Perched proudly on Evelyn Cools' chair's armrest in her New Jersey home is her fluffy white dog. "His name is Ansel, like Ansel Adams, if you're familiar?" I'm slightly embarrassed to admit that I'm not, having the more popular Elgort come to mind first. "Super obscure, he's a nature photographer, he's really not someone you need to know," she laughs, gently commanding Ansel back down off her chair.
She beams proudly, slight nerves altering her voice, as she starts to describe her new EP, Misfit Paradise, the first body of work that she can truly call all her own. "The first EP I did was in London when I was studying as an undergraduate student there and I was working with a label/360 management company that kind of does everything. And I was so new to the industry and had no idea about any of the other stuff. But then afterwards," she continues, "I actually went to audio school year here in New York because I wanted to have more of an understanding of the technical side myself. And with that mindset plus everything I've learned over the years, and also just becoming a better songwriter, it felt really exciting to kind of take on all the elements of the EP this time."
As a child of extensive world travel (originally from Belgium), Cools' aesthetic is largely detached from the busy, bright, and erratic memories of a childhood spent in countries such as China, Malaysia, and even Hungary. Instead, it is spare, eager to feel clean without sacrificing any of its emotional resonance. "With growing up in so many different places, there's just been a lot of things later in my life, like my early twenties, that I feel like I need to be able to give a place," she admits. "And sometimes I don't know what that is. And songwriting gives me a platform to do that."
On the opening "Another Night," Cools' vulnerability seeps through the lyrics like a tap that wasn't properly closed, dripping ever so slightly as she surrenders to the thought that life is simply a timeline of circumstances, exploring the "what ifs" with careful devotion. But then, just as easily, she flips a switch on "Gold Woman", her soft lilt hardening with liquid resolve, leaning into the empowered anthem like so many of the women she models herself after. "I'm inspired by a lot of folk artists," she admits, alluding to the likes of Stevie Nicks. "I feel like at that time—the sixties, seventies—there was just such amazing, fun writing to begin with. Not to mention the lack of social media and having to present yourself a certain way. And I think it's just...it feels a little more authentic."
While authenticity is beginning to edge over into buzzword category, it's a privilege women have been fighting for ever since the teen pop star became the staple of the early 2000s. "What we've grown up with, Britney Spears and people like that. You're just like, 'Oh, is that like my example of a female artist that should be my role model?' It's really tough because you start to realize that everything's been manufactured for them. And in my own experiences, I worked with some amazing people, but it's all almost exclusively been like middle aged males who run the industry. But I think a lot of women are starting to figure out how to be more personal and how to incorporate their own skills into their music."
Of course, bearing the weight of the industry as a woman can be overwhelming, with stifling expectations and creeping doubts wreaking havoc. On the EP's closer, "Soaring", Cools sinks into her insecurities, using it as a catalyst for her emotional purge, lulled by a gentle acoustic guitar. And while Misfit Paradise is rife with exposed vulnerability, its not until she breathlessly cries "Every day and every night /I'm soaring /Over the clouds, never looking back" that you truly start to understand the sheer power of this woman. And you'll be damned to ever underestimate it.
Misfit Paradise is available everywhere on Friday, August 14th. Pre-save it here.