Owls have a new record. It didn’t come fast and it didn’t come easy.
It’s been over two decades since Tim Kinsella, Mike Kinsella, Victor Villarreal, and Sam Zurick formed Cap’n Jazz as teenagers, and 13 years since they followed up that band with their debut self-titled album under the name Owls.
In the time that has passed since then, the members have kept active with a string of other endeavors (including Owen, Joan of Arc, Make Believe, and Ghosts and Vodka) that have never failed to showcase their vast, diverse, and ever-evolving musical aptitudes.
And yet, even as the four musicians branched off in separate directions, the thread that connected them still remained intact (even if it did become a bit frayed through two previous break-ups).
Following the 2010 Cap’n Jazz reunion tour, talk soon turned to doing another run of shows — an idea which eventually morphed into making a second Owls record instead. After Zurick moved back to Chicago in February of 2012, false starts abounded before new material finally began to take shape.
As the band members soon discovered, taking on such a project meant aligning schedules and collaborating civilly, neither of which proved to be especially easy feats.
And yet, slowly, but surely, a songwriting routine fell into place: Villarreal would introduce a guitar riff from which Tim Kinsella would build a simple chord sequence and vocal melody. Then, the entire group would hash out the rest of the song amidst yelling, arguing, and practices that were often cut short or canceled outright.
“The band dynamic was eerily similar to the first record,” reveals Mike Kinsella. “In some ways I think we all regressed to whatever roles we filled then, for better and for worse.”
With such distinctive musical pedigrees and complex personal relationships to contend with, progress on the album was positively snail-like compared to the five days it took to complete the first record. But nothing good ever comes easily and a listen to Two bears out this adage. It’s truly the kind of record that could only have been made by the four unique musicians who all had a hand in crafting it.
While sonically their technique still has the ability to dazzle, age and experience have lent new perspectives to tracks such as “I’m Surprised…” and “Ancient Stars Seed…” — making them more aggressive and direct, but certainly no less captivating. The drums hit harder, the lyrics are less abstract, but at their core each song captures the essential qualities of its creators.
Says Tim Kinsella, “The line ‘We’ve never had nice stuff’ (on “Ancient Stars Seed”) feels good to sing because we really are still a grubby foursome with broken equipment and no money and I see these shitty young bands every day with pedal boards and no ideas.”
In a world that increasingly favors style over substance, Owls is unwilling to compromise the latter for the former. And that, at least, is something all the members can easily agree on.
Street Date: March 25, 2014
1. Four Works Of Art…