At RREVERB, we think quality music lasts. That it can be listened to for years. This series of interviews with musicians takes the time to focus on the art of making music, on mastering an instrument, owning the stage.

Today, we meet…

SIMON AND ERIKA ANGELL, FROM THUS OWLS

 

QUICK BIO: Thus Owls is a Swedish-Canadian experimental indie rock band based in Montreal, Quebec, consisting of husband and wife duo Simon and Erika Angell.

Prior to forming the duo, Simon Angell was a guitarist in Patrick Watson’s band, while Erika Angell was based in Sweden, where she led bands Josef & Erika and The Moth and was backup vocalist for Loney, Dear. Thus Owls formed as a four piece in 2007 when Erika Angell began collaborating with drummer Ola Hultgren, bassist Martin Höper and pianist Cecilia Persson. She met Montrealer Simon Angell while they were both on tour in Amsterdam the same year and he quickly joined the group.

The band released Cardiac Malformations in 2009. Cardiac Malformations was recorded by Oskar Lindberg during five days in the Svenska Grammofonstudion in Gothenburg, Sweden. The band toured frequently over the next two years in support of the album, mainly in Europe and parts of North America, playing with such bands as Patrick Watson, Karkwa and Little Dragon. The following album, Harbours, was released on January 23, 2013. Harbours was recorded at the La Frette studio in Paris, France.

Erika and Simon Angell subsequently moved to Montreal, and enlisted local drummer Stef Schneider and keyboard player Parker Shper to round out the permanent lineup alongside bassist Morgan Moore. Their third album, Turning Rocks, was released in 2014 on Secret City Records, and was a longlisted nominee for the 2014 Polaris Music Prize. (Bio from Wikipedia)

PRESENTATION

RR: What is your name and age (ladies can skip that part ;); where are you from, where do you live now? Why are you living there?

Simon Angell, 36, from Montreal, live there currently
Erika Angell, 38, from West coast of Sweden, living in Montreal

thus owls 2014 photo promo

RR: When did you start making music? Can you share the highlights or key moments of your career, up to here?

Simon: I started playing guitar at 12 years old. There was a guy who was a year older than me that played classical guitar and I was immediately drawn to the instrument. Ironically, I never learned any classical technique or music, having gone pretty much straight to blues then jazz.

Highlights? Ouf, so many! Playing with the Concert Gerbouw Orchestra in Amsterdam, playing for Ethiopian teenagers in Addis Ababa, living in Sweden for 4 years, playing to 150,000 people at the Montreal Jazz festival, living in Morocco for a year and learning from some real heavy Gnawa musicians. There’s many more of course, but these pop to the front of my mind immediately.

thus owls sxsw 2014 Cr Nicolas Gouin

At SXSW 2014 (photo Nicolas Grouin)

RR: Did one music teacher make a difference at one point in your relation with your instrument?

Simon: I had many great teachers, both privately and in school. The one that springs to mind is the one who reshaped my musical approach drastically, even though I only saw him a handful of times. I had the great opportunity to take lessons with Marc Ribot about 10 years ago. He not only opened new doors for me, he showed me a whole building I didn’t even know existed!

THE CREATION

RR: How does your music writing process work? Do you need to be in a special place or in a certain mindset when you compose? Is it hard work for you to finish a song?

Erika: To write music I usually like to prepare myself mentally. I like setting up periods in advance where I know I’ll write and before that time comes I usually try to soak myself in as much literature, art and music as possible and sketch up a direction for my work.

thus owls writing process

Starting up a new writing process in the spring sun. Always good to keep some friends around for inspiration and good advice!! Tranströmer, Woolf, Rilke, Kirkegaard, Jansson…. (April 2015)

RR: Who do you sing to or play a new song for, the first time? To what extent is the feedback you get important?

Erika: Simon is always the first one to hear my ideas for songs and I’m that person to him too. It’s about trust of course, but also knowledge on where we come from and the ability to see and hear where there is development and new textures brought in.

RR: Which song or music piece are you the most proud of? Why?

Erika: The answer to this question will constantly change. I can be very happy with the work that I’ve put behind me but my main reason to create is to make new things and to develop so I’m usually always the most proud over the last work I’ve made, right now I’m very proud of the song ”Asleep in the water” from our new EP Black Matter.

