By Brian Tucker
“Mind if I smoke?” Dustin Codair asks, sitting barefoot outside a coffee shop. On the surface its a fairly benign question, but the drummer’s consideration faintly illustrates the ideology the band he plays drums in – Deep Ecology.
“Everything lives, reacts and counteracts towards one another. If you manipulate that process you get mayhem.” Codair says.
Singer-guitarist Evan Baker adds that it stems from an Eastern religion outlook on ecology where everything an individual does carries an equal weight. But Baker’s explanation delivers extra heft, where change is solely on the individual.
“If you want to change things, you shouldn’t blame anyone, it starts with you,” Baker says. “You are the sinner of your environment.”
Deep Ecology, performing an EP release show Saturday at Orton’s, makes music on varying subjects, whether its relationships or about depression masked as a song about a man and a woman (“Weeping Willow”). Initially it was only Codair and Baker performing, never considering adding a bass player. They did later on, and when that bass player left Onward, Soldiers’ Sean Thomas Gerard had a suggestion. He approached Baker after an open-mic show, asking if they needed a keyboard player and that Onward, Soldiers bassist Tripp Cox wanted in.
About the cool, swooning background chorus on “Weeping Willow,” Baker says it’s Gerard. He delivers an early 70s-sounding angelic backdrop, like something heard on a Leon Russell or Joe Cocker song. But the EP represents Codair and Baker’s music before Cox and Gerard joined and their new material sounds somewhat different.
Still, the music is slippery regarding an indie rock sound. Its off-kilter with its share of shadows, wrought with jangly guitars with brief orchestral elements and Codair’s ever-crashing guitars. Baker’s voice is haunted and battered yet saturated with emotion.
There are circular qualities to the Doors-meets-early 90s grunge of “Blue Basil Eyes” and there’s feistiness in the steady build of “Hands,” a song about how people have to save themselves, not a God to save them – thoughtful material for a twenty-year old from Topsail Beach. Codair and Baker met in eighth grade, becoming fast friends bonding over making music.
“When we started it was really childish,” Baker says. “I played bass and he played the bongos.”
Topsail’s small town atmosphere was instrumental in shaping things for the better. Codair, who says he’s a small town guy who loved growing up there, saw it as a lazy town with room for mischief.
“It’s either, you’re a redneck, you surf or you skate, or you do drugs. That’s it,” Codair says. “We did none of those.”
Baker laughs, “We didn’t do any of those so we had to be best friends.”
They didn’t know many people playing an instrument or wanting to be in a band. But Codair would go on to play in a few and is currently part of Deep Ecology, filling in with singer-songwriter James Ethan Clark, and in the new group Usually Yandere. Baker would come to Wilmington for endless open-mic shows and eventually found his way into the local music scene via singer-songwriter Emma Nelson.
“We had a show together at The Juggling Gypsy two and half years ago,” Baker says. “I remember her getting onstage with a ukulele. I was already skeptical. I had never met her before. She got onstage, opened her mouth and all the hairs on my arm were sticking up. And I was supposed to play after her.”
More with Evan Baker and Dustin Codair
How long has this been going?
Evan: We’ve been playing around town for over a year. We both went to Topsail High School together. I met Sean Thomas Gerard through open-mic’s at The Soapbox. He plays keys and does some vocal harmonies with me. Tripp Cox who plays bass (of Onward, Soldiers). Sean saw us play and asked if we needed a keyboard player at our first or second show.
Did you record the album or someone else?
Evan: Holt Evans recorded it, he did Astro Cowboy. He’s great, really open about everything, wants to try things. Free Clinic is working with him too.
Dustin: He’s super nice, one of the smartest people I’ve ever met.
Did you start out with percussion?
Dustin: I listened to Bob Marley a lot, one of those typical kids. I loved the rhythm patterns that they did and followed along.
Songs for the EP, did you write all the lyrics?
Evan: Yeah, most of the songwriting process is coming up with lyrics and guitar and we work out the song and then bring it to Sean and Tripp. Most of it comes from me and him working together, on changes and what not. I usually come with a rough idea.
Dustin: No one steps on anyone’s feet, if you got something and you want to play it then you play it. We’re all on the same page.
“Weeping Willow” – it recalls 70s music.
Evan: I sing the song and Sean does the transition, that’s all Sean. 70s music, like Cat Stevens, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, we’re into that. We both love Cat Stevens.
Talk about “Weeping Willow.”
Evan: Its probably one of my weirder songs, lyrically. It’s supposed to be about a stint of my life where I was battling depression. It’s written as a guy and girl but in the song the girl is supposed to be symbol for depression. The lyric, “Every time I cross beneath I want to run away,” which is every time you come under the influence of depression, wanting to run away. “Every time you say you’re going to stay I wish you wouldn’t stay.” It’s that feeling that you’re not going to get back out of it.
