OWLS are back. The melodic emo band from Chicago once known as Cap’n Jazz-minus-Davey-von-Bohlen-plus-Sam-Zurick has grown up and returned to the West Coast to showcase their new sounds. Two, OWLS’ second album and first new recording in thirteen years, was released on Polyvinyl Records this past March.
This Sunday, OWLS will play their third California date at San Francisco’s Bottom of the Hill, before heading back to the East Coast. Here are frontman Tim Kinsella’s thoughts on growing up, changing perspectives, and writing together again.
What was it like getting together to write a new album after the thirteen year break?
Well we’ve all been playing together more-or-less in different variations, so there was no huge shock. We were collaborating now at a deeper level in the process and that was tricky to sort.
What changed and what stayed the same?
We all started playing together in 1989 so we know what to expect from each other to a certain degree, even if our choices and behaviors might often seem mysterious to each other. It’s simpler now in that we’ve all been humbled by our shares of difficult living and we are lucky — in our case, our struggles have made all of us gentler and more thoughtful people, which is, of course, good for collaborating. Unfortunately, some models of interacting between us weren’t updated appropriately in everyone’s head all the time, so we occasionally had digressions into teenagers — you know, returning to trauma scenarios. Not cool. But we’re fine, thanks.
In an another interview, you said, “even lyrically I was aware I didn’t want to fall back on these ‘clever’ things I used to do –- like, lots of wordplay and stuff. We refined these songs for a couple of years before recording, and lyrically that meant a lot of slashing away that mist of cleverness.” Why didn’t you want to fall back on the clever things?
Part of this is just wanting to challenge one’s self instead of falling back on old habits and patterns. I mean, if every song and every album is a sort of problem or puzzle of sorts, the struggle to complete them would read as false if the solutions were always the same. And I just wanted a more visceral and immediate record. I think people talk about what we do in terms of complexity and part of that is slippery language and part of that is manual dexterity. But I think more interesting to me is nuance and subtlety — both complexities, but expressive of more inward things as opposed to bombast. It may sound like nuance and subtlety are funny ways to arrive at a more visceral and immediate record, but that balance was the challenge.
What sparked this change?
I guess we knew that making the second OWLS record couldn’t just be about returning to wherever our thinking was after the first OWLS record, but we had to also account for all the intervening years and all we’ve each learned or become curious about in each of our projects since. So it’s consequence to far too many factors to account for on a conscious level — [it] just felt right.
What would you say are the biggest themes in Two? How did they come about?
Oh, all my records are the same themes in the end; however, we as a group might assess them differently: grief, isolation, loneliness, disappointment, the struggle for inner peace [can all be found on this album].
Is there a favorite song of yours on the album? Why?
Nope. I think I like them all the same.