Sunday, August 24, 2008

Interview - Eagleowl

Words: Chris Hynd

Edinburgh trio Eagleowl create this quiet, beautiful, slow, melodic sound - guitars and strings meld into one and their voices complement the hum and whir of the instrumentation perfectly. Guitarist and vocalist Bart from the band agreed to answer some questions so, albeit delayed due to the band releasing their debut EP and the work Bart did curating the Retreat Festival, here they are.

I was reminded by a friend recently that I saw you a couple of years ago supporting A Hawk And A Hacksaw at the Subway Cowgate I think it was so you've been around for a wee while now. Can you give a brief history of the band, how you got together, what brought you together and all that?

Eagleowl has existed for about three years now. It started with just Malcolm and myself. We knew each other through mutual friends – we used to get drunk and watch horror films together. I guess we still do. I think that was important to be friends first and have similar interests outside of music. We played for about a year or so (including the Hawk and a Hacksaw show) before being introduced to Clarissa. Malcolm and Clarissa already knew each other, but didn’t know she played music until we all played a gig together with another mutual friend – Mark Hamilton from the Canadian band Woodpigeon. He was over in the UK on his own and wanted it to put together a large backing band for some shows. It involved us all playing together for the first time during sound check, then having a quick rehearsal in the car park outside the venue. I have a really nice memory of that evening, though I’m sure the audience probably don’t. It was a bit shambolic.

As a quiet band with a sparse sound when you play live, is it difficult to not get distracted by the chatter of the crowd especially of those who aren't paying attention? Obviously, I'm thinking specifically of those who were talking over you at the Low Lows gig - how disheartening is an experience like that to you onstage and to those who are paying attention to you?

I remember the Low Lows gig well. It was really tough. A lot of the songs are quite personal to me, and I think we each individually put a lot into our music. So for a large proportion of the crowd to treat it as ‘"background music" for their conversation, it’s really hard to take. It’s frustrating, but you just got to focus on the positive. Even if it feels like the worst gig you’ve ever done, or that no one in the room cares – there’s normally someone in the crowd paying attention. Even if it’s just the sound guy. We’re not na├»ve – we know that not everyone is going to be into the kind of music we’re playing (nor would I want them to be). So you just learn to deal with it – concentrate on what you’re playing, and hope that it’s reaching someone out to someone.

You've played a lot of shows around Edinburgh now and are probably seeing a nice little DIY scene developing, centred around what you could call nu-folk/anti-folk bands. As a band with more in common with the likes of Codeine or Low, how do you see yourselves in relation to those more folky bands? Or is it more to do with finding yourselves among like-minded souls and helping each other out in a city that's maybe viewed in a lesser light gig-wise than it's counterpart to the west?

It’s hard to say. I know what you mean – there’s a lot of exciting stuff happening at the moment in Edinburgh. We’re part of the fife kills: collective – which is a group of like-minded musicians based in and around Edinburgh. I don’t really like genre terms, but the collective is primarily what you may call "nu-folk" with people like Rob St. John and the Wee Rogue, but it also has elements of electronica, courtesy of Groaner. I think we get labelled "folk" quite a lot, as we use a range of what are viewed as "traditional" instruments. I think what unites the fife kills guys is a willingness to experiment – it's based on folk but there’s a desire to push things forward and experiment with the form. So it breeds quite a healthy diversity. We’re also good friends with the Bear Scotland guys – Meursault, Withered Hand, Les Enfant Bastard, the Foundling Wheel, etc. I think it’s a similar thing – we share similar influences and have a similar DIY approach to making music and putting on shows, but it’s the desire to experiment and push things forward that keeps things interesting.

Following on from that, do you think more can be done to encourage and develop DIY promoters/bands/writers/artists etc in the city or is it just a matter of word of mouth and people finding things out for themselves?

You know, I’ve been thinking about this a lot and I still don’t know. I’ve been playing in this band for over three years. I’ve been putting on shows for about two. You mentioned Edinburgh being viewed in a lesser light than Glasgow in terms for gigs. I see a lot of great things happening in this city. There’s a really strong community developing and a lot of great musicians here. I hope it’s only a matter of time before the press and wider public pick up on that.

But at the same time, even if that never happens, I kind of feel that we’ll carry on regardless. We didn’t start this band to make money or get famous. We just wanted to write the best songs we could. If people want to hear them, then that’s great. But if not, we’ll keep playing. Even if it’s just for each other.

I picked up your 2 track CDR at the Fence Homegame a few months back you were part of a really strong night of music curated by Tracer Trails, how was the night for you? And what did you make of the weekend as a whole? As someone who went for the first time, there was a great atmosphere and a sense of being at something really special, did you get that sense as well?

It was my second time at Homegame. I have to say it’s my favourite festival. It’s the only one we’ve ever played at (if you don’t include Retreat! I guess!), and I think we were a bit spoiled that way. It’s such a relaxed vibe, and there’s no ego or bullshit. There’s no divide between the artists and the audience – mainly because most of the audience are in other bands. That’s the way I like it. Fence have done a wonderful thing for Scottish music in general. In terms of DIY promotion, they pretty much wrote the blueprint that we’re all following.

I mentioned your CDR, which is very lovely indeed. Do you have plans for more recordings and how do you approach writing and recording your songs? Do you all bring ideas to the table and thrash it out among yourselves or is it one person writing the songs?

Actually, in the time it’s taken me to reply to this interview (sorry!), we’ve released our first proper EP. It was recorded around the same time as Homegame, and the first time we’ve tried to do a proper studio recording. We’re very pleased with it – to the extent that I’m now a little embarrassed by the demo recordings we’ve been punting about for the last couple of years.

In terms of writing, I write most of the songs – but I generally come up with the basic idea and a loose structure, and then we flesh it out in practice. And Malcolm (violin/ukulele) has written some songs for the band as well. We’re trying to work together more in the development process. I’m not very comfortable as "front man". I’d prefer it if lead vocals were shared – I just think this helps vary the sound and make it more interesting for the listener. But it’s hard to write words for other people to sing.

Finally, what are the rest of your hopes and plans for the band in the coming months? Hopefully they won't involve more gigs with an overly loud and chatty crowd!

Now that we’ve got our first proper release, we’re hoping to play as many shows as we can up to the end of the year, then hopefully work on some new material. We’ve got a mammoth two date UK tour planned (Edinburgh, then London) with our friends Small Town Boredom, who are promoting their rather beautiful LP "Autumn Might Have Hope". We’re also playing the Gimme Shelter festival in October.

Eagleowl's debut EP, For The Thoughts You Never Had, is out now. Check out the links below on how to pick it up.

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