The Owls: The Complete Interview

Jay Boller

>Editor’s Note: As with any band profile involving an extensive interview with that band, many questions were asked of The Owls, which means many responses were omitted in order to distill their seemingly infinite cuteness down to a definite, coherent (no less cute) “story of the band,” with a discernible beginning, middle and end. Here is the interview in its entirety, because without it, how else would you learn about the social inhibitions of Peanuts’s outcast Patricia “Peppermint Patty” Reichardt, and her possible relation to a philosophy of music?

AE: Would take turns saying your names and what you do for the band, practically and/or spiritually?

John: I’m John, I play the drums and sometimes the bass.

Maria: I’m Maria, I play piano, guitar and sometimes the bass. And I make us late a lot. I don’t know what I do spiritually, that’s to be determined later.

Brian: I’m Brian, I switch around on bass, guitar, piano and I sing. I made bunnies once for the band, on a t-shirt. It was cute and slightly disturbing.

Maria: John just found a beanie-bunny on the ground.

Brian: That’s what John does. He finds things. He’s a scavenger.

Allison: I’m Allison, I sing, play guitar, bass, keyboards and a little bit of drums. And I’m our bookkeeper.

AE: Do you guys consistently rotate instruments? It sounds like everyone has a hand on the bass. Is it that you guys hate playing bass and avoid it?

Maria: Yeah. The bass is stinky.

Brian: No no, we like the bass.

Maria: We trade it because we trade leads.

AE: How does the songwriting process work with 3/4ths of the band handling song writing duties?

Maria: John controls us all.

Brian: John cracks the whip. But really, we individually write songs that we bring in. Then everybody writes parts for themselves. It’s usually pretty open.

AE: So the song starts as a skeleton then you dress it up and Ö it becomes a person?

Brian: Well, hopefully a person! Sometimes we’ll even write parts for another member to sing. Then it gets interesting.

AE: Can one member or all of you give a brief history of the Owls; from day one?

Allison: Day one, ok. The Owls was first used as a little demo recording. Well, Brian was in a band for a long time called The Hang-Ups and released a lot CDs. But he helped me record some of my songs and I chose the name The Owls.

Maria: There’s a band from Chicago called The Owls, it was Tim Kinsella from Joan of Arc’s project. We didn’t find out about them until we were already underway so we kept with it. We really felt like we were “The Owls”.

Allison: So, that was the beginning. It just started a wanting to welcome anyone who wanted to bring songs into the arena. Particularly songs of people we admired. I had always loved Brian’s songs, Maria’s songs. Another founding member was Steve but he went in a different direction to focus on visual arts. Then we found John Jerry to do drums about four years or so. I think, to me it was founding around people bonding and supporting each other’s songs.

AE: Brian, what was the Minneapolis music scene like in the early/mid nineties when you were with the Hang-Ups?

Brian: It seemed like there was a really distinct Minneapolis sound back then. There were bands like The Replacements, Soul Asylum and Husker Du. It was a much more loud rock scene back then. The band I was with, The Hang-ups, were not that way and we were kind of thought of as wimps. They called us “Fey”, which I had to look up, means “Other worldly.” It wasn’t an insult, but it was intended to mean like wimpy or precious. Then the Hang-ups become more of a rock band after awhile. But that’s a whole different story. Soul Asylum was big back then and the whole Seattle thing was going on back then. It seemed like there was a “Minneapolis Grunge” thing going on here. That’s where I came out of. After that, Allison and I got married and our first show was right after we went on our honeymoon. Soon after that, it became a whole band.

AE: You were featured as one of The City Pages “Best of ’07 Bands”, what is it liked to be lumped in with much young bands the likes of Gay Witch Abortion and Mouthful of Bees who are in their early twenties?

Allison: 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.

Brian: There’s a lot of variety. People aren’t assigned to a certain kind of music. I mean, I think a lot of our fans like different stuff.

AE: What was the musical evolution like from your first release (The Hopes and Dreams EP) to your first release (The Daughters and Suns LP)?

Maria: Long. There was a three year gap in-between, something like three years. We were able to take our time with it.

Brian: I felt like we were more involved with the full length album. In hindsight, I still like it. But it feels like more of a quick view of us. It’s more of a sampling than a cohesive whole.

AE: Being one of the bigger local bands, why did you choose to release your records on a Portland label?

Allison: We were scrambling to get the EP out because we were already getting played on the radio and just wanted to release something. They’re a really cool label.

Brian: It does seem like Magic Marker has their own sound. It’s very indie Ö very Ö

Maria: Very “Fey”

Brian: It’s really cool because we were plugged into this indie-pop scene that was sort of national. It was nice to have at least some people in the country know what we’re doing.

AE: You’re compared to Camera Obscura and Belle & Sebastian quite frequently, are the Owls secretly from Northern Scotland?

Allison: Only genetically.

Maria: That is funny, are we the same latitude as them?

AE: The band also gets a lot of classic rock comparisons, what do you feel that’s due to?

Allison: We are, at least some us, very influenced by 60’s/70’s music. Stuff like The Beatles, Velvet Underground, The Mamas and the Poppas. We have a simply/folky type sound. There’s straightforwardness about us and those types of bands.

Brian: 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. I don’t think melody is the driving force with a lot of music today.

AE: Would you care to explain the title/deeper meaning of your song “Peppermint Patty”?

Maria: You can take what you want from it. Peppermint Patty is kind of funny because she’s not front and center. When they were putting those crazy statues in St. Paul of all the different Peanuts characters, I was thinking they’d never do her because she’s such an outsider. I love her outsider-ness. Musically, the song is kind of about the simplicity and pureness groove that the Peanuts characters are in.

AE: I really enjoyed the video you guys made, was that a fun process?

Allison: Oh yeah we love it. There was like thirty people who worked on it. Our friend Todd, he’s an up and coming director, took charge on it. It was cool because he called in all these favors and you could really see the collaborative nature of film. It was really fun to be part of.

AE: The writer who wrote your City Pages article proposed to his fiancé via the article, any follow up on that?

Maria: She said yes!