It’s rare to come across a band whose individuality deserves its own genre, and it’s very uncommon for anyone to label one as such. However, OWEL is a new player in alternative rock’s metaphorical game of chess. Chillingly captivating, with an audible level of melodious whimsicality (Jay Sakong’s new favorite word, I’m sure, thanks to me), OWEL is truly unlike any other band I’ve ever heard before. Three years ago, they released their self-titled album, OWEL. Upon hearing the first track, “Snowglobe,” chills instantly prickled up my spine, and I was compelled to play the whole album on repeat for hours on end. For OWEL novices, the best way to describe the OWEL music experience—it’s like traveling to a new destination for the first time; embracing something new and awakening your senses.
OWEL (pronounced Ow-uhl, not owl, hence why they shy away from any logos that have to do with birds) is comprised of drummer Ryan Vargas of Fords, violinist and keyboardist Jane Park, bassist Nunzio Moudatsos, guitarist Seamus O’Connor, and guitarist and vocalist Jay Sakong. Jay, who I recently had the pleasure meeting, gives us a glimpse of the meaning behind OWEL and what went on behind the scenes while producing their upcoming album, Dear Me. Take a look below!
You guys are definitely the most versatile band I’ve actually ever come across, instrumentally and vocally. Is that a characteristic you usually strive to incorporate during the album writing process?
Wow, well thank you for that!
Yeah, you know, I alone have so many different influences, and I try not to limit myself, musically or instrumentally, and that’s just me. There are four other people [in the band], and so as a result of that. We used to write more in the guidelines of “well, we only have so many members, we only have two guitars…” and so on. So, I think now, I’m less restrictive with the writing by what we could actually perform live.
True. What are some of these bands who have influenced you personally?
Well, I’m a big fan of sigur rós, Radiohead, and I think those influences may be a bit more obvious. Because, I kind of like it when bands do different versions of songs live, because that’s what we do, just in our own different way. When I want to get some cool ideas for some orchestral arrangements, I usually go for really beautiful string arrangements, almost like a duet between the vocals and the strings. It’s funny, I’ve sort of become that guy who listens to what he listens to, you know, 10 years ago (laughs).
I’ve gotