As Long as We Try a Little
How, In My Bones
A Windful of Screams
Smoke Like Birds
White Flags Down
Could I But Dream That Dream Once More
Turning Rocks is the third album by transatlantic band Thus Owls. It’s both a scrapbook of memories and oral transmissions from an island in Sweden, and a sonic experiment in tone and colour recorded in Montreal by a band clearly finding its footing.
Turning Rocks is the result of a conscious effort on the part of husband and wife duo Simon and Erika Angell to follow a particular creative process. Whereas previous Thus Owls recordings sprang from Erika’s ongoing songwriting, and bigger studio experiments, Turning Rocks began as a more explicit attempt to create something lyrically and tonally cohesive. “I wanted to bring things together a bit,” Erika explains. They just had to figure out what that meant.
To achieve this they employed a kind of multi-media scrapbooking method, which Erika borrowed from the filmmaking world. They amassed a set of material—music, photos, poems—that fit with what they wanted to create; not only to use for inspiration, but also to communicate their vision with collaborators. Obviously music played an important roll in this inspirational inbox: “From Talk Talk, to some 70s Japanese surf-rock, Alice Coltrane, PJ Harvey and Gonzales piano stuff,” Simon lists. “We realized a lot of the things that was catching both our ears were those old vintage 60s organs,” he explains. “So we started buying a bunch of them: a Farfisa, a Wurlitzer,” he goes on, noting that their new keyboard player, Parker Shper, shared their enthusiasm for the older gear. “It was a nice fit,” he says, and it comes through on the recordings.
The album was recorded at Studio Fast Forward studios in Montreal. Not only was it the first time the band had recorded in Simon’s hometown, but it also happened to be the very first studio he had ever recorded in, as a teenager in the late nineties. He hadn’t been back since, but it proved a fruitful spot given the team that was employed, which included Montreal engineer Rob Heaney, and the Besnard Lakes’ Jace Lasek, who mixed the album at his own Breakglass Studios. Whereas the first two records had put the recording focus on choosing a big studio, “this time,” Simon explains, “it was more about who we wanted to work with.” In addition to Parker, the band had also recently added Montreal drummer Stefan Schneider as a permanent fixture of the group, and he along with Swedish bass player Martin Höper round out the core band on the recordings. Notable guests on the record include Timber Timbre’s Taylor Kirk (who sings on closer, “Thief”), Pietro Amato, and Marie-Pierre Arthur.
Lyrically the album followed a similar process as the music. “I got a little tired of writing about myself all the time,” Erika says. So instead she chose a specific place as a source of inspiration; she started writing songs based on true stories her grandmother had told her, about people and events in the tiny house and village they both grew up in on Orust, an island in Sweden just north of Gothenburg. “She was a little girl growing up on the exact same land and in the same house as I did,” Erika explains “so when she spoke about all those things I felt very connected to it, even though I had no idea about any of it.” The songs began to form naturally from there, with each one on the record drawing inspiration from some life somehow connected to that place. “As Long As We Try A Little,” for example, is about her grandmother’s two aunts, seamstresses who lived and worked together, and one of their untimely ends. “Smoke Like Birds” is inspired by her grandmother’s memory of being on the coast during the Second World War, and seeing the lights from a navel battle in the distance. It’s also about her failing eyesight in the present day.
The record’s artwork draws inspiration directly from Erika’s roots as well. Old photos of the home and Orust appear on the inside of the LP—including one of her grandmother as a young girl in the 1930s, in a picnic scene surrounded by family, listening to a phonograph.
Cover album art by Daniel Aronson
Near the beginning of Friday evening's concert at DC9, a small venue here, it seemed like the quintet Thus Owls would outnumber the audience. In time, about a dozen fans who weren't put off by a 7:30 start time gathered near the stage. Led by husband and wife Simon and Erika Angell, the band played with vigor and intensity, as if thousands were on hand.
Tiny Mix Tapes premiered the video today, click here to read the full article.
"I’m a enthralled with Thus Owls’ performance of “How In My Bones” live at La Tulipe in Montreal. Thus Owls really lays down a retro-psychedelic blues-rock vibe here that harnesses that before-its-time nostalgia. And they’re totally not afraid to feel it too. Also, I’m convinced that all good groups have vocals from everyone involved. I love it when tambourines are used in today’s musical world. Yes!!!"
Turning Rocks is out since early this week and it already garnered rave reviews, see below.
The album itself is available in digital, CD and LP formats (the LP comes with a download coupon). Lots of ways you can get your hands on it, depending on your preference. It’s available on iTunes, on Amazon in both CD and LP format, and directly from us as well. And of course it’s available in stores across North America, the UK & Europe.
- The Line Of Best Fit
“It's at once familiar and foreign (...) and immediately work its way inside the listener's head and heart.”
- Andrea Warner CBC Music
“brings together organic and high-concept elements in a way that coheres intricately … striking a heady balance between warm instrumentation and a stylish veneer.”
- Pop Matters
“one of the most fascinating, challenging and wildly diverse albums in recent memory. 5 stars”
- Jeff Monk, Winnipeg Free Press
- Aidan Morgan, Prairie Dog
"one of the most fascinating, challenging and wildly diverse albums in recent memory."
« À l’image du titre de l’œuvre, le «génie» de Turning Rocks se retrouve dans les surprises révélées par chaque pièce. Quelques instants après avoir établi une ambiance plutôt pop noire sur How, In My Bones, l’ensemble renverse la vapeur — admirablement — pour poursuivre dans un sillon infiniment plus lumineux, sans toutefois verser dans le racolage.» André Péloquin, VOIR
« Turning Over a New Rock. Erika Angell of Thus Owls talks about her grandmother’s house, Sappho, and discovering America. »
«Indeed, she [Erika] seems to have grown up in a previous century, in a farmhouse on Orust, an island north of Gothenburg, that raised four generations of her family. “We don’t have the same kind of history in North America,” Simon says. “In Montreal, you know, ‘My mother’s side is Scottish and my father’s side is French.’ In Sweden, it’s ‘No, we’re Swedish.’”
That isolation contributes an elemental, intuitive, informally pagan sensibility to the sound of Erika’s voice. Kate Bush and PJ Harvey have visited that voice.» Mark Lepage, The Gazette
«Rien n'est laissé au hasard sur le troisième album du groupe suédo-montréalais Thus Owls. Simon et Erika Angell ont même créé un scrapbook pour jeter les bases de Turning Rocks. Leurs chansons résultent d'une quête identitaire à travers les racines musicales et familiales du couple.» - Émilie Côté, La Presse
Join the Secret City mailing list