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The Owls: Perched atop Twin Cities scene

Local ’90s indie rockers The Owls are at the height of their success at last.

Local indie-pop band The Owls are cute. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone opposed to labeling them as “super cute.” But The Owls posses a more substantial cuteness than say, Hanson. Their cuteness is a multifaceted one, realized in their charming indie-pop songs, delightfully appropriate band name, and girl/guy membership. And what is the adorable icing on their proverbial cute-cake? Owls Brian and Allison are happily wed.

In a music world run amuck with synthesizers, studio trickery and Flo Rida, the earnest pop songs of The Owls are a welcome breath of fresh air. The tunes range from concise and catchy pop numbers to meandering and lush ambiance. With members who have been cutting their respective teeth since the ’90s in the Twin Cities music scene, the band is wiser than their 20-something counterparts. With age comes the realization that experimentation and irony are well and good, but expertly crafted pop songs are timeless.

“It’s kind of old school in a way to be based on melody. That’s the big thing we have in common with bands from those eras (’60s and ’70s). I don’t think melody is the driving force with a lot of music today,” said co-frontperson Brian Tighe.

Basing a sound on the tried-and-true methods of yesteryear is safe, but it can also be safe to a fault. The Owls avoid this by employing an unconventional style of songwriting and performing that keeps their music exciting.

“We individually write songs that we bring in. Then everybody writes parts for themselves. Sometimes we’ll even write parts for another member to sing. Then it gets interesting,” explained Tighe, who is one third of the three-headed songwriting dog (or is it a three-headed bird?) that includes Maria May and Allison LaBonne.

As a result of tag-team song writing, The Owls’ shows are ripe with instrument-switching among band members. In the wake of much recent acclaim, it appears to be a winning formula.

The recent local success of The Owls feels good. Not unlike a 13-year veteran quarterback finally winning a Super Bowl, it’s refreshing to see longtime musicians get their due. And the past couple of years there has been plenty of due to be had.

Their 2007 release, “Daughters and Suns,” was consistently named one of the highlight local records of the year and was featured on various “Best of ’07” lists throughout the Twin Cities. City Pages included them as one of their “Artists of the Year,” and on the global stage, they’ve been likened to established favorites Camera Obscura and Feist.

Despite the age difference, The Owls are excited about the music scene in which they find themselves at the forefront.

“It’s an incredibly fertile environment for younger bands in Minneapolis. The level of musicianship and creativity is very high. I get a lot out of those bands, but I don’t actually go to their shows often,” said LaBonne, referring to fellow “Artists of the Year” groups Gay Witch Abortion and Mouthful of Bees. When observing the extreme names of the aforementioned groups, perhaps it can be assumed that band naming ability grows with age, as well.

Last week’s show at The Whole music club was a homecoming, of sorts, for LaBonne (a University alumna) and drummer John Jerry (a current student). Playing in front of a moderately full venue, the performance demonstrated the band’s considerable live chops. Jerry’s understated drumming is perfectly suited for the vocally charged group. Tighe’s Y-chromosome facilitated vocals meld seamlessly with the high and crisp voices of his female bandmates, creating a delightful atmospheric experience.

It’s enjoyable to watch Tighe – who for more than a decade was in local rock group The Hang-Ups – restrain himself on the bass. Occasionally, though, his rock pedigree could be heard when he’d let a bass lick get a little too nasty for his current group’s style. In the midst of rampant trading (instruments, vocal duties, marital bliss), The Owls still manage to sound like a cohesive whole. Regardless of who’s doing the singing, you know you’re hearing The Owls.

There are two schools of thought for live shows. School One: A band’s live ability is directly related to their ability to precisely replicate their recorded work. School Two: A band’s live ability is directly related to their ability to expound on their recorded work and improvise (read: stoned Wookiefoot fan). Devotees of School One would be pleased with The Owls, as their catalogue was performed nearly note for note at The Whole. As for followers of the other school, they always have Bonnaroo in July.

In a world abound with rigid musical divides, there’s a populist appeal to The Owls. Similar to how everyone, without exception, enjoys the Beatles, The Owls’ accessibility is an immediate draw. But this is America, and firearms and apple pie aside, nothing draws us in quite like cuteness, something our Owls are steeped in. And when cuteness is combined with substance, direction, experience and skill? Well, that’s a just a hoot.

Read Jay Boller’s full interview with The Owls.

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