Role Models: Fiona Apple Made Evangeline See, and Feel Seen

The singer-songwriter on how Apple inspired her own work.

In high school I drove a ‘97 Chrysler. It was as long as a boat, it was as old as I was, and its speakers rattled like loose snares whenever the bass dropped. I filled it with CDs — Tidal by Fiona Apple was rarely in its case. 

“Sleep To Dream” would start and nearly crack the woofers. It sounded so angry and so sure of itself — it sounded all the ways I felt but was too insecure to be. It raged for me. Alone in my car, that song screamed and I sat silent, my hands shaking along on the steering wheel, satisfied.

I tell you how I feel but you don’t care
I say tell me the truth, but you don’t care
You say love is a hell you cannot bear?
Then I say give me mine back and then go there
For all I care.

The words were so frank you could shout them across an alley. But they also slapped back with stealthy innuendos — notes slid under only my door. I later found out Fiona Apple wrote that record the year I was born. By the time I found it, I was just about the age she was when she had written it. 16 years after release, the record was still beating with the exact same pulse. It wasn’t dated, it was a feeling still unfolding. At least for me it was, and it was so true for me that no other opinion mattered. And right there… that’s the stuff… Songs that make you see, and feel seen. 

Tidal was first. Then I’d find When The Pawn and Extraordinary Machine. The Idler Wheel dropped my junior year.

Every single night’s alright, every single night’s a fight
And every single fight’s alright with my brain
I just want to feel everything

I found comfort in her candid reflections and the way she punctuated them with both a sense of humor and a delicate symphony of percussive harmony, recorded in a way that let you still hear the floorboards creak. It was an invitation into the room of her mind — and looking around, I found the tokens which reminded me of my own. 

Then, a decade later, Fetch The Bolt Cutters would find and keep me company on long and wondering walks during the COVID-19 quiet.

Ladies, ladies, ladies, ladies
Nobody can replace anybody else
So, it would be a shame to make it a competition
And no love is like any other love
So, it would be insane to make a comparison with you

Here, a decade later, the words were still frank, and this time, so simple that they struck a chord I hadn’t even thought to play. Like each time before, her music met me where I was at —  saying with certainty the thoughts I hadn’t yet found the confidence to voice.

Listening to a Fiona Apple record is like reading a book, difficult to do passively. She’s not someone I queue up when tossed an aux cord —  there’s too much at stake. 

For me, her influence is the attitude she approaches songwriting with. The way she chases only the absolute expression of the thought. I don’t think she considers the listener and I don’t think she cares whether or not the listener cares — she’d probably (certainly) cringe at how much I care. But, nevertheless, she unwinds herself and then lets us all hear the work of her unraveling, finding comfort and clarity in her process. 

As someone who also turns feelings into songs, I’ve always wanted to approach my own work with that same sense of intimacy. I don’t sit down to write a song with a sonic reference in mind — I sit down to write a song when a feeling forces me to. That’s not to say every song I write is some confessional catharsis; playful and petty thoughts can spark the urge too. I make an effort to surrender to whatever sounds the feeling forges, and I allow myself only one form of self-criticism: Do you feel that?

Fiona Apple leaves no space between the sound of her songs and their sentiment. As a result, her body of work exists outside shifting music trends. Her message is human, honest, and unobstructed. It’s ageless. I love it, and no one can fight me on it, because I feel it. 

(Photo Credit: left, Marly Ludwig; right, Steve Eichner)

Evangeline is a Los Angeles born-and-raised singer-songwriter. Her debut EP Fuzzy is out now. 

(Photo Credit: Shervin Lainez)