 

RR: Do you get bored of singing or playing older songs (or some hits)? Why?

Simon: I don’t think there’s any risk in me writing any ”hits” any time soon, so not too worried there! But yes, music for me is about constant flux, so being stuck with old material can get stale. But it’s always fun and interesting to go back to an older piece of music and re-arrange it in way that suit you at the given moment.

RR: Why wouldn’t you write hits? Do you mean you wouldn’t do it on purpose, or you just cant even if you tried? What if the public just falls madly in love for one of your songs as they are (that could happen!)?

Simon: Haha, maybe I’m being a little too self-depreciating here! I guess what I mean is I would never enter the composition process with “I’m going to write a hit” in mind. Hey, if the public falls madly in love, as you say, with one of my/our songs, I guess that constitutes a hit, right? It’s just not on my radar to TRY and achieve that. If it happens that droves of people love some music I/we’ve done, great then.

RR: Have you ever written or played a type of music that’s completely different from the genre or style we know you for?

Simon: Oh yes, loads. I haven’t done it as much lately, but I basically paid my way through school doing all kinds of sessions. I’d say the important thing for me has been to always bring my voice to any session, regardless of the style of music.

 

RR: How do the recording sessions work for you? Do you work alone or with other musicians? Do you record and produce yourself? What brings a producer or a sound engineer in the process?

Erika: We usually make sure we work with an engineer that we trust and communicate well with. It’s great if the engineer can extend our creative mind with knowledge and ideas of how to make them happen but also take them further. We’ve produced all our albums by ourselves so far. It’s something that we love doing. It would be fun to try to work with a producer too but also scary since we usually often have a clear picture of what we want to do.

thus owls pre prod Jan 201

Pre-prod – Jan 2015

RR: Let’s talk about your most recent album. What do you think of it? How does it fit in your career and measure against your previous work?

Erika: We love it of course! And we’re very proud of it. We just started touring it too and it’s super fun to play live too. It’s obviously a step away from the vain we’ve created in with Thus Owls earlier on, but that’s was the purpose and it’s also the reason Black Matter is an EP. A shorter yet deep dive into a new landscape. It was something we needed and longed for. We also wanted Black Matter to be a playground for some new collaborations and it turned out to be so much fun and over any of our expectations.

 

THE INTERPRETATION

RR: Do you like to do covers? Why?

Erika: We do a cover here and there, mainly for the love of music, to learn and express something different and also to present a really good song to people how might not have heard it before.

RR: Talking about covers, would you participate in a wild concept like the A.V. Club’s Undercover songs where bands play songs from very different genres (e.g. Gwar doing She Bop from Cyndi Lauper!). If so, what’s the wildest strangest song you’d do?

Simon: Yes, absolutely! If Gwar can do Cyndi Lauper, I’m sure we can fuck with someones song proper! Don’t know what song yet, though, would have to mull that one over.

THE STAGE

RR: Describe your relation with the stage: how you approach concerts? Is it fun, or are you stressed out?

Erika: The stage is magical. It’s home at the same time as it’s different every time. The audience plays a big part of course since it’s all about communication. Some days we’re not so good at communicating because we’re tired or unfocused and sometimes the crowd isn’t that good at communicating and you end up feeling that you give and give to someone who just takes it for granted.

But the stage is magical and I think both musicians and artist enter the stage and a venue with the hopes and aim that something out of the ordinary will happen. I try to be all of me and more every time I get the opportunity to perform on stage.

 

RR: Can you share the best moment ever you lived on stage?

Erika: It’s hard to pick one and it’s a little bit like songwriting you always try to find a new very best moment. This summer I had to great moments, one singing free improvised music on a stage on a farm in the middle of Ontario, Canada. It was one of those nights when your body and mind is working in complete freedom and there are no boundaries. I’m always so grateful for those moments. Another moment was to sing for 45,000 people in Quebec City this past summer. The energy of a crowd that big is something else.

RR: Which do you prefer: small or large venues? Do you play and act the same way?

Erika: The mix of the two for sure. It’s more about what happens in the room during a show that counts. But I do like better when the room suits the amount of people that shows up to the concert!

thus owls live 2014 Nov

RR: How is life on tour?

