You might not recognize Eva Tolkin’s name, but you’ve likely heard her vocals thanks to her collaborations with Blood Orange and gigs singing backup for Solange and Charli XCX. The Canadian-born singer who performs as EVA has been steadily carving out her own place in the music industry since six years ago, when she was working for fashion filmmaker Gordon Von Steiner in New York City and Solange’s manager asked to use his studio for backup singer auditions. What started out as a joke audition resulted in a life change, as Tolkin quickly went from dedicated Solange fan to Solange-approved backup singer.
Now, the Brooklyn-based singer is comfortable enough to release music on her own: At the end of last year, Tolkin released her debut EP Evergreen, featuring the sensual, pro-polyamory “Another Lover.” The track's vibe carries over to Tolkin’s latest single “Touch Me,” a Danny L Harle-produced ode to self-love, which she says hashas helped her grow into a more confident songwriter. Tolkin's currently signed to 4AD’s singles imprint b4, with another song coming before the end of 2018, and she says that her latest release “is a good example of where I hope the music goes."
We spoke with Tolkin about appearing on the new Blood Orange record, her sexually charged songs, and encountering Madonna at the Met Ball.
How did you become interested in making music?
I’ve been singing forever. I was obsessed with singing in choirs. I come from a very musical family — everyone is a performer. My dad plays guitar and sings — he’s in a band in Toronto. My sister sings too. There was a lot of music in my family growing up. I didn’t start writing music until I was in university, and I didn't even realize I was writing music at first. I write a lot in my diary as poetry and turn them into songs. It wasn’t until I moved to New York six years ago that I could turn them into songs and release them. That’s when it became a reality.
What's it like making pop music as an independent artist?
It’s stressful being an independent artist, but I get to do it just for myself. Sometimes it seems like I’m making music for my friends, a lot of whom are my biggest fans, so it takes a lot of the pressure off. It’s also stressful because I’m surrounded by big, successful musicians so there’s a constant comparison — but it also makes it really fun and free, which I like. There are no expectations.
You’ve worked with Blood Orange’s Dev Hynes for a while now.
I’m actually on three songs on his new album, including “Jewelry” and “Charcoal Baby.” We collaborated on [Freetown Sound's] “Sandra’s Smile,” too. He’s so wonderful at collaborating. For this new record, we were all on tour in Japan. He’s very casual about it — he’ll have the band in his hotel room to record, which is crazy because usually when I’m doing my own vocal takes I’ll spend weeks agonizing over it. He’s good like that.
Do you credit Solange for helping launch your career?
Definitely. When she hired me, she knew I didn’t know what I was doing. I think maybe she enjoyed that — or maybe she didn’t know. Back then, I was quite shy. During my audition, I was visibly shaking. If I hadn’t gotten that gig, I know I wouldn’t be singing now. It pushed me and made do things I never thought I’d do. It changed everything.
You’ve DJed the Met Gala twice. Is there a story that sticks out in your mind?
The funniest memory is Madonna yelling at me — that kind of happened both years. When I DJ, I don’t even know who is going to come in, but I have to play something that will get them dancing so we can get the right footage. The first year, I was playing something for Gwyneth Paltrow — something really chilled out — and Madonna barges in and goes, “I cannot dance to this” and gives me this really crazy, scary look. I was like, “Okay we’ll find something else.” I played a couple of songs, and I think she told me to play something “gangster.”
The next year the same thing happened — it was ridiculous. She was like, “I can’t dance to this.” This time, I was ready for her. I was like, “One second. I’ve got you covered.” I have all of these different playlists on Spotify to move around through different genres, and it crashed. I think I played the perfect song. She went crazy — she rolled around on the floor. She’s really fun to watch perform, but she’s terrifying.
Tell me about “Touch Me.”
It was the first song I wrote after I released my EP, and it felt very fresh and different to me. I had a lot of trouble writing music while I was waiting for my last EP to come out, and once it did, I was really energetic. I performed a demo version [of “Touch Me”] at my Elsewhere show in March, and my friend that works in music was there and helped me finish it. It happened in such a lovely way with all of my friends helping to do the artwork and music videos.
It’s an unapologetically sexual track. What makes you express yourself in that way?
I guess it’s my personality — I’ve always been that way. I like to provoke people and make other people think about these things that I know they’re already thinking about but might be too shy to say. I don’t like writing songs that make me sound vulnerable or weak — I like to sound empowered. I prefer to put out songs that make people feel sexy.
Are you afraid of coming across as too risqué?
When I put out “Another Lover,” I was worried about what my parents or boyfriend’s parents would think about the song. But I listen to other musicians who sing and write about sex, and I’m actually quite polite in the way I do it. With “Touch Me,” I panicked about what my family would think about that one. Everyone can relate to these things, but not everyone talks about them.