The Darkness and Light in Thus Owls
Courtesy of Thus Owls
Thus Owls' is the result of the marriage of two people, but also the two countries they hail from. Husband and wife team of Simon and Erika Angell, from Canada and Sweden, respectively, each forged careers -- he on guitar, she as a vocalist -- that would one day intersect causing an immediate and undeniable attraction. Simon's dark folk sensibilities proved to be the perfect foil for Erika's breathy, atmospheric vocals -- a sort of dark meets light--and the results are explosive. With Erika's deeply charged and personal lyrics creating powerful settings burning with emotion, the music appropriately swirls, bends and wavers around that haunting voice, trying to keep pace, yet succeeds better in pushing that tension further onward. Thus Owls is a wild ride, a rollercoaster -- the kind worth taking over and over again.
Up on the Sun caught up with Erika for an email chat about meeting Simon, the creation of Turning Rocks, the band's latest album, sharing her grandmother's stories as lyrics, and taking these complex songs to the stage.
Up on the Sun: Erika, you met Simon when he was touring in Sweden with Patrick Watson and liked his guitar sound. What was it about that sound that attracted you, but also how did you envision that guitar within the framework of what you were trying to do?
Erika Angell: I think I heard my own world in Simon's playing. He has the same kind of dual approach to music emotionally, in sound and in expression. We both have this need of harshness next to beauty, that's how we fall in love with music and you can hear that in Thus Owls music too I think. It's a gift to meet someone that inspires you musically and to me it has always been an opportunity to learn and grow. When Simon joined Thus Owls I knew he would add himself to the sound in some great way; I didn't really imagine what it would be like beforehand since I wanted to experience it in the moment.
How has your music been realized by being in Canada as compared to what you were trying to do in Sweden?
Canada opened up its arms for us already from the beginning, we did our first tour here on our first album 2009. In Sweden we worked under this beautiful little label called HOOB Records, which is pretty much a bunch of great and talented friends putting out records together. It's so much fun to do everything yourself, but you're also dividing your powers. In Canada, we've had the opportunity to have some really amazing help from labels and management that has made it a little easier for us to reach out here. There has also been so much amazing support from our musician friends, especially from Patrick Watson who has helped us so much with support tours and others. We are still an underdog that most people don't know about but we hope to change that over time of course!
You made a couple albums together in Sweden before moving to Montreal. How does that music compare to what we hear on Turning Rocks?
It's hard to put an outside perspective on this for me. We discovered our sound with Cardiac Malformations. We recorded that album in five days and it was a mixture of trying to create the musical world that existed in our heads and an experimental session with all the fun gear we found in Svenska Grammofonstudion in Göteborg (The Soundtrack of our Lives owned studio). The second one, Harbours, was an extension of the first album in many ways, the songs were written with Thus Owls sound in mind and somewhat in the same world as the first one. I think Turning Rocks takes a little step away form the two earlier ones in the way that we wanted to try and discover something new to challenge ourselves. We needed to go elsewhere in order to develop and grow musically. All three albums is very much "Thus Owls Music" and I guess if there's something we can say about past and future works it is that we'll always try to be in constant development to learn new things.
Erika, the album is lyrically inspired by your childhood home and specifically your grandmother. Can you explain how and why this transpired into lyrics?
I think there are two reasons for the lyrical theme on Turning Rocks. One reason was that I felt a longing to write about something else but my own person or my own emotions, I wanted to look outwards a little bit. It might sound weird considering that I ended up writing about my own family, but all these songs are still other peoples stories more than mine. Another reason I wrote these songs was obviously that I had just moved to Canada, away from my family, and all of a sudden I had a whole new perspective on my past and where I come from. I didn't realize this reason until much later though, funny enough.
Your lyrics travel a very deep and personal path, like you're sharing secrets with us. What compels you to reach so deep inside?
We'll as I said above, it's actually more the opposite to me. These aren't just my stories, it's about other people, living in or around this house on the west cost of Sweden (where I grew up), living there during the last century. These stories are told in my words and with my perspective and my thoughts and questions are intertwined into them. But yes, music and lyrics for me is about communicating and I want my music and lyrics to speak to other peoples heart and I want it to be personal and emotional, 'cause I think we need that in the world we live in. I need that.
It makes me wonder if there's a history of storytelling in your family given these songs are crafted more like linear stories than simple songs?
Not really. I feel that I knew and know very little about my family's past. But I guess since my grandma is now very old and wants to share her past, along with me moving away to Canada, having long telephone conversations with here, I have learnt much more during the last couple of years.
Courtesy of Thus Owls
Taking this a step further, the overall sound invokes powerful feelings. Simon's your husband, so there's an obvious connection, but how do you get the band to relate to such feelings and fill out the songs musically as envisioned?
We talked a lot about the sounds before working on the songs this time. Maybe we had a need of doing so because we wanted to take a new direction. But also, it was important to invite and discuss music and our sound with the new musicians that had entered our band, Stef Schneider and Parker Shper. We had to find them a room in our music. Music naturally changes when a new person comes along and we wanted their voices nicely tied into ours. It's a natural part of doing music though, most of it happens without words but sometimes it can be nice to think and talk about it beforehand. I think it depends on who you are and how you like to work. Music is pure force to me and it can feel very powerful when all the pieces fall into place at the same time. That's the moment I always reach for.
"How, in my Bones," particularly comes to mind in reference to the above question and the power of music. There's a sort of gothic battle scene raging, at least in my mind. How do you see it?
The song is about shame. To experience it for the very first time and not knowing how to deal with it. I think the gothic sound you're talking about might be a spice in there because of the subject. We wanted to make a groovy song with a melodic and moving melody but like I said earlier, it needs to have that darker flavor to it for me to like it so it was important that the bass kept the depths and that the organs brought in that windy and warped sound.
Would you say there is any one thing that defines your sound or what you are trying to do?
I try to create and sing music that feels like me. I try to always challenge myself and I always try to create a moment together with every audience where the music blows through us and makes us feel alive. And this is what we do and reach for with Thus Owls too.
There's such a deep, cinematic quality to the music -- so much seems to be going on -- how do these songs transfer to the stage?
Most people say that Thus Owls is a band to experience live. I think music is most amazing live all together. That's when all those real and amazing moments can happen. Records are something you make your own and carry with you over time. I love them too, but it's just two different things I guess. Just come see our show!
Husband and wife musical teams, history shows, can be quite turbulent. And musically -- at times lyrically too -- there's certainly tension put forth in the songs. So, how do you make it work for the benefit of the music and relationship?
I think it's pretty much the same thing in music as in any relationship, at least it is to us. Music is our passion and love too. With great respect for each other, with an open and listening mind and to have as much fun as possible while you're on the ride!
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