Thus Owls: making dark matter shine brightly

Chance meetings can lead to incredible results: for the two core members of Thus Owls, it has led not only to love, but also to almost a decade’s worth of music-making.

Comprised of husband and wife Erika and Simon Angell, Thus Owls have been performing since 2007 – initially as a quartet fronted by the Swedish-bred Erika before she had met Simon, who had been working as a guitarist for Patrick Watson and would eventually join the group after meeting Erika in Amsterdam while both were touring Europe – and have released three full-length LPs; the last of which was 2014’s Turning Rocks, which was long-listed for that year’s Polaris Music Prize.

This Thursday, the duo will be at the Gésu playing a show for Montréal en Lumière, which the duo are treating like a release show of sorts for their new EP Black Matter, released in November on Secret City Records. Both this show and their show in Toronto four days earlier will be their last for a while, as they are expecting their first child in early March.

“It’s the first big show we’ve done in a while in our hometown,” says Erika. “It’s also the first time that we’re able to play the music from that EP with strings and backup singers and everything that was arranged for the music, so it’s super exciting for us.”

Black Matter itself is a six-song mixture of very experimental, sometimes ominous-sounding indie pop with a visible influence of electronic music, with a heavy emphasis on synths this time around. Written largely over the course of two weeks while the duo had a residency in New York, influence for the EP came partially through experimental artists like Ben Frost and Daniel Bjarnason – the latter of whom collaborated on the EP – as well as shows and museums they went to during their stay. Musically, the EP came partially through the two wanting to get out the more avant-garde side of the music they’ve been listening to, in addition to being a sort of “offspring” of their previous bodies of work.

“There was a longing and a need enough to do something in a different kind of musical lane that is also who we are, but that we haven’t maybe expressed through Thus Owls before,” she says. “We just wanted to create a little collaborative album – ourselves and a few musicians that we really enjoy and we like to work with: Liam O’Neill from Suuns and Daniel Bjarnason from Iceland who worked on our string arrangements. It was so much fun; it was very spontaneous and super important for us, but a very natural process.”

The inspiration for certain songs also came through unconventional circumstances – for example, the title track was borne in part from an iPhone-recorded drum riff sent from drummer Stefan Schneider to Erika and Simon, which the two then wrote music over. Regardless of how each song came together, it’s an effort that may have been created with a more relaxed attitude this time around.

“I think [with] an EP, you don’t have the same heavy image of a whole record in front of you,” she adds. “When you create it, it’s more just for the fun of it or the inspiration. It’s different mentally somehow, and the whole process of it was very easy. It’s different than Thus Owls might have sounded before, but at the same time, it’s very much our songwriting that shines through.”

In terms of what Black Matter means to her from a personal standpoint, Erika says it’s a bit like a wrap-up of the experience she had moving to Canada from Sweden, and “coming out on the other side” after overcoming the phase of adapting to a new country and environment.

“It’s a little bit like starting high school, coming to a new country like ‘who am I here? Who will be?’, feeling insecure and all that,” she says. “I felt that I set my feet down properly around the time when these lyrics came together, and that I could be all of me here.”


5 reasons why Fun Fun Fun Fest deserves its name

It might not be the most original name for a festival ever, but boy does it ever live up to it. Austin’s Fun Fun Fun Fest goes down tomorrow, and it’s got a diverse lineup ranging from hot indie buzz bands, classic alternative and hip hop acts, comedians, and even skateboarders. In case that doesn’t convince you, Shoeclack has a list of five reasons why this festival is as fun fun fun as their name suggests.

1. It’s held in the heart of American live music culture.

Perhaps you’ve heard of two festivals that go by the name of SXSW or Austin City Limits. They’re both among the biggest music festivals in North America, and there’s a reason why they’re both in Austin: it’s one of the best music cities in the continent, if not the world. The so-called “Live Music Capital of the World” is always full of great music happening in venues all over the city, as well as one of the most unique nightlife scenes in America.

