Los Angeles Rock trio Owl just released their new self-produced record, The Right Thing, on April 9th via Overit Records. Featuring Chris Wyse (bassist for The Cult,) one might be hard pressed to believe the three-piece will supercede the influence and legacy of his main act, but pay no mind… Owl is doing their part to bring Rock n Roll back to its roots with catchy, hook-laden, songs and no fear of bending/breaking the rules.
I spoke with Chris on the phone prior to their performances in Clifton Park, NY and New York City to talk a bit about self-producing The Right Thing, the ominous balancing act that is playing for multiple bands simultaneously, and what else the group has in store for Owl in 2013.
G- Hi there and thank you very much for taking the time to speak with Live High Five today. Though we all know who you are, as bassist for The Cult and everything, can you please introduce the other members of the band for our readers and tell us what they play?
C- Well, we have Jason Mezilis on guitar. He’s one of my good buddies here in Los Angeles. And we’ve got my childhood buddy Dan Dinsmore on drums. We grew up and played in bands in NY when we were in high school, so we’ve got a lot of history together.
G- Dig that… So, kinda getting the old band back together, so to speak?
C- Yeah it’s kinda like all the reasons I got into music in the first place is sort of the reason why Owl formed, because there is a style and a thing Dan and I were after as kids that it doesn’t even seem like it exists now. Bands are experimental and really crafty with their instruments, and doing different things with songwriting. So we just wanted ot bring back that energy. Initial rock was very daring, like Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, the stuff we grew up with. So, we like to be on the edge of it.
G- That’s great! And you just released your second full-length, which is called The Right Thing, on Overit Records.
C- That’s right.
G- How was the recording process like for the album? Can you tell us the who/what/when/where of the record?
C- Well, these modern times leave a lot more options, being that you can just bring your hard drive to a studio and have a session. But we did most of it… We started out at Matt Sorum’s studio in LA here. We did the first record there, as well. But then, because Dan had developed the studio so nicely, we did most of the new record at O Studios, Overit Studios, on both coasts while I was touring with The Cult over a 2-year period. So, you know, it was tricky because I was producing it and I had a lot of responsibility as the producer, keeping an eye on everything, and then going out with The Cult and back.
So, it was a labor of love. It was the kind of thing where I kept at it and kept focused when I had a chance to work on it. And then, you can get an MP3 send and hear if you like the mix and things like that anywhere, so I took advantage of all the great technology we have these days.
G- I dig that. That’s very cool!
Now, tell us a little bit about the writing process like for this second release, and who in the band came up new music, since it’s all old friends and stuff like that. Was it kind of jammy and organic, or were you the primary songwriter? How did it come all together?
C- Well, I’m the singer-songwriter, kind of seed planter in the band, but the other guys were very involved in all the songs. The first record I had pretty much in the can… I had it written. So, I think I pushed the guys really hard to get the performances I heard in my head mixed with what was happening, you know?
C- This was more a mix of what was happening, because we didn’t have anything planned. I might have had a really catchy chorus. For example, I had “All Day,” and it was so catchy and Dan really loved it, and we just jammed on it for the rest of it, and we just spontaneously played things and said ‘Hmm, that’s a nice progression,’ and then I’d sing over it.
So, this record was really cool. It was more of an organic, integrative process, and a lot of the stuff Dan is doing… The drums are amazing on the record, and Dan is one of the best in the world, for sure. He’s just phenomenal. I didn’t have to communicate much verbally. Dan tended to just jumped onto something that worked great, sounded great, and brought the song to life.
And Jason was quite spontaneous, too, with the guitar melodies and things, and parts of songs that weren’t there. This is purely a band, and not a project kind of thing…
C- And that’s why I have these guys. If Jason really doesn’t like something, or if Dan is feeling something… For example, we did “Destroyer,” The Kinks cover, because of Dan, but Jason and I thought it was a crazy idea and it was silly, and now it’s the first track on the record!
C- So, that’s the whole key with having a band. I like having my closest people around, because they’re not gonna left me get away with anything, and we’re all gonna push each other to do the best we can do. So, we keep each other in check, having good friends around. Even though I might be at the helm a lot, it’s still a real band.
G- No that’s good! And I’m sure with all the history there, they can check you pretty quick, stealing lunch money and all that fun stuff way back in the day.
C- (laughs) Sure! I mean, we just have that history. Dan and I came up together, and we just felt like it would be great to get back together, and it all just happened, obviously, for the first record a few years ago.
When we were kids, it was all about getting the best guys you could get. Hollywood is a little different, and I was in Hollywood. There’s a lot of flash and glitz and that doesn’t surprise anyone. But Owl, you know, I think are entertaining, but at the forefront we’re mainly worried about our songs and our performance as musicians.
C- So, we keep that at the heart.
Now, thus far, the only 2 Owl dates I am aware of are your shows in Clifton Park, NY and Upstate Concert Hall, and NYC in May. Tell us what else you have in store, performance-wise for 2013 and where/when/if you’ll be playing.
C- Well, we just pulled a few things together for a little more West Coast stuff, too. We’ve got DNA Lounge in San Francisco, and that’s the 21st of June, and we’re playing the Viper Room here in Hollywood, California on the 22nd. And I think we’re gonna be adding Vegas and Sand Diego to that as well, and there’s the possibility of Seattle.
