Sunday, June 19, 2011

In MCR this month: Q&A with EAGLEOWL

Recently I have been swooning over plenty of new (to me) Scottish bands including Withered Hand, The Douglas Firs, The Savings and Loan, King Post Kitsch and The Scottish Enlightenment. Equally swoon-worthy but longer of my acquaintance is Edinburgh’s post-folk maestros eagleowl. Their first EP "For The Thoughts You Never Had" was released in 2008, followed by a single ("Sleep The Winter") and another EP ("Into The Fold") in each of the following years, as the band who slowly expanded from a duo originally to now a four-piece: Bartholomew Owl, Malcolm Benzie, Clarissa Cheong and Rob St John. In both 2008 and 2010 eagleowl also doubled as Mark Hamilton’s touring band when Woodpigeon played the UK including three sets at last year’s End of the Road, the third being a late night all covers set as festival finale (including Herman Dune, The Velvet Underground, R Kelly and TLC). Now eagleowl are heading out on a short Scottish and English tour reprising that formula – playing their own set supporting Woodpigeon and then returning as part of Woodpigeon. In advance of that tour (Aberdeen, Edinburgh, London plus their Manchester debut), Bart from eagleowl kindly answered a few questions:

I suspect you are a Tarkovsky rather than Tarantino kind of band, but what’s the movie-style synopsis of the eagleowl story to date?
I’m not entirely sure our synopsis would be interesting enough to warrant a movie. But I like the idea of Tarkovsky directing. If there was an eagleowl movie I’d like to have a feel of early Jim Jarmusch or Antonioni. Something that deals more with subtle details than with big action, or tries to find or beauty in the banal.

Supporting then playing with Woodpigeon makes economic sense for touring but does it lead to any schizophrenic episodes, conflicting loyalties or fatigue? Especially for Rob (St John) also playing in his own right?
Yeah – we’re also going to help fill out Rob’s songs with various band members too. There’s a joke – and it’s probably especially true of this tour – that it’s just the same band, we just take it turns who gets to sing. There’s no schizophrenia, I think - just all out rivalry. We’re constantly trying to sabotage each other’s songs by playing the wrong chords, sing off key, that kind of thing.

And there’s talk of an expanded or different eagleowl line-up. What’s changing?
We’ve recently been rehearsing with a drummer and a cellist. With drums especially, we were always holding back, because I didn’t want to just add in the usual standard backing beat to the songs we had. But we’ve been working with Owen William (who played with Woodpigeon at EOTR last year, and has played with people like Benni Hemm Hemm and Two Wings), who’s very intuitive and patient as a drummer. It’s been great working on new material and working drums in from the start so that it’s not latched on – as an instrument in itself rather than just keeping the beat...

3 EP or single releases to date. Is the next recording likely to be an album? And despite “eagleowl believe in doing things right, rather than doing things fast”, any thoughts as to when?
We’re working on material that we’re hoping will form the first album proper. Hoping to record again later in the year.

What are your experiences of touring beyond Scotland to date? And what are you expecting or fearing?
Our ‘tours’ have always been very reserved, as it’s always trying to juggle round jobs and babies and such like. We generally do three dates – Glasgow, Edinburgh, London, then back home. We tend to only go with playing for promoters who are friends or who we know well, so we’ve been very lucky with sympathetic audiences. It can be quite hard playing to a new audience for the first time, especially when a lot of our music is so bare – if there’s a noisy or unappreciative crowd it can really make for a tough time. But I think we’ve been very lucky with the shows that we’ve done to avoid that.

This time around we’re still again doing three dates – playing around weekends and holidays. Then going down to play with Woodpigeon at the Barbican the following weekend. We get to play in Manchester for the first time, which I’m super excited about. And we’re doing a really nice acoustic (PA-less) show in Aberdeen [at Peacock Visual Arts Centre].

At End of the Road with Woodpigeon last year you played Withered Hand’s ‘No Cigarettes’. Are you and Mark packing any new covers for this tour?
We’re not planning any. Though I’m not adverse to a good cover version. I think some bands, particularly British bands (and perhaps audiences) can be quite snobby about playing covers. But I think an interesting cover – one that’s sympathetic but still manages to rework the song – is a real achievement. Just as an aside, Withered Hand is one artist who is really good at that.

And from your three releases which is the single track people should head to if unfamiliar with eagleowl?
Maybe 'Into the Fold'. It’s pretty downbeat.

Woodpigeon, eagleowl and Rob St John play Dulcimer in Manchester on 28 June with tickets just £7.

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