2. Bill Nye the frigging Science Guy is their spokesperson.

If this doesn’t convince you that this festival is one of the coolest out there, there’s nothing more we can do. You no doubt remember him from watching his show on TV as a kid – or from your science classes growing up – and he’s still a figure in the science world today. Not surprising, then, that this festival would recruit him as their spokesperson, and his announcing of this year’s lineup was nothing short of epic.

3. Wu-Tang are headlining.

While it’s not yet known how many of the Wu will actually show up to this gig – it’s quite rare for all living members to get together for the same show these days – their shows are regardless a nice trip through memory lane for those who actually lived to see them come up in their prime, as well as just a fun night of hard-hitting hip hop with some of the most dynamic rappers of all time.

4. Jane’s Addiction are playing one of their classic albums – and there’s plenty more nostalgia from there.

Perry Farrell and co. will be playing their second album Ritual de lo Habitual in its entirety at the festival, but that’s only a part of Fun Fun Fun Fest’s emphasis on nostalgia. Lauryn Hill (filling in for D’Angelo), Cheap Trick, Drive Like Jehu, L7 and American Football are some of the bigger names on the bill whose heydays may be behind them, but who still draw big crowds of dedicated fans to their shows – and will no doubt do so here, too.

5. It also includes two artists that improve any festival exponentially: Doug Benson and Andrew W.K.

Whether your favourite activity is intense weed smoking or intense partying, the festival has you covered in the best kind of way. For the former, comedian Doug Benson (known in part for his “Getting Doug with High” podcast) will mix satire and sarcastic humour with 420 friendliness. For the latter, party god Andrew W.K. will surely give you a night full of debauchery, fun, hard rock, and perhaps a bit of blood too.

A holy union of art and music: Our conversation with the co-creators of Up Fest

Sudbury, Ontario’s inaugural Up Fest starts from tomorrow until Saturday August 15, and Shoeclack will be coming to you with coverage directly from the festival, which unites great art with fantastic up-and-coming music in a town with a growing festival reputation. We spoke with the festival’s artistic director Andrew Knapp and general director Christian Pelletier over the phone to get a taste of how the festival got its footing and what they’re looking forward to over the next three days.


Andrew Knapp


Christian Pelletier

Shoeclack: How did the idea for this festival come about?

Christian Pelletier: It came from a few different places. We’ve travelled a lot and seen a bunch of really cool festivals and originally Up Fest is organized by We Live Up Here, it’s an art collective that Andrew and I founded back in 2012. We published a few photography books about Sudbury, trying to shake up the way the people saw their city, and then delved into public art headfirst back in 2013-2014 and did a bunch of new murals downtown. That’s when we kind of knew we were on to something, because people [in Sudbury] were hungry for public art and hungry for city celebrations.

When we did our second photography book launch, we rented the Grand Theatre in Sudbury, which is this huge, beautiful, century-old theatre. It was really [a] community celebration; it was a “test fest”, we called it, where we brought a bunch of people together, a bunch of bands, a bunch of DJs… an explosion of art! There was this roller derby team on roller skates serving gourmet grilled cheese to people and then [we had] a bunch of bands doing little surprise shows all over the place. It’s a beautiful little theatre, and that night we actually had this video prepared where we were announcing that [we were] working on our next big project, which was Up Fest – which was always kind of part of our plan. In the past couple years, we were kind of working towards it. We announced it in December and we’ve hit the ground running since.

Shoeclack: This festival is both about music and about public art; there are muralists and an all-night art crawl. How much do you think the art and music components of this festival go hand in hand with each other?

Andrew Knapp: I think it’s all marrying together quite nicely. I think it’s a culmination of everything we’ve been working on in the past and learning about how we like to celebrate and what we think is important in community growth and what we feel like we have to offer… We worked on a few murals in the past and said “this is good. This starts conversations. This brings people together.” The music obviously is the heartbeat of the festival; it’s what really brings people out. And then the art installations: I’ve always felt like the best parties are the ones with weird, interactive art installations that make people talk to each other and start those conversations, and inspire [others] a lot because you really get to see what people do and they create something that you can interact with and it’s open for everyone. I think they marry together very well in creating this atmosphere of epic party that’ll happen all weekend. The murals will always be this reminder and this gift that the festival leaves behind for the festival for years to come.

