Interview and photos by Winnie Surya. Meet Thus Owls: a husband and wife duo, Erika and Simon Angell from Montreal. Their schedule, filled with plenty of shows down the road, didn’t stop them from taking a break to reveal to us their experience with Half Moon Run, the details behind the new album Turning Rocks and the making of their music video “How, In My Bones.”
How did it feel to tour with such a big name band like Half Moon Run?
Simon: [Chuckles] It’s funny to think of them as a big name.
Erika: Well, I mean they opened up for Simon’s last band.
Simon: Yeah, I used to play with Patrick Watson back in the day and that’s how we got to know Half Moon Run. We had brought them on tour and they opened up for us. And during that tour, they became really big. So then, we stayed friends. They’re a little younger than us, so I felt like an old uncle hype with them on their first tour and then they totally took off. We became friends and that’s how it hooked up! It was super fun and we played a few shows with them in Montreal and outside of Quebec.
Erika: I think for our band as Thus Owls, it’s obviously a huge and awesome thing to open up for someone who has a big and loving crowd like that. It’s really good for our music. Opening for big bands feels like we’ve been around and playing with big bands for a long time. So, that thing is more like you’re just musicians – you do your music together and it’s fun to just hang out like that.
How has the transition of moving to Montreal from Sweden been?
Erika: It’s been a slow process in a way because first, we were a Swedish band with Simon being the only Canadian. Now, we’re a Canadian band with me only being Swede. So, all the things that happened between there is the transition and it’s been happening over a few years. First, we lived in Sweden, but we came here [Canada] a lot. I think the first show was in 2009 in Montreal. It’s always been welcoming for us and people have been really appreciative with our music. So, when we moved here, it felt like we could just start working from where we had already planned. It’s a really good environment for us (musically) and Montreal has been open-hearted for who we are.
This is obviously not your first show in Toronto. So, what’s your favourite thing about Toronto?
Erika: Well, this [NXNE] is pretty amazing! I haven’t been here much…
Simon: I’ve been here a lot. Since I’m grown and born in Montreal, I came here for the first time at 6 years old.
Erika: It’s always a culinary experience.
Simon: Yes! Food-wise, it’s amazing! We love food – I mean, who doesn’t love food? It’s what we do when we’re touring and if we’re not playing music, we’re talking about Game of Thrones. We look/seek out good food. Whenever I come to Toronto, I have lots of friends here who obviously say “Oh! You got to go eat this! You have try this!” and it’s always amazing. It’s a really cosmopolitan city; it’s definitely the most cosmopolitan in Canada – it’s obvious stating that. You have people from everywhere here and then there are cuisines that go along with it. We had Ethiopian last night – there’s one Ethiopian restaurant in Montreal. It’s good, but there’s only one and it’s not really much you can give me.
You guys just released a new album called Turning Rocks, do you mind telling us the production process and the inspiration behind the record?
Erika: It started with me and Simon. We decided we wanted to collaborate more together in the writing process. Earlier on, it was only me writing the songs. This time, we talked a lot about what we wanted to do and what we liked; we listened to music and tried things out. So, that was a fun part of the whole process. One key thing that we wanted this record to have was that we wanted to challenge ourselves to be a little more direct and simple in our expressions than before. It was also a new collaboration for us with Parker and Stef, who are new to the band. Their voices became important too. Lyrically, it’s about a house on the West coast, where I grew up in Sweden; it’s been in my family for a century. It stories around people that have lived in the house or around the house or in connection with it over the century. So, it’s a generational diary. It was fun to get to know all the stories.
One of your songs feature Taylor Kirk, how was working with him?
Simon: Once again, it’s the same kind of answer as the first one. Timber Timbre opened up for Patrick Watson with us a long time ago and we just became friends. Once again, mutual respect musically and for each other’s crafts.
Erika: He has an amazing voice and we had recorded the whole bass track of that tune before we decided to ask him. We just wanted something to embody that feeling of that track and he had the perfect voice for it. It was really fun because he said yes and he usually doesn’t do that much.
Simon: Listen to Timber Timbre. It’s very specific what they do and it’s fucking amazing! The fact that he said yes, that he was into the tune that we did and the collaborating – I was supper happy about that.
Is there any meaning behind the video of “How, In My Bones”?
Erika: For sure! We sat down with the two girls, Rebecca Blackwood and Mylène Simard, who did it. We just talked about the record and what it means; I told them a lot about different memories. That particular song is about shame when you’re a child. So, we talked a lot about that and what that could mean. We wanted it to be a surreal memory – like memories from that far ago that can change overtime because you add things or take things away; You don’t know what’s really true and what’s not anymore. It just becomes this surreal emotion and we wanted the video to feel like that.
Did it take long to make the video?
Simon: Three days.
Simon: They prepared a lot for us; they did a week of preparation. It was insane how hard everybody worked! It was amazing!
Erika: Lots of people just volunteered.
Simon: Maybe I shouldn’t be giving the secret away – but it’s so cool! All the sets are done on one piece of cardboard. We do one shot, we paint over it, do it over and use the same one every time. It wasn’t different sets, it was the same one that we kept recycling and reusing.
Erika: The last one was with the teacup dress and the whole background is full of moss and paper mâché sticks – it took forever!
Who are your musical influences?
Simon: Her [Erika]!
Erika: A lot of things over the years.
Simon: It changes a lot as you get older; your tastes change. The things that you listened to a long time ago can disappear and come back into your life in different shapes and in different ways. As far as specifics, so many!
Erika: When we were at home for Christmas at my parents’ place in Sweden, we put on my dad’s old 50s and 60s records. I just realized that a lot of the elements that I still work with are there, like weird harmonies and guitar songs. But in modern times, I like people that stretch a little extra and do something a little different. I love Portishead; I love Bjork, Talk Talk, Meredith Monk…
Simon: The list could go on…
Erika: Everything from electronic music, to contemporary or to pop. It’s wherever you find those colours that hit you in the heart.
What’s next for you guys?
Simon: This year, we’re doing the Montreal Jazz Festival. That’s our next show, so we’re preparing for that. We have a few shows around Sherbrooke, Ottawa and St-Vincent. Then, after that, we head out to the States! We’re going across the South in July with The Antlers. We’re opening up for them for twelve or thirteen shows. After that, I don’t know, maybe a bunch of other shows. We’re still in the process right now because we’re trying to create all the time and any downtime is trying to write more, whether it’d be for the next record or for something else.
Erika: Collecting little bits and pieces along the way.