When the great Scottish explorer, Mungo Park, published Travels In The Interior Districts Of Africa in 1799, he caused a bit of a storm. Old Mungo was the first western explorer to see the River Niger with his own eyes, and confirm that it indeed did flow inland and to the East, providing hope and fervour that it would lead Mungo to Timbuktu, the lost city of gold.
In a similar way that the rumours and whispers of Africa’s dark interior whipped around the corridors of The African Association in 1799 (bear with me on this one), whisperings of a beguiling new musical phenomena began swirling around Bido Lito! towers a month or so back. Word of a band so ethereal and a music so seductive… a group called OWLS*. Mustering the spirit of old Mungo himself, I set to work finding out who they indeed where, but my initial probings proved unfruitful. Their online presence is basically, well, offline. I eventually found a phone number, called it, apologised for sounding like a stalker, but told the chap who answered that I’d heard his band were pretty amazing and I thought it essential that we meet up. Gladly he agreed.
“Music is a language and when you’ve got a dictionary, you can work out how to express certain emotions in certain ways. If you learn another language then you can express yourself in that language, which is probably the way we come at the music,” Carl, Owls* guitarist, tells me when we do meet up at Leaf tea shop, downstairs from the band’s rehearsal space. Etienne (Bass), Adam (Drums) and Tom (Vocals) nod intently.
See, when Carl talks about the language of music, he is right, music has the power to communicate non-vocally, through arrangement, texture and form, but how many bands have the skills at their disposal in order to be able to do that? Not many. But Owls* do, “there’s not much we can’t play” Carl confirms – not in a cocky or arrogant way, but in an aged and assured way – “we can all really play and we’re not embarrassed by that. I think about it from a musical theory point of view, about how I convey what I’m trying to do.”
Using theory to create music, science to create art – the relationship between such seemingly polar ideals is, when you execute it correctly, utterly pertinent. Musical theory, like the dictionary or thesaurus, or our friend Mungo’s charts for that matter, provide Owls* with knowledge and the tools to plot their trajectory. Carl, “What we do is more inside out than outside in, we really don’t come at the music trying to create our version of anything, its purely what comes from inside us.” Which, upon hearing the sinister, minacious lament of Sound Of The Call tells me that these explorers must have weight on their minds.
Owls* are not trying to create their own version of anything, they are of their own place, but fans of Screaming Trees, The Bad Seeds and PJ Harvey will enjoy their perspective. As Carl mentioned, the group work from the inside out, interpreting their own emotions through their music, rather than attempting to repackage that of others. “There is no sense in us looking at other bands and saying ‘that’s what we want to do’,” Carl asserts. “The music is emotive and it comes from emotions in the first place, it’s an interpretation of that. People have been very excited about the early shows we’ve done and I think it’s the honesty and emotional aspect that they get.”
I completely agree. After spending an hour chatting with Owls*, we retire to their nest, their rehearsal space, where Bido Lito! is treated to a personal performance. Its every drop as good as I imagined. Tom’s voice holds court, both achingly fragile and defiantly bold (instantly recognisable from his days in The Cranebuilders) – the rhythm section of Ettienne and Adam is loose yet uniform, in a Parisian jazz cellar kind of way – the voicing of Carl’s dynamic guitar work binds the group as a whole. This band are extremely exciting and, even upon these first listens, have the songs at their disposal.
There’s something so otherworldly, in 2010, in hearing about a band, yet not being able to listen to them immediately, having to track them down. I knew they would be good, purely because I trust the opinions of the people who put us onto them, but I didn’t think they’d be as good as they are. Owls* are one of the best, most exciting new bands I have ever heard. I am no Mungo Park, but today I felt a little tinge of what that excitement must have been like. The lure and the seduction of the unknown, the dark suggestiveness and the thrill of the chase. Eventually, when I got there, I found my Timbuktu, I found my lost city of gold.
Owls* play Inside Pages – The Bido Lito! Magazine launch at Static Gallery, 2nd October.