Shoeclack: You have Tanya Tagaq, A Tribe Called Red, Suuns and Rich Aucoin among others playing this year. What’s the booking process like for this festival? Why did you choose these artists?

CP: For A Tribe Called Red and Tanya Tagaq, for us, it was kind of a given. In my opinion, [they’re] the two most awesome up-and-coming artists in Canada right now… But we also [wanted an emphasis on] emerging music. We wanted people to come to Up Fest to discover new things, to see a band they don’t know and be completely blown away by them. There’s something really cool about that: for me, as a festival-goer, when I don’t know a band and I step into a venue and I’m blown away, that feeling is incredible. If we can put that in a jar and sell it at the merch table, that would be fantastic! *laughs* A big part of it was trying to sell that experience of discovery and coming in with an open mind and being super curious and discovering a bunch of new things.

(This post originally appeared on Shoeclack.)

Making a scene

This story was originally published for now-defunct Calgary alternative weekly newspaper FFWD Weekly.

Studio Social helps Calgary electronic producers show off their block rockin’ beats

by David MacIntyre November 20, 2014

In an industry like electronic music production where it’s just as much about who you know as it is what you know, it’s important to strike a balance between networking like a pro and letting your tracks speak for themselves.

Enter Studio Social: a club night at Habitat Living Sound that gives local producers the chance not only to create relationships with each other, but also to learn their craft and improve their skills.

The night allows upcoming producers to submit their tracks to be heard in a live setting as well as through workshops on using different DAWs (digital audio workstations) like Ableton Live and Logic Pro.

The event has also been inviting guest speakers since its inception almost a year ago. In April, representatives of various Calgary-based electronic record labels gave advice on marketing, understanding how record labels work and getting tracks released.

According to longtime Calgary producer and Studio Social co-founder Isis Graham, the idea came from the fact that she and co-founders Cary Chang and Matt Caine wanted to start a producer night focusing on the DAW Cubase, since a school in Calgary for Ableton users already existed.

“From that, the discussion broadened out on ‘Well, maybe it could be not just for Cubase, maybe it could be for everything,’” she says. The conversations snowballed from there, and eventually Studio Social was conceived. Held on the last Wednesday of most months at Habitat Living Sound, the club night welcomes producers of all genres, production styles and skill sets. Graham says at first it was mostly beginners showing up, but “middle-range experience producers” are coming through more often now.

Local electronic producer John Arum has been an active member of the Studio Social team, as well as submitting a track every month. He says he’s always wanted to be involved in a producer night, and once Studio Social came along, he jumped on it immediately.

“I hope that it actually gets people more interested in the music side of things, like I was as just a DJ actually going to clubs for the music and not for the girls,” he says. “It’s really hard dragging out your friends that are there for the girls, even though they’re DJs just like you…. If this ever ends, I just hope the message is [that] we should go to clubs for the music.”

According to Graham, a “healthy rotation” of 150 people attend each month, whereas there are more than 200 people in Studio Social’s online community. While Calgary might not have a huge global reputation for electronic music, both she and Arum are amazed by the quality of what’s  coming out of the city.

“You hear something and you’re just like ‘There’s no way this is coming from Calgary. This sounds like it’s coming from Berlin, and how are they even getting these ideas?’” she says.

In addition to the label forum and DAW workshops, Studio Social recently hosted a remix contest.

This winter, they will have a new project called “Unlikely Connections,” where producers will be paired at random to collaborate on a track. They’re also working on presentations about SOCAN and FACTOR grants, and on January 2, CJSW will feature two hours of programming dedicated to tracks submitted to Studio Social.

“I like to sit in Studio Social in the back room and look through the little window hole and feel some sort of pride and happiness,” says Graham. “I can look out and see 50 to 100 people standing around, being together, conversing, talking, sharing their music and hearing their music and being stoked on the community. I look at that, and from the outside, I feel content. I feel like we’ve accomplished something that did not exist before.”

