About a year ago Evan Wize stopped by Josh Lerner’s South Philly apartment for an important and long overdue conversation.
The two had been writing and making music together for a few years by that point, stemming back to when Wize transferred to Penncrest High School in Media as a junior and he and Lerner met in a Computers and Music class.
“I was like, ‘Look man…we’ve been doing this kind of half-heartedly for a long time. But this is what I want to do. I’m confident that if we really go for it, we can make some really good songs together,'” said Wize.
“Josh was all for it.”
Since then the two have honed Wize’s smooth and soulful electro-pop sound, collaborating as one and capitalizing on an abundance of musical resources in Philly. The hard work ultimately has come to fruition in Wize’s debut EP out today.
Wize – whose real name is Evan Wisneski – and his impassioned voice serve as the face for the duo. But as he puts it, “Josh is just as much a part of Evan Wize as I am.”
Lerner is a multi-instrumentalist and producer whose work has appeared on a variety of different projects in the Philly area. Scan his Instagram feed and you’ll very quickly get a read on his many talents.
Together they’ve forged a unique, sleek and effortlessly cool style on the EP.
“Because of the relationship we have, writing songs together over the past four years, we’re able to really go back and forth with every idea and come to a direction for the songs that we’re both really confident in,” said Wize.
“Through the years the sound changed and the projects changed and the players changed, but Evan and I were always consistent,” said Lerner. “It wasn’t until the last year that this project came to fruition and the sound really found its way in.”
The two wrote each of the songs at Lerner’s Pennsport apartment, bouncing ideas off each other and putting in the work until a skeleton of a final product emerged.
“Every song is different,” said Wize. “Sometimes I’ll come down with a melody and build a song around the melody. Sometimes Josh will come up with a progression we both really like and we’ll run with that. Sometimes we’ll just start with an acoustic guitar idea that grows into something else. It’s really about just finding the gem of every idea and rolling with that till it’s finished.”
While the seeds for the tracks that eventually appeared on the EP were planted by just the two of them, Wize and Lerner made it a point to have as many different influences on the music as possible.
Lerner is a wiz on a drum pad, but he is through and though a traditionalist when it comes to production. Ask him about musical collaboration and he will gush sincerely about the romanticism of doing it old school.
His enthusiasm is unmistakable.
“I grew up with The Beatles and The Stones, Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix…the best music anyone could ever ask for. And I know the way they did it – with real instruments and real players and real creativity in a room,” said Lerner. “Not that everyone can’t achieve that… There’s just a warmth and a texture and a tone that comes from that, that can’t be replicated synthetically. So on Evan’s record, our approach was to use all real studios, real drum sets, real guitars…everything is real. Players’ hands have touched this project and helped it grow and evolve, as opposed to him and me in a production suite, working alone and putting something out there.”
“We feel this is a sound that’s more timeless than timestamped.”
There are certainly artificial elements on the EP, as Lerner himself provided some of the synth work. But give “Our Love” – the first single off the EP that Wize had been released months earlier – a spin and you’ll hear that authenticity.
Wize sings over Lerner’s simple, driving backbeat on the drums. Keyboards make their way into the landscape and later a sultry saxophone melody slides into the chorus.
“A drum set never sounds old. A piano never sounds old. A guitar never sounds old. They’re just timeless,” said Lerner. “And in a world full of synthetic sounds, you have to find a way to stand apart.”
As independent artists financing the work themselves, Wize and Lerner sought out friends and fellow musicians in the city to contribute to the project. The EP includes Rodrigo Pichardo on bass, Wesley Robinson on keys and Art Crichlow on sax.
“The people that have worked with me on the album have been absolute pros,” said Wize. “We’re all just musicians in Philly trying to make it.”
“There’s a lot of talent in Philadelphia. In this stage of the game and even generally in the music industry, you don’t make it by being on your own,” added Lerner. “You use other people. You use everyone’s ability. You find what someone’s good at and you work with them. If you have a chemistry or energy together, you see where that can go.”
Joe Boldizar – co-owner of Retro City Studios in Germantown- engineered the EP. Space at Retro City was also used to track the album. Wize’s vocals were cut at Sine Studios in Center City and the album was finally sent for mixing to Kawari Sound in Wyncote.
“It’s expensive to use studios and real players but I truly believe in that sound and the music can live much longer doing it that way,” said Lerner. “It’s the closest we can get to doing it like The Beatles did. To be in a session, standing in a room with five guys working out a tune…There’s nothing like it.”
Wize will play an album release show at Boot and Saddle on March 18th. He’ll be joined by fellow locals Dizzy Valdez and Bamboo Tommy.