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Autumn Owls

Irish band Autumn Owls have somehow managed to infuse their atmospheric, experimental, some might say chilly sound with… the unexpected warmth of folk-rock. It’s a dichotomous blend that finds them digging into the rich loam of both Americana influences and that of some of their more cerebral musical neighbors in the U.K.  While they’ve only been around as a band since 2007, they’ve already dropped several critically-acclaimed (and fan-collected) EPs, Insomnia Lodge and On the Trail of the Disappearing, which led to their opening spots for the likes of Real Estate and Devotchka.

The past couple of years, you might’ve spied with your little eye Autumn Owls at the SXSW, NXNE, and CMJ fests, as well as at a variety of venues in North America, the UK, Italy, and Norway. Soon, you’ll be able to swoop in and snag a copy of their forthcoming debut full-length set, which they’re currently working on. It’s a long shout from their days as fledgling musicians growing up together in Dublin.

“Adam (Browne, bass) and I grew up in the same neighborhood and went to school together,” the Owls’  singer/guitarist Gary McFarlane says. “In the mid ’90s, guitar music had a huge resurgence, so like lots of other teenagers in Dublin, we bought guitars and taught ourselves to play.”

Once in college, they added Will Purtill to the mix on the drums.

“It was then that we began (officially) ‘playing in a band,'” McFarlane says. “We were pretty awful when I look back,” he laughs, “but I suppose it was all part of the learning curve.”

Today, Autumn Owls are oft compared to a more electronic Wilco, or a more rootsy Califone.

“We listen to a lot of different music,” McFarlane explains, “I suppose growing up and first trying to write songs, it would have been people like Elliott Smith and Nick Drake who first caught my imagination. When writing the (current) album, I tried to keep my ears open to as many different styles and ideas as possible. I don’t think we sound all that much like any of our influences, but the way they continue to make interesting music decisions and consistently challenge themselves has always been inspiring for us.”

Listen to an excerpt of Autumn Owls' song, 'Raindrops in the River'

 

Autumn Owls’ first EP, McFarlane says, was simply recorded, with each subsequent EP becoming more and more ambitious.

“With the second, we were more interested in making it sound a certain way,” he says. “It was our first proper experience working with an engineer and a producer. I think those experiences served us well when it came to writing and recording the full length album.”

Recorded in the band’s own recording space at home in Dublin, the Owls have worked on 16 songs over the past year and a half.

“We finished recording the demo sessions for the album early last year, and we now have a very good idea of what songs we want to use and how they should sound,” McFarlane says.

Tracked in an old converted shed behind McFarlane’s family home in Dublin, he describes their recording space as “crude but effective.”

“It’s a bit like a nuclear fallout bunker,” he laughs.

“It has no windows and doesn’t offer much in terms of natural light, so you have the feeling of being underground,” he continues. “We try to be neat, but as the night gets longer and the ideas more hare-brained, it tends to become a messy setting, with effects pedals, cables, synths, and guitars strewn all over the place.”

That chaos, if their previous recordings are any indication, is likely to translate into another intriguing new set of tracks from the Owls as they experiment further with their own sound.

“Although I think the music (on the forthcoming album) is more complex than the EPs, we have learned to be more simplified in how we arrange songs,” McFarlane explains, “some of the newer songs can be very bare and minimal in places; there is emptiness in the songs that we would have probably found uncomfortable in the past. In many of the new songs, we have tried to put the drums and vocals very much at the fore, and make the guitars and keys more peripheral.”

After wrapping the demos at the end of the summer, Autumn Owls left them to rest for a while, and then returned, as McFarlane says, with “fresh ears,” happy to find that they were still proud of their own efforts.

“After a year and a half of very intense writing and recording, it can be difficult listening back, and you just hope that all the work was worth it,” he says.

“It’s a nice feeling to be satisfied with your efforts,” McFarlane smiles. – Kristi Kates

For more info about this Band to Watch, visit www.autumnowls.com. They can also be found on Twitter (@autumnowls) and Facebook. Autumn Owls’ new album is expected in spring of 2012.