When the OWEL song “Paper Hands” unexpectedly hit my ears on Spotify’s Discover Weekly playlist, it was hard to classify at first, but something about it hooked me. I spent the rest of the day going through their catalog to try to understand what it was I was hearing.
I’ve since heard lots of people try to describe OWEL and all the words they’ve used are accurate: dreamy, ethereal and even “post-post-rock.” But for me, there’s more.
Like a mosaic portrait, OWEL’s songs are beautifully crafted and familiar enough at a distance to draw you in. But to truly appreciate and understand what you’re hearing, you have to get closer. Turn it up. Close your eyes. Hear each individual instrument and each individual part. Listen to the lyrics. It all comes together in a way that makes each song both perfectly at home in the background at a chill house party or downright magical as a focused listen with good-quality headphones.
OWEL has been busy since they released their second full-length album, dear me, last November. They traveled up and down the East Coast with the Soil & the Sun, and then turned around for another series of shows with Mae in early 2017. As if that wasn’t enough, they recently wrapped their first full U.S. tour, 33 dates supporting A Lot Like Birds.
To talk songwriting, record labels and touring, Behind the Setlist caught up with lead singer Jay Sakong and bassist Nunzio Moudatsos in a rare moment of downtime for a quick email interview.
Where do your songs come from? Does the band have a songwriting formula or is each song its own creature?
Jay Sakong: I’ll usually write and record the songs while sitting in front of a computer while working in Logic. From there, I’ll send the individual tracks to the other members and get their thoughts and opinions. Ideas will usually come from just sitting and noodling on a guitar or piano.
Jay, you’re involved on so many different levels: songwriting, singing, producing, video production. How do you balance all of it and what do you wish you could spend more time on?
Sakong: It doesn’t feel so much like things I have to balance. It never feels like work. I just really love making things, visually and sonically. Honestly, I do wish I was a better singer.
For a while, you guys were proudly indie and fairly vocal about both the upsides and downsides of record labels. You recently signed to Equal Vision Records. How’d that decision come about and how’s it going?
Nunzio Moudatsos: When we were approached by Equal Vision, it was a no-brainer for us. We all grew up loving the records that EVR put out and to this day so much of what we listen to comes from EVR. The one thing that we always were skeptical about with labels was the artistic control.
We always wanted to make sure that when the time came to sign with a label, we were able to retain control over what we were writing and the direction the band was going. We definitely have that with EVR. They let us be ourselves and we’re so grateful for that. We couldn’t possibly ask to have a better relationship with a label than we have with EVR. They are the nicest folks and really work hard for their bands.
How do you guys stay energized on the road? Are there any cities you’re most excited about visiting?
Moudatsos: It was a very long one, but we were lucky to be able to get back to the New Jersey area for a few days in the middle of the tour and have a chance to sleep in our own beds and see family before heading back out. That definitely helped recharge us mentally and physically. We also try and keep active when we can and make sure to enjoy the cities and our off days as much as we can.
How about any tour stories? Anything especially great or not-great? Any major surprises or things you thought would be different about a big tour like this?
Moudatsos: Everything was great. We couldn’t have asked for better people to tour with. Everyone in A Lot Like Birds, Household, Hearts Like Lions and the crew are all super nice. It’s fun seeing everyone each day and being able to hang out like a big family.
So far, 2017 has been an outstanding year for new music. Whose new records have you loved the most or been influenced by?
Sakong: We’re really in love with the new Perfume Genius right now.
You’re still touring dear me but are you already looking forward to your next album? When the tour settles, what’s next for OWEL?
Sakong: We are always eager to put out new music. We have to actually force ourselves not to, so that we can give this current record some room to exist and grow. That being said, we are always writing.