Mix Talks: Thus Owls switch up arrangement on current tour

When Montreal band Thus Owls go on tour this month, they’ll be touring as a duo for the first time. The married couple of Erika and Simon Angell put in lots of time rehearsing and re-working the songs from their Polaris Prize long listed album Turning Rocks. The album was recorded and arranged by a five-piece band, so translating the songs into a new setting has been a challenge for the band.

“It’s basically rearranging things and at the same time, trying to forget what the arrangement on the record is so you don’t get stuck in your old ways,” says Simon.

This year, Turning Rocks was one of 40 Canadian albums on the Polaris Music Prize long list, an award given to the best Canadian album as determined by a jury. While Simon says “I try not to think about those things too much,” the team of people who work with Thus Owls, including their label Secret City Records, were excited about the nomination. Simon noticed increased buzz through their social media channels that they manage themselves.

The couple, who have been married for over five years, practice and rehearse at their home studio in Montreal. They met in Europe when Simon was touring with Patrick Watson’s band in which he was part of for 13 years.

“When we first met, we started as a musical love first,” says Simon.

The couple come from an improvisational background, Simon studied jazz and Erika comes from the Scandinavian free improvisational scene centred around free jazz and improvisational label ECM, and are always trying new things.

“Our first attraction to music is the open side of it. She uses her voice as an instrument as opposed to just a delivery device for the lyrics. Not because the lyrics are secondary but because they are just as exciting as the improv side of things.”

Simon moved to Sweden and created two records with Erika along with a group of Swedish musicians. Now they’re living in Montreal, Erika is a Canadian citizen, and they have a new band featuring Canadians Stef Schneider (drums) and Parker Shper (keyboards) along with Swedish bass player Martin Höper. The new lineup worked together to record Turning Rocks, an album about Erika’s childhood in Sweden.

Thus Owls have strong ties to the music communities in Gothenburg and Stockholm, Sweden and Montreal.

“When you’re with someone from another continent, you always have one foot on the other side of the Atlantic,” says Simon. “For now there’s a bit of stability with us being in Montreal. Who knows what will happen next year, maybe we’ll end up somewhere else. We’re always open to that.”

Photo of Thus Owls: Supplied/Caroline Desilets