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.”

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