STUDIO SOCIAL typically takes place on the last Wednesday of every month at Habitat Living Sound. The next event is on Wednesday, November 26.

(Photo credit: Michael Benz)

Spreading the Party Gospel

Andrew W.K. on Partying Hard in Canada

by David MacIntyre


Andrew W.K. is a man who wears many hats: eccentric musician, producer, motivational speaker, former television show host and U.S. cultural ambassador to Bahrain (well, sort of).

Most know him, however, as a self-proclaimed “professional partier.” As far as job criteria go for that title, Andrew said there’s actually not a whole lot involved. If anything, it requires the barest of the minimum.

“The first criteria would be [to] be alive. But if you’re a zombie, you’re allowed as well,” the musician told The Link over the phone from Los Angeles. “Beyond that, there’s not much. I can’t define it. It’s the choice to think about the things that you don’t wanna think about, and enjoying it. That is partying. It’s having fun while you’re alive.”

Over 12 years since the release of his debut album I Get Wet, which boasted hard-rocking tracks like “Party Hard” and “She is Beautiful,” the white T-shirt and jean-clad master partier is still throwing crowds into a blood-stained frenzy with his live shows, including an upcoming date in Montreal this Wednesday at thrashing venue Foufounes Electriques. The show will be a long-awaited return to the city he calls one of his favourite places in the world to play in.

“I’d like to get some smoked meat, if possible,” he confided. “I’d like to get a bagel—very, very good bagel places in Montreal—and I’d like to go to St. Hubert […] It’s one of those places [that] pops to the front of my mind whenever I think about Montreal.”

Despite not coming here as often as he’d like—his last two appearances here were in Laval for POPMontreal in 2011 and at the Vans Warped Tour the year prior—he’s had a handful of memories of both Montreal and Foufs specifically. When

Montreal was one of the last cities Andrew played in on a previous tour, one of his band members partied perhaps a bit too hard after the gig.

“One of my best friends, our guitar player, he passed out in such an intense way that he missed his flight and he missed every other flight and he had to end up riding on the bus all the way back from Montreal to Orlando,” he said.

“We were smacking his face as hard as you can trying to wake him up. […] He got a good sleep, though. That’s the good thing: he was well rested. He got so much rest that night that he hasn’t had to sleep ever since.”

Beyond almost leaving a band mate behind, Andrew also remembers being interviewed by Naked News before a show, as well as once having dated a Montreal woman. Even before going out with her for several years, Andrew had already spent quite a bit of time in La belle province.

“That was always good; very very cool stuff just to have an insider’s point of view,” he said. “I learned a lot just from her good guidance and touring around and all that, seeing the city for what it is, an international city. With all due respect to the other cities in Canada, there’s really nothing like Montreal, and it’s a city of the world.”

Other than getting ready for a five-date Canadian tour that also sees him rolling through Halifax and St. John’s, Andrew W.K’s had an eventful past year or so. He’s been running an advice column for the Village Voice called “Ask Andrew W.K.,” photos of him as a male model in the ’90s have been all over the Internet recently, and he was named the spokesperson of Playtex Fresh + Sexy Intimate Wipes in March of last year.

He also broke a world record last June for the longest drumming session inside a retail store, when he played for 24 hours straight in the Oakley store on Times Square in Manhattan—a test of stamina that Andrew welcomed.

“Towards the end, my body sort of shifted over into some kind of stamina or endurance physicality, and I didn’t have to do anything,” he said. “I didn’t have to go to the bathroom, I didn’t have to drink water anymore. I was in the homestretch and I just wanted to keep playing drums. It was the easiest yet hardest thing I ever did.”

Beyond breaking records, Andrew has also recently toured playing DJ sets opening for Black Sabbath, as well as touring Europe last year singing Ramones covers with former drummer Marky Ramone, with whom he’ll tour Europe again this summer.

“There’s so many people—me included, all my friends—that I spent time with that would give anything to be able to just see a Black Sabbath show, let alone go on tour with them and see it night after night like that,” said Andrew. “And then the Ramones, to be able to sing those songs with Marky playing drums, it’s a sign that there may be a God. And he [or] she is a very friendly creature.”

