Thus:Owls are exactly what they seem

The primary players from Thus:Owls, a local quintet with Swedish roots, talk to Cult MTL about letting their cinematic sound reverberate inside the walls of a French castle.

Erika and Simon Angell. Photo by Tim Georgeson

Recorded in no less a dramatic location than a French 19th century castle near the banks of the Seine, Harbours is a gorgeous record that sweeps and crests and crashes and whirls. It’s the sophomore LP by Montreal’s Thus:Owls, building on the artful chamber-pop of their 2009 debut, Cardiac Malformations. Its trumpets, violins, keys and percussive wallops are orchestrated to orbit Erika Angell’s voice, which has a gravitational pull that keeps the grand sonic scheme in line.

On the eve of the record’s release last fall, I met the Swedish native and her husband/guitarist Simon Angell (of the Patrick Watson Band) at Little Italy’s Scandinavian spot, Café Ellefsen.

Lorraine Carpenter: Location was an influence on the writing and recording of your last record. Was it important to factor the vibe of la Frette into this one, or did it naturally work its way in?
Erika Angell: We discovered last time that it makes a difference if you all stay in the same house and sleep together and eat together, that you don’t leave. We created that again but this time it happened in France, where a friend has a studio.

Simon Angell: A lot of people from here have recorded there, I’ve been there quite a few times. It’s a manoir a half-hour outside of Paris. This guy Olivier Bloch-Lainé [man-friend of local singer/actress Marie-Jo Thério] owns it.
It’s just geared to the nines — it’s a beautiful place. It’s a compound so you don’t leave; you just lose connection to the outside world, which is great because you just fall 100 per cent into what you’re doing. When you leave, you feel outta whack, like sea legs.

EA: I couldn’t find the door to the outside on the last day when we were going to leave. That was weird. We had started talking about ghosts at some point, like, “Did you close that door?” “What was that sound?”

LC: I’ve heard stories like this before. Sounds like The Shining.
SA: I definitely wanted to kill our drummer at the end, I don’t know if that had anything to do with it. You don’t have to put that in though (laughs).

LC: Even with the spooky elements, it sounds like the atmosphere was a good match for your sound.
EA: It was just full of life and old music, but it also has that ancient feeling.

SA: That side of it also comes from Erika having grown up in the woods away from civilization. In a way, I think that lends more or as much to the sound of what we do [as the recording location].

That we choose to do these things in these specific places comes from who we are. We’re not the kind of band that would thrive so much in a crazy studio in downtown New York. I just don’t hear the music we do coming from that.

LC: I’ve that narrative was a goal on this record. How did you approach that?
EA: Harbours is definitely a storytelling album where every song has its own voice. We arranged the tunes really differently from each other to get the voice of the song and the story. But the [musical] link between the songs in the sound that we found, even on the first album. There’s a width to our sound that’s always there. ■

Thus:Owls headline with support from Joe Grass at the PHI Centre (407 St-Pierre) on Friday, Feb. 22, 9 p.m., $16.25

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