Erika: Very, very fun but also tiring since it’s hard work and it’s sometimes hard to get the sleep you need. There is often some kind of problem solving going on cause something breaks or is lost or missing. That can be stressful sometimes. You’re also a little disconnected from what goes on in ordinary life and in the world. It can be both nice and weird. I have a hard time remembering what day of the week it is or what happened at what day and in which city.

Touring becomes a constant flow, with things repeating themselves all the time but at the same time being different constantly. You can get very tired from it because there are so many impressions to deal with every day. But you also get to meet new, amazing people very often and there are so much great food, art and culture to explore where ever you go. It’s something I’m very grateful for that I get to do, to travel with music, the passion of my life and to share it with people from all over the world.

thus owls mic

RR: Do you remember your first gig ever? How did that go?

Simon: Yes, I remember quite clearly. It was my first band, in high school, we were all about 13-14 years old. Played a community center to about 25 other kids. We had learned a bunch of covers, like Creep by Radiohead, some Pearl Jam, Nirvana, music of the time. At the last minute we decided to throw everything out and just improvise and ended up doing some weird hardcore free-punk type stuff that I’m sure sounded terrible, but I remember it being extremely amusing to us.

thus owls 2012 harbours Cr Susan Moss

Harbours LP launch, 2012 (photo Susan Moss)

MUSIC BUSINESS

RR: Who is in your music team? Who is in your entourage? What do these people bring you?

Erika: Our label is Secret City Records and our manager and show production is OPAK Media. They make things possible for us and help us build and create a path to our audience and our listeners.

RR: Small label vs big label. Which do you prefer? Why?

Simon: That’s hard to say, as we’ve never had much real experience with any “big” labels. I can say that working with a smaller label who actually takes time to listen to what you want to do as an artist is the only way I can imagine ever working. An ideal label helps you develop your own artistic output as opposed to working at it back to front and trying to mold what you do to fit THEIR cookie cutter mold. We’re lucky to have such a relationship with Secret City Records.

RR: Can you imagine living as a celebrity (a major one, like Celine Dino or the Beatles)? How do you think you would cope with this situation, and lifestyle?

Erika: Never think about that. My focus has always been on the creation of music and to present music that is different than the mainstream so being a celebrity is nothing I really walk around thinking about.

thus owls 2014 Cr Sara Arnald

2014 (photo: Sara Arnald)

YOUR PERSONAL FAVORITES

RR: On a desert island, you bring those 5 records (no more!): what are they?

Simon: Dark Side of the Moon – Pink Floyd. 5 copies, in case 4 get lost.

RR: What was the first album you bought with your own money? At what age? Do you still listen to it today?

Simon: Bon Jovi, Slippery When Wet. Age 7. No. I’ve got no shame about my 6 year old self. That guy was a very different human than the one that exists now, 30 years in the future.

RR: Can you recall the best concert you ever attended?

Simon: There’s been so many, but the one in recent memory was when we went to Ethiopia last spring. We were introduced to friend of a friend named Melaku Belay, who is an incredible dancer as well as a club owner and general patron of the arts in Addis. Him and fellow dancers and musicians did a show at his club, fits maybe 50 people max, that blew our minds! 3 hours of the heaviest east african grooves we’ve ever had the pleasure to hear!

Thank you guys!

thus owls 2012 xmas bye

Check out our review of Thus Owls’ latest EP here (in French)

The many ways to stay in touch with Thus Owls:

Like their Facebook fan page
Youtube Channel : Secret City
iTunes link to purchase music
Official web site
Link to concert calendar
Soundcloud tracks
BandCamp page

Other videos from Thus Owls

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About The Author

Nicolas Pelletier
Fondateur et rédacteur en chef
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Mélomane invétéré et rédacteur agréé, Nicolas pratique la critique en mode olympique: il parle de tout, tout le temps, depuis 1991. Il a publié 4 500 critiques de disques et concerts dont 1100 chez emoragei magazine et 600 sur enMusique.ca, dont il a également été le rédacteur en chef de 2009 à 2014. Nicolas a publié "Les perles rares et les grands crus de la musique" en janvier 2013, un ouvrage de 1250 pages en deux tomes.