As far as what projects AWK fans can expect in the near future, Andrew’s currently in the process of writing his first book through Simon & Schuster, appropriately called The Party Bible. He describes it as something of a “new age, self-help philosophy book” as opposed to a biography or autobiography.

In terms of a new studio album, Andrew said he’s been stockpiling songs and ideas for years, but is “waiting for that right moment” to release them.

“I’m not blaming circumstance, because if I really wanted to make the album, I could be recording it right now,” he said.

“But there’s other things that my life has brought me and I try to give my time and energy to those, with the idea that these songs will still be there and I can record them when the time is right. So hopefully this year, and if not this year, then hopefully next year.”

Andrew W.K. + Biblical // March 26 // Foufounes Electriques (87 St. Catherine St. E.) // 7 p.m. // $20 advance

(This story was originally published in The Link.)

A Tribe Called Red



Claiming a genre called “pow wow-step” is enough for even those not from the Aboriginal community to be intrigued by A Tribe Called Red. Not to be confused with a certain influential ‘90s rap group, the Ottawa-area trio’s newest release, Nation II Nation, is an example of how such a certain sound can appeal to anyone on a musical level.

A group of producers who, in their words, “remix traditional pow wow music with contemporary club sounds,” Nation II Nation picks up where their Polaris long-listed, self-titled debut left off. The sophomore offering blurs the lines between Native culture and EDM by taking genres, such as moombahton (album opener “Bread & Cheese”) and dubstep (“NDN Stakes”), and combining them with tribal drum rhythms and exuberant, high-pitched chanting.

Perhaps the biggest element of their sound is that they know their way around a catchy tune, too – the house-influenced “Sisters” features looped Native chants over a repetitive four-on-the-floor beat. In short, Nation II Nation is a sign of A Tribe Called Red taking the sound that got them attention in the first place and expanding on it rather than radically changing up their game plan.

(This article originally appeared in BeatRoute Magazine.)

The Bombadils


Despite their band name, the Bombadils aren’t as big Lord of the Rings fans as you’d think. Having the name in common with one of J.R.R. Tolkien’s least loved characters actually stems from a song, called “House of Tom Bombadil,” by Chris Thile, one of their major influences.

Sarah Frank is a fiddler and vocalist for the band and she explains how that song “mimics the speech pattern of the character in Lord of the Rings. Supposedly, he spoke in 7/4 time and, so, that tune was written in 7/4 time.” Also comprised of Evan Stewart (bass), Anh Phung (flute) and Luke Fraser (guitar/mandolin/vocals), the members met in Montreal, via Edmonton, Chilliwack and Halifax, before joining forces in 2009 at McGill’s Schulich School of Music. An even more local connection can be traced from when Phung played in the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra while studying for two years at the University of Calgary. “While I was there, I made some connections and I did this protégé program,” she says. “It was kind of like training for an orchestra, but I guess they liked me. So, they actually hired me to come and sub, and I played a solo with them once, as well.”

Although the Bombadils all come from Anglophone parts of the country, one track off their latest album, Fill Your Boots!, “Le soleil se lève à l’Ouest,” is sung partially in French, made especially relevant given that language is a particularly hot topic in Quebec right now. But, it comes from their desire to be able to make art in French and from having embraced Montreal’s culture. “I really want to start learning Quebec fiddle tunes as well,” Phung adds. “There’s a living tradition of music here that we can’t ignore, even though we’re not from here.”

Their sound tends to be described as Celtic and bluegrass, but they’re not limited. “That was really a jumping off point for the group,” says Fraser. “We like country, bluegrass, jazz, classical… Wherever good music or art is happening, we’re taking stuff from that,” while Frank mentions that “the idea of how bluegrass came to be was mixing genres,” and credits the Punch Brothers as another inspiration. “They’re always talking about how you can learn a genre, but you don’t need to be limited to that, and you can hear it in our music too.”

(This article originally appeared in BeatRoute Magazine.)