Barn Owl Interview

I really can't think of too many bands who have that primal, back-to-the-earth grit that emanates from every single Barn Owl jam...and the scary part is that it was like that from the beginning. They may only be two dudes, but Jon and Evan sound more like an army of western warriors channeling Neil Young on a peyote vision, or Johnny Cash and Dylan Carlson trying to fend off a massive duststorm with nothing but feedback. It's a heavy trip from the past that illuminates the future. With new ceremonies having been completed, I figured now was the time to catch up with these conjurers of immense drone. Buy the ticket...

HSJ.So, take us back to the start of Barn Owl...the drone scene is huge, but really nobody is doing it with a Western tinge like you guys. Was that the intent all along, or did that develop out of playing together?

Evan: It seems to me that our interests just sort of converged into whatever sound Barn Owl has become. Our love for folk/blues sort of stuff just bled into the love of heaviness, distortion, and drone.

Jon: It was definitely a collective process of discovering how we best play together, while trying to incorporate the musics that have always touched us. It all unfolded very naturally.

HSJ. So you released some well received (but very limited) CDRs to get things moving. For those out there who haven't heard them, are they similar stylistically to From Our Mouths?

Evan: Yeah, there are definitely similarities although those early works have some different stuff going on…probably more acoustic guitars. The first release, s/t, is really experimental in that we were seeing how far we could push disparate sounds together. There might be less drone, I know our focus on the drone element of our music has really honed over time. I remember that when first approaching the creation of drones I was transfixed by repetition and the effect of erasing time, not really knowing what it was that made a ‘good’ drone. Over time I’ve focused more attention on harmonic activity and interval relationships.

HSJ. Speaking of well received, From Our Mouths really blew alot of people's minds...including Brad from Digitalis, who reissued it on CD. What were your thoughts on the record, while it was happening, and when it was done?

Evan: From Our Mouths was a really exciting record to make. For me, its creation was simultaneous with having a sort of deeper connection with drone music, which is really hard to explain. It was a time where things really came together harmoniously. The sessions were a lot of fun. Our friend Jason Martinez recorded the album…all live to tape. This was a challenge for us, the first time we wouldn’t be able to overdub etc. Our friend Mike Bailey was playing with us at the time, mostly drums, but also some harmonium and organ, so he really made it possible to fill out the sound live. Jason also played on the album, some accordion and vocals I think, so there were moments when all four of us were playing together which was just awesome.

Jon: Thinking back on this session reminds me of us sitting in Mike’s dingy, dusty basement, smoking tons of cigarettes and rarely seeing the light of day. With no time constraints and a pretty substantial array of instruments, we could spend hours just jamming and fleshing out these ideas. I also felt this excitement in that we were discovering our sound, it was a sort of revelatory time.

HSJ. Once again, Notnotfun is an early supporter of an up-and-comer. Their track record is unbelievable. How'd that relationship come about?

Evan: On one of our first west coast tours we playing at the Echo Curio, a rad Los Angeles venue, and met Britt there. I think he was sort of expecting a couple of guys with acoustic guitars and we came in as a three piece playing songs off of From Our Mouths, getting really heavy and such and I think caught a lot of people off guard. We’ve been friends with the NNF crew since.

HSJ.You recently released a live disc, Transfiguration. Was this one of the better live gigs you guys have played? How bout some killer road stories? Van holding up I hope!

Evan: It was a good show…Vancouver 2008. Vancouver is a really special city to us because it has the total west coast vibe but has all these really distinct aspects because its Canada. Its hard for bands to cross the border, you have to have the right paperwork and so forth, so a lot of touring bands don’t make it up there. I think this makes people there have a much different outlook on live music, touring bands and such. They seem to be less jaded and really enthusiastic compared to other Pacific Northwestern destinations.

As for the van…more like sedan. Less gas! We’re just two dudes with a few amps.

Jon: There was the time a few years back when we were first getting the ball rolling, we played a house show in San Diego. The show went ok, but it was a beautiful night with a full moon shinning, and we and some friends ended up at the beach in the wee hours of the morning, swimming and thrashing about in the waves like a bunch of naked burnouts. The best part though, it was a red tide, where tons of glowing phytoplankton fill the water, so that when the waves crash, the whitewater illuminates with this vibrant neon blue/green glow, a completely surreal and memorable night!

Evan: Oh yeah, that also makes me think of one of our first little tours where we had a day off and decided to go camping in Joshua Tree. This was in the winter. But we just went for it. And man, it was intense. Maybe the coldest night of my life, but it was really awesome. It was the wind that really got us…did a number the tent. We spent the next day wandering through the desert.

HSJ. So now you guys are pulling a Kiss and doing some solo records. For each of you...tell us what we can expect from your respective outings, and how they might differ from your Barn Owl efforts.

Jon: With Elm I look to find parallels between my love for shoegaze, ambient darkness, atmospheric bliss, formal composition and home recording. Inspired by the hermetic idea of isolation, there’s something intimate and magical about being alone in my room and becoming consumed by a piece of music, something I value very much. The new material I’m recording is much more tonally based and long-form, working mostly with cymbals, tapes and electric guitar with an emphasis on harmonic relationship and blossoming density.

Evan: On Psychic Mud Shrine, I really focused on playing the guitar, using less loops and vocals and such. Although I did play gongs, singing bowls, and other percussive instruments on the record it is mostly focused on the guitar. I wanted to tell a story with this record and take the listener on a journey. Certainly my obsession with the desert and the frontier American west comes through on this album, as does the influence of Cormac McCarthy’s works, particularly “Blood Meridian” and “The Road”. The rest is up to you…

HSJ. So here it is...the Conjurer is upon us. First up, are we on a continuing journey from Our Mouths, or is this an entirely new beast?

Evan:A lot of time and space separates the records but there are themes that carry through. A look at the track list may reveal this. There was a lot of time that went into writing guitar parts for the Conjurer. Our friend Chad Collins played drums on a couple tracks, so his style, which is extremely minimal and heavy, lends a unique quality to the album.

Jon: I would say the Conjurer is similar to From Our Mouths in that there are musical narratives employed, embellished with drone-based elements and heavy atmospherics. Though the Conjurer does document us on the fringe of a minimal but heavy ‘full band’ sound, especially on the tracks that feature Evan on guitar, me on Bass and Chad on drums.

HSJ. Love that title as well, the Conjurer...tell us a bit about that title. Brings to mind some killer imagery.

Evan: Well, there is a Hieronymus Bosch painting called ‘The Conjurer” although it has nothing to do with the record but I liked how it sounded. It really applied to our music because we look at a lot of what we do as channeling sound. We approach making music as calling upon a force greater than us. There can be magic waiting to be unlocked within sounds.

HSJ. So the future of Barn guys doing some shows for the new album. Also, will you be sitting on the new one for a while, or will we see some new releases any time soon?

Evan: Lots of shows right now. Just played the On Land festival which was totally amazing. We have plays to tour in the spring. The new Barn Owl is already in progress. Its being recorded with The Norman Conquest, with whom we worked on the Conjurer. Covering lots of terrain on this one, its going to be a real beast…although it is still being recorded and no one will hear it for a loonnnng time.

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