Thursday, 9 March 2017

Interview with The Blind Owls


(This feature first appeared in issue 59 of Shindig! magazine. For the full unedited interview click over the jump at the bottom of this post.)

 
Corpus Christi is a coastal city in south Texas and the unlikely home of latest garage-beat sensations The Blind Owls. In a city famed for palm trees and subtropical weather The Blind Owls play music more readily associated with dank Liverpudlian cellar bars and rowdy Reeperbahn strip-joints. Their debut LP, All Day And Night, echoes Merseybeat and early rock 'n' roll with a hint of US garage. All played with verve and vigour, and a musicality beyond their tender years.

The band describe themselves thus - “'60s rock 'n' roll, well-dressed, energetic and raw”. True, but not the full story. Rather than the usual one-sound-fits-all favoured by many garage acts, these guys have a variety and breadth of approach. Guitarist Josh De Leon explains “I took a classical guitar class in high school, where I learned all about new techniques and styles of playing. I try to bring a different style into our music influenced from any genre that I'm currently listening to. I also enjoy playing the organ and have incorporated that into a few songs.”

Their harmonies, George Harrison style guitar licks and instrumental colouring put the band ahead of many contemporaries. Guitarist and main songwriter Jesse De Los Santos says -“We do our best to put a lot into our music, it’s something we all had to work hard at but now seems to come naturally. Harmonies are very important for us; the right harmony at the right place can change the mood of the song. The same goes for guitar fills and so on.”

For a band born around the time the Beatles Anthology compilations, their affection for '60s music is as passionate as it is surprising. Says Jesse - “We grew up influenced by our parents, listening to the Beatles or Elvis every day on the way to school and just being around that music struck a chord with us. As we got older, we delved deeper into the music of the '60s, where we discovered many new artists. We fell in love with the sounds of close harmonies, jangly guitars and all the beautiful melodies and talent these musicians had. There’s so much great music to be found and the music of the '60s is something that we really appreciate.”

Other influences include The Zombies, The Kinks, The 13th Floor Elevators, The Easybeats, The Chantays and Buddy Holly. Drummer Dylan Rommel's influences stretch further still - “I've been playing drums for 10 years. However, I didn’t start taking it seriously until I joined the band. I use my drumming to bring a laid back style, influenced by R&B and jazz of the 1960s.”

Live shows are an energetic affair with bassist Carlos Garcia citing Pete Towshend and Elvis as his visual inspiration. The band plan to mak shau as far afield as money will allow but sadly there are no plans for a European visit just yet. Though as Jesse says “we hope to bring our music there one day, if anyone would like to help us let us know!” Over to you promoters!


All Day And Night is self-released on CD. A cassette version is available from Dadstache Records. Soundflat Records will be releasing a vinyl LP.
 
A little background on the band – How/when did you you all meet and how did the band come together?
Jesse De Los Santos: My brother (Carlos) and I grew up together playing music. As we got older, we wanted to start a band for fun to play music with friends. The rest of us met through school and had known each other for years growing up. One day we got together and had our first practice, drew a name out of a hat and became “The Blind Owls.”

Could you tell us a little bit about each of you and what you bring to the band?
Dylan Romel: I grew up in Corpus Christi, TX and have been playing drums for 10 years. However, I didn’t start taking it seriously until I joined the band. I use my drumming to bring a laid back style, influenced by r&b and jazz of the 1960s.

Carlos Garcia: I’ve been playing bass for 10 years on and off and grew up in Corpus Christi, TX. I do everything that I can to bring a high energy to our music, especially incorporating it into every live show, to bring a fun and energetic show to our audiences.

Josh De Leon: I grew up in Corpus Christi, TX and began playing guitar 10 years ago. I took a classical guitar class in High School, where I learned all about new techniques and styles of playing. I try to bring a different style of guitar playing into our music influenced from just about any genre that I am currently listening to. I also enjoy playing the organ from time to time and incorporating it into a few songs of ours.

Jesse De Los Santos: I grew up In Corpus Christi and started music by playing the drums 12 years ago. Years later I would be inspired by my father and soon fell in love with the guitar. I also took a classical guitar class in high school that taught me many new techniques. I also play the harmonica and the piano every now and then and have incorporated both instruments into some of our songs.

Is The Blind Owls your first band or have any of you been in bands before?
Jesse De Los Santos: The Blind Owls is all of our first true bands. We all grew up in musical families and would play with family members and friends here and there. However we all consider this to be our first band.

