvicks counts Garbus and Tune-Yards as one of his primary music inspirations.
He might have recommended the fest to his brother, but Jarvicks did not attend his first NMF until the next year, deciding to check it out after his sibling came back with high praise. The experience opened his eyes to a world of talent and music he had no idea existed.
“It was mind-blowing how much was going on,” he said.
One could argue that Jarvicks is one of NMF’s best success stories. The free festival is designed to give locals wide, unparalleled access to the state’s music scene. Jarvicks used his initial exposure as the soil from which his musical aspirations, long hidden under a sea of self-doubt, could grow into the Jarvix project people know today.
This will not be Jarvicks’ first year as an NMF performer, but it will likely go down as his most memorable appearance at the fest. Years ago, the chance to perform on the main stage seemed like a far-fetched fantasy.
“At most, I thought, ‘Maybe someday I’ll get to play Norman Music Festival,’” he said. “And this is my third year now.”
Jarvicks was shocked when he first heard he would appear on the main stage, opening for Tune-Yards. But it also felt like a destined culmination of life events.
“Even though I was floored by it, in some ways, it feels like it was meant to be,” he said.
Around the same time Jarvicks began encountering the local music scene for the first time, he was also learning more about the wider music world in general. For years, he had bought his CDs from stores like Hastings, but over time, he began to frequent Norman’s Guestroom Records more and more often.
During one of those first trips, he remembers hearing a promotional disc of Tune-Yards’ exquisite 2011 art-pop album Whokill playing on the record store speakers. Jarvicks had no idea who the artist was. He went up to the front desk and, after they told him about Garbus, offered to buy the album then and there.
“They were like, ‘Well, this isn’t out yet, but you can go check out the other Tune-Yards album,’” he said.
Jarvicks did buy the other Tune-Yards album, which was its more lo-fi ’09 debut BiRd-BrAiNs. He fell in love with the music, which was incredibly creative and remarkably resourceful while still being distributed nationwide on a label. Garbus made her ukulele recordings on a microphone in the same price-range as his own. She edited her audio with Audacity, a free program not known as a high-end music editor.
“The idea that she could record an entire album out of nothing but rudimentary recording software and whatever she had — voices overlaying on top of each other, the ukulele stuff — I was like, ‘This is possible,’” Jarvicks said. “You don’t have to be the virtuoso of any particular instrument.”
In the album’s liner notes, Garbus writes a message to fans, detailing the basic way in which she recorded the record and telling people that if she could do it, they could, too.
“I kind of took that to heart,” Jarvicks said.
It is common to think about one day making music or art in one’s local city, but putting out that work for public consumption can be an intimidating proposition. Jarvicks faced similar apprehension. He was not a trained musician in any way. He had no idea if he could make anything that other people would deem worth listening.
“Music had always been something I wanted to do, but I second-guessed myself a lot,” he said. “I didn’t have anyone really pushing me. I had to want it myself, and I was very doubtful.”
But he decided to put out his art anyway, using his musical limitations to actually inform his creative work. He slowly gained confidence in his music and himself over time through performances at various local open mics.
Because Jarvicks lacks thorough proficiency in many traditional instruments, it frees him up to be resourceful in the kind of sounds he incorporates in his work. Bells, tambourines, paper and egg-shakers are all fair game, as is his classic yellow rubber chicken.
“It’s a novelty, admittedly,” he said.
As unique and varied as Jarvicks’ act is, it is mostly solo and stationary. He won’t be moving around the large outdoor NMF stage because he has to stay near his looping pedals. That’s why he hopes to enlist several surprise guest performers to keep the crowd engaged.
“I’ve been to enough NMFs to know that if you don’t have stuff going on, the camera is just going to sit there and linger on you,” he said.
NMF is often celebrated as a major music gathering, but Jarvicks said there is a lot of potential in the event to expose people to new things and inspire new forms of creativity.
“It’s one of the most visible and most visited music events around, and people will go to it just because it’s free,” he said. “A lot of people don’t necessarily know any of the acts, but you can be exposed to new things you never even knew about — and in Norman, Oklahoma.”
Jarvicks said being exposed to a large amount of creativity produced by people who grew up in the same state as him sparked an inner energy he hopes can be replicated in others.
“That can be a number of things,” he said. “It doesn’t just have to be music. It can be art or community of any kind.”