If you haven’t heard of Owel, you need to open your ears. Their originality is beyond comprehension, and it’s impossible to compare them with someone else. With everything from an amazing live set with lights for days, a violin, keyboard, full band and vocals that soar through a room, they have every asset a successful group needs.
I recently had the opportunity to chat with Jay Sakong, lead singer of Owel, about their journey, new music, and much more. It was a pleasure to learn more about them, and I highly recommend you check out their stuff immediately. Check it out below:
For those who are unfamiliar, can you give us a brief history of the band? How did you all meet?
I guess I’m the best person to ask. For the most part, I’m the common link between everyone else in the group. I’ve known Jane [Park, violinist/keyboardist] since we were both kids because our parents used to drag us to the same church. I went to high school with Ryan [Vargas, drummer] and audio engineering school with Seamus [O’Connor, guitarist]. Pat [McGee, bassist] is the exception because he reached out to us through the internet when he heard we were looking for a bassist. It’s funny, we later found out that Pat and Jane went to the same high school in Holmdel but never actually knew each other.
Whose idea was it to change the band name from Old Nick to Owel, and where did it come from?
Right around the time that Pat joined the group, we were contacted by a West Coast band claiming that they had the name before us. We really weren’t attached to the name and so the timing seemed right. With the new member, we would take on a new name. There really isn’t much of a meaning behind Owel. We didn’t really want a strong name that would define our sound or us.
I have to honestly say I don’t know another band that sounds like you guys. If you had to put yourself into a genre, could you?
Well, I don’t think the songs are as strange as some people might think, and so based on my very loose definition of the word, I would say we are some form of pop. We might use a lot of different layers and unconventional instrumentation, but at the heart of it, there is usually some kind of traditional structure. I’m tempted to say indie or alternative, but I’m not really sure what those words really mean anymore.
How does it make you feel when I say, “Owel is a band you have to see live?”
Thank you for saying that. It makes me feel proud. Seeing how a band performs live is most definitely the make-it-or-break-it for me. We put a lot of thought and effort into our live shows because we know that there may be some people in attendance that may have never heard us before.
Can you describe your musical process? What comes first, writing or music?
The music will almost always come first. Personally, it’s not so much the lyrics that move me, but the melody. Don’t get me wrong, I think lyrics play a tremendous role in music, but they have never been my first focus.
Your music sounds exceptional on vinyl. Has anyone ever told you that?
Thank you. Believe it or not, I wouldn’t know because I have never heard it. I don’t own a record player, but I do intend to get one soon.
So I have to ask, what are you working on right now? New release anytime soon?
We are always working on new songs. I think writing and recording new music is the best part about being in a band. Right now, we have about a record’s worth of new songs. We’re just taking our time and making sure that those songs can develop in a natural way. It’s also about giving our self-titled record a fair chance and supporting it properly before we move on.
You guys have played with so many different local bands of such diverse genres, and that is another reason why I respect you guys so much. Do you ever contemplate playing a show with a metal or heavy rock band?
We have played with a bunch metal bands before and the reception is surprisingly great. I think no matter what people are into, they can appreciate honesty.
Having toured quite a bit, is there a specific city you like the most?
We actually haven’t toured as much as most bands, but Philly has always been good to us. Of course, New York City holds a special place in our hearts.
Who are some of your musical influences?
We’re all into different things so I can only speak for myself. There are the obvious influences like Radiohead, Apparat, and Sigur Rós, but I’m also really into artists like Al Green and Etta James. I referenced a lot of Nat King Cole songs for the string arrangements on our record. Also, I grew up worshiping the Deftones and Smashing Pumpkins.
What would you say is the ultimate goal for Owel?
We just want to keep writing songs, building audiences, and playing out.
Owel will play at Pianos in NYC on Feb. 12. For more information, go to owelmusic.com.