A willow tree is a perfect symbol of the mind to me, a dreary state and trying to fight that off. It’s written as if it’s a relationship between a guy and a girl but its really a symbol of your relationship with on and off depression.
Is it easier to play a song like that now?
Evan: Yeah, definitely. Writing songs like that just helps you get out of it as well.
How frequently play around town?
Dustin: We used to play whenever anyone asked us. We were getting pretty saturated but we just loved playing.
Evan: The last year we took every gig we could get, playing at least one time a week. I think the biggest part of the band is our live performances. You can listen to the EP but when you come to the show its going to sound different.
Dustin: Definitely a different feel. We improve around twenty-five per cent. We just get lost in the music. That’s why we created it for, not just to create it over and over again.
Evan: It’s always changing, which is good, it keeps us excited.
How long will you carry on with a song?
Evan: It’s not like we go off on these crazy jams. The song is about the same length but we tinker with it in spots and a lot of the studio recordings. That’s how we want the songs to sound ideally as a piece of art. But live, you’re playing with the environment of the room, the sound of the room, playing with your own feelings that day. It just changes because of that.
Was it challenging to record in the studio knowing you like to play around with them?
Dustin: Yeah, big time, especially for me. I definitely don’t want to call myself a perfectionist, but I think that’s a lot of the reason why it stems from him and me creating music together is because (we can work together). When we recorded it now it’s like I should have done that different or that different.
Evan: Even if we have a song we’ve been playing for a year and its supposed to be a certain way and one of us decides we should do this we’ve been playing for so long, then we’ll do it. We have very open minded with changing songs.
What are some things you find yourself exploring?
Evan: The EP, we went in by finding five songs that were really wide ranging, to showcase the whole aspect. A lot of it, like “Hands,” are closer to what the band is, (songs about) in a sense about self-reliance. There’s a lyric in “Hands” that’s “It’s God’s world no more,” meaning that no one’s going to save us, come in at the last second and (say) you guys messed it up and I’ll take care of it. It’s our responsibility as citizens to take care of messes we make.
Dustin, do you a simple drum kit? Are you an aggressive drummer?
Dustin: Yeah, I just beat on them. I’m delicate at some points but my ultimate expression comes out when I’m expressing my energy. It just comes out loud that way. I’m usually itching to play. I start out aggressive from the get-go ready to go and it accelerates from there.
Evan: These five songs are songs we had together before Sean and Tripp became a huge part of the band. The band is a lot more cohesive and the new songs are lot different than the EP.
Evan: When we started as a band for the first six months I was playing the acoustic guitar.
Dustin: It used to have that vibe. You get that stuff out too acoustically. My aggression on the drums is with Dearest We or Usually Yandere .
So, it started also as a bunch of musicians living together?
Evan: We basically all shared a house, a lot of the music scene, Ben Rose from Free Clinic, at JJ Storniolo’s, Emma, all of us. Everyone was living there for a while. It was downtown two winters ago. We all just kind of met, and just clicked well and then six months later we’re all living together. It did feel like a dream for a while. And to top it off after that winter we booked a tour and did a little thing around the state. It was the most fun. We made ten days out of four shows. We were in Asheville and spent so much down time on that tour.
Most of our connection musically is that we both sing loud. Emma is much louder than me. We used to do a lot of solo shows at Projeckte together and we wouldn’t bring a PA system, we would just have acoustic guitars and yell.
It sounds nicer than what you were saying about drugs in Topsail.
Dustin: It’s an opiate game. It started out with pills, its worse closer to Snead’s Ferry. Most people were bad on pills in that area. We’d go to school and kids would be on pills. Now its heroin. You saw that heroin bust recently. A lot of snort the heroin, crush up pills and snort it.
Evan: It’s changed drastically since we left (high school). When we graduated, heroin was not a thing. In the few years since we’ve been out, going back, or seeing friend’s little sisters and brothers, it’s really sad. It’s just there’s not a lot to do. There are not a lot of other outlets.
Dustin: There’s not a lot of way to represent your personality. There are not a lot of outlets, like you surf or skate. That’s their outlet, if there’s no other way to express yourself, you’re hustling, or doing drugs (as an identity).
Evan: That’s probably why he and I click. There weren’t many musicians at school. Kids who took guitar lessons, but as far as meeting up at fourteen years old and saying, let’s do this.
Dustin: I loved it. I’m just a small town guy. You know everyone if you’re a nice guy you’ll have people by your side. That’s how it’s always been in the Topsail area. You really appreciate when you get out, when you hear other people’s stories now. We really had it made, in a beach community. I have a lot of skate and surf friends. The only downside is that it’s a small lazy town and there’s room for mischief. I know a lot of people that are bad off.
You found music and stayed away from it.
Dustin: Yeah. First hand, as a visual, seeing not to go down that path too. There has to be more of an initiative with the community towards the community. Kids aren’t gong to take the initiative, to gather as a group or gather in some of kind of connection that way and express themselves. They end up getting lost.