How did four young guys from Texas get into early '60s beat music / garage? What's the attraction for you?
Jesse De Los Santos: We all grew up being highly influenced by our parents, listening to the Beatles or Elvis every day on the way to school and just being around that music really struck a chord with us. As we got older, we all started to really appreciate the music even more and started to delve deeper into the music of the 60s, where we discovered many new artists that we had never heard before and fell in love with the sounds of close harmonies and jangly guitars and all the beautiful melodies and talent these musicians had. There’s so much great music to be found and the music of the 60s is just something that we really appreciate.

Your first full length LP is just out and sounding great, can you tell us a little about how and where it was recorded.
Jesse De Los Santos: ‘All Day and Night’ is our first full album that was recorded with Dylan Ely and Romain Garnier at The Loop Studios in Corpus Christi, TX. We recorded 16 songs in four days, being in the studio for an average of 14-16 hours a day. We also have a different variety of music than people are used to hearing. Recording some slower and more intimate songs and also incorporating many different instruments on our recordings such as piano, combo organ, harmonica and acoustic guitars. Dylan Ely really made us feel at home and provided us with everything he could to help us pump out a good album.

Who does the writing? Is it a team effort or do you write seperately?
Jesse De Los Santos: Most of the songs are written by me. I bring the songs into practice and everyone will have an input that will help shape the final form of the song so it is very much a team effort. However every member has written their own song on the album and we are continuing to write more as a team effort.

Let's talk about inspirations, I'm picking up a healthy dose of Beatles in your music, also some surf guitar action, some Everly Brothers. Who else would you say is a big influence on your music?
Our music is definitely highly influenced by those artists. Other artists that are huge influences on us are The Zombies, The Kinks, The 13th Floor Elevators and The Easybeats. The drumming of The Zombies Hugh Grundy and fellow musician Bobby Trimble highly influence the playing style of our drummer Dylan. The high energy of Pete Townshend and Elvis Presley influence the energy in our bassists Carlos. The music of Buddy Holly and the Chantays have a big influence on the singing and guitar style of our guitarist Josh. And the musicianship of Paul McCartney and Stevie Wright of The Easybeats have a huge influence on the song writing and vocal style of our guitarist Jesse.

I notice more craftsmanship in your music than a lot of young garage bands – the guitar fills, attention to harmonies, call and response vocals and so on. You're also fairly unique in that all four members sing. Is that something that comes naturally to you or is it something you've had to work hard at?
Jesse De Los Santos: We do our best to put a lot into our music and it’s something that originally we all had to work hard at but now seems to come naturally. Harmonies are a very important thing for us, the right harmony at the right place can really change the mood of the song. And the same goes for guitar fills and so on.

What's your favourite Beatle tracks/albums?
Dylan: My favourite songs are ‘All I’ve Gotta Do’ and ‘Get Back’ with my favourite album being Abbey Road.
Carlos: My favourite songs are ‘Hey Jude’ and ‘A Day In The Life’ with my favourite album being Revolver.
Josh: My favourite songs are ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ and ‘Baby You’re a Rich Man’ with my favourite album being Revolver as well.
Jesse: My favourite songs are ‘Tell me Why’ and ‘For No One’ with my favourite album being A Hard Days Night.

Any tour dates/plans coming up?
Jesse De Los Santos: As of now we plan on performing a few shows around Texas to promote our new album and hope to soon tour into different states and expand our fan base and allow more people to hear our music.

Any plans to gig further afield? Maybe make it over to the UK/Europe sometime?
Jesse De Los Santos: We would love to one day! However, with money being an issue for us to travel overseas we don’t have a plan to yet. However, we hope to bring our music over there one day and if anyone would like to help us let us know!

Any problems finding a good tailor in Texas?
Jesse De Los Santos: As long as we can find our size at a good thrift shop then we are set! Most of our suits actually come from thrift shops and we just so happen to find the perfect fits.

We all know about SXSW but is there a healthy live scene over in Texas generally? In particular what's the garage scene like over there?
Jesse De Los Santos: There seems to be a growing presence of garage rock down here. We have performed for the Levitation kick-off party that was formed in Austin, Tx and includes many garage/psyche bands. There is a wide variety of music that you can find here though and garage definitely seems to be getting more and more attention.

Do you see yourself progressing musically on further releases? Any new directions you might take?
Jesse De Los Santos: We always hope to progress more with our music. But there is no set direction that we plan on taking. As we grow as musicians our music will also grow and we hope that people will enjoy our music as we continue to evolve. We are going to soon began recording new music and hope to have a new release sometime early next year.