Since 2009, Montreal’s Thus Owls have made a name for themselves in the Canadian music landscape as purveyors of dark, seething art-rock that is drenched in influences that refuse to be contained by genre.
Thus Owls—also known as Swedish-Canadian couple Erika and Simon Angell—released their fourth full-length album entitled The Mountain That We Live Upon, in September 2018. The two collaborated with many renowned members of Montreal’s music scene, including regular drummer Samuel Joly (Marie-Pierre Arthur, Fred Fortin), as Laurel Sprengelmeyer (Little Scream), Nicolas Basque (Plants and Animals), Michael Feuerstack (The Luyas), and many more.
Thus Owls has toured regularly in Scandinavia, Europe and North America, sharing stages with artists like José Gonzales, St. Vincent, My Brightest Diamond, Patrick Watson, Timber Timbre, Suuns, Little Dragon to name a few.
Thus group is playing tonight (June 25) in Ottawa at Bar Robo as a part of the Robo Artist Series. Tickets are still available and can be purchased online here. Find more information on the Facebook event.
Read my interview with Erika below.
Your music is lush and rich with texture. Can you talk about the way you approach playing live, and how you communicate with your audience differently on stage than you would on a recording?
This album was recorded live in the studio, live off the floor. We wanted to grasp that energy and spark in the music that often happens in our live performances. The record was recorded together with 3 additional guitar players which created this large, beautiful sound. Live, we often perform as a trio which means we are able to be more flexible and intuitive which is very fun. We are very much a live band that loves to improvise and open up parts, so you haven’t really experienced Thus Owls fully if you haven’t seen us live.
Your fourth full-length album The Mountain That We Live Upon has been out since September 2018. You’ve been able to play in front of many types of audience, large and small. Can you discuss the difference in the minimalist trio format versus the expanded electric lineup, and even the multidisciplinary aspects?
The music for The Mountain That We Live Upon was composed with this in mind, that it should be easy to perform in many different settings so that it would be possible to invite any musical voice we would like to have joining us while touring or performing. And it has turned out just like that. The musical core is always the trio, but from this tight unit we are able to shape the performances in so many different directions through inviting different guest for different performances. It keeps the music alive and ever changing which is so important to us. It keeps us on our toes and makes the music live and breath. It is always very fun to perform with the three additional guitarists because we can rest and fly more in the performance, and it’s the setting we composed for originally, but the trio is beautiful in it’s own way since it’s so intimate and fluid. When we are given the opportunity to perform in a multidisciplinary setting, with projections, dance performance and interactive film and sound installations everything reaches another level and our artistic view is complete.
Which artists inspire you currently? Do you continually draw inspiration from musicians that are active today?
We are constantly inspired by art and music, old an new. We are constantly bringing home records and books to lose ourselves in. Before starting a more serious composing period we search, listen and read more actively to awake the inspiration and the flow of ideas. There are a few voices that are always with us and others that inspires for a period of time. Patti Smith, Robert Wyatt, John Coltrane, Jenny Hval, Annette Peacock, Sally Rooney, Sheila Heti, Siri Hustvedt et.c.
Thus Owls is truly a band without a singular genre. What are the forces that pull the band in various directions, away from one monolithic approach or sound? What informs the arrangements and lyricism?
We are musicians who use music to process our lives, to push ourselves and make sure we do not become stagnant as human beings. To develop and better ourselves. Therefore our music will always keep changing. Or at least that is our goal. We also want to do our best to create music that hasn’t been created before. It will obviously always hold inspirations from other music and art forms but we work hard to give our music a personal and independent voice. It’s hard to describe what informs the arrangements and lyricism. I would say some kind of synesthetic process where form, colour and a feeling or inner knowing of what’s “right” dictates each decision.
Speaking of arrangements, it is immediately apparent that The Mountain That We Live Upon is carefully crafted and executed. It’s profoundness seems to come from all of the instruments and vocals interacting gently with one another, interweaving without overpowering. Is this intentional? And if so, how does this kind of songwriting begin and evolve into the final product?
Like I mentioned earlier. It was our goal and intention to record the music for this album live and to keep full takes with the full band and live vocals. Therefore you can hear the musical decisions and interaction between the musicians very well on the album I think. This is what is so beautiful with music, the invisible communication and energy that happens between people. This is music to us.
You’ve mentioned in the past that The Mountain That We Live Upon was recorded in four days, with songs recorded in three takes or less. To what extent are the compositions hashed out before recording starts, versus what is improvised throughout the process?
We had to rehearse a lot beforehand to be able to record off the floor, but since the music is also written to leave room for improvisation and interpretation so what you hear in the album is both. Something carefully crafted and prepared but still largely improvised in the moment. A recorded one-time performance of each song.
Does the band have anything planned for the rest of 2019? Or taking a rest?
We just started a Canadian tour that will last for another couple of weeks. After that we will take a couple of months break to write a film score but in the fall we will do a Europe tour and we will also come back to Ottawa for a show at the National Art Center in december for those how won’t make it to this very exclusive performance at Bar Robo on June 25th.