So, we’ll have a run where we do a good week and a half on the East Coast, and then the same on the West Coast. And we have a few other things besides the shows we just announced, because we’re gonna be doing the, sort of like surprise acoustic performances and things like that… Little events where we’re promoting The Right Thing and playing acoustic and things like that.
And Dan’s got that church, and that beautiful studio in The Church, which is his media company, so we’re going to shoot when we’re on the East Coast live performances, like professionally done where it could be on a TV show. It’s gonna be edited and put together like that, so that’s another project we’re putting together. We’re might have guests come in and sit in, other performers and things like that. We’re kind of diversifying from the classic rock and roll show and doing different kinds of events and things like that.
G- That’s excellent.
C- We’ll be announcing that more and more as things come up, but those couple events are mainly based on social media, so if anyone’s there, it’ll be a small crowd with us taping, you know?
C- That’s right.
G- So, to get a little bit introspective, obviously you’ve been writing songs for a long time, but let’s keep it strictly with Owl. I’d like to know if you have a favorite song you have ever written with Owl, or if you could only give 1 song to someone who’d never heard of you before, to try and make a new fan, what track would you offer them and why?
C- Oh wow. Well, there’s quite a diverse selection, from ballads to really heavy songs with that hardcore banshee energy, and there’s a lot of different things I enjoy.
Umm, I’d say from the first record, “Violent Center” is the song that really encapsulates what the band does in being a little different, in approaching rhythm and melody different, and utilizing my bass differently. That’s a really strong one.
But on the new one, “The Right Thing”, I think, is a nice 3-minute sum up of what we do. Driving rhythms, a lot of attitude in the song, and we’re a band unit that is really playing together, and I think that’s all summed up in hearing “The Right Thing.”
G- Alright! On another note, again speculative, as a member of The Cult, bands want to play with you, basically… They want to go on tour and open up for you.
But for Owl, are there any bands or artists that you hope to share a bill with in the future, or do you have any feasible 3-band dream bills that you think would be a perfect fit for the group?
C- Well, there’s some cool things going on, different directions this band can go, because we’re diverse. We fir really nicely opening up for In This Moment and lot of heavier bands, and the kids definitely enjoyed our high energy, even though we’re not metal. We have a lot of heavy moments. So, it kinda opened me up to see that we could kinda fit with almost anybody.
I mean, there’s a lot of big bands that I’d like to open for. I think, in the real world, if you get out there and you play with the newer bands, where the kids are buying records… We’re playing with 10 Years coming up, and I think that’d be a great band to go on the road with. I think that’d be pretty cool.
I tend to like progressive stuff, but you’ll find with Owl, there’s songs on the record that are straight up singer/songwriter songs, and we kinda dress it up a little bit, but we kinda flat out have radio songs, you know? There’s a lot of real strong, melodic rock and roll songs. If The Foo Fighters were kicking around and we were lucky enough to open for them, we could fit with them, you know? And I think we have something to offer for just, like, the mainstream people that love watching The Voice and great singers. We really do have just great harmonies and songs, but there’s other things going on if you just want to get into it.
But if you like it just for the songs, you have that, too.
G- Right on.
Now, to finish up today, I have one last question for you. Obviously, you have been a pro musician for quite a long time, doing it well, and living the dream.
There are lot of kids out there that want to do what you’re doing. They look up to you for inspiration and they want to be professionally musicians like yourself.
Can you offer any advice to some of the young, up and comers out here who want to make it in music, on the road, and as a professional musician?
C- Well, there’s a lot of different things that come to mind, but I would say what’s been really beneficial to me is to recognize the balance of what you bring to the table that is unique about you. You have to be unafraid of that.
And being the type of bassist I am, it’s almost a bit of an underdog approach. You know, a guy leading a band with an upright bass, sometimes jumping around with a bow and sometimes taking the bass as a lead instrument, you know? I’ve gotten a lot of ridicule for that, but I always believed in it. So if you feel it, you have to go for it.
At the same time, you have to recognize, like when I play with other people, there’s a balance of bringing your own thing to the table and honoring what they are. You kind of have to be aware and not be ‘This is what I do, and this is how I roll.’ Because, for example, I just did a show with Paul Stanley (Kiss) last week… He called me and asked me to do a show, which was amazing, because I grew up with Kiss, you know? And it was a benefit for a school, because it was a private school and his son and… It was basically a mysterious performance. Dave Grohl also performed and it was a happening event, but I couldn’t be all like ‘This is how I roll, Paul, because this is me and this is how I do it.’ I really honored the songs he wanted to play, which were covers, things like
Zeppelin and Cream and stuff like that. But, you have to understand what someone wants and why they’re calling you, as well.
I think Paul knew me as a guy around Hollywood here, as a guy that would play the songs right and honor what’s there, and I think that’s why he called me. And hopefully, I’m an ok hang and I’m good to hang out with.
So, there’s not just one thing. You can’t just be, like… You have to be around an individual to do it, I think.
G- Right on. Well dude, this has been great! I want to say again, thank you very much for taking the time to speak with live High Five. Travel safe, play well, and we look forward to catching you on the east coast!
C- Thank you so much and thanks for the interview today… You have a great day!
G- You too, man.
5/17 Clifton Park, NY @Upstate Concert Hall (with 10 Years)
5/19 NYC, NY @The Bowery Electric’s Map Room
6/21 San Francisco, CA @DNA Lounge
6/22 Los Angeles, CA @Viper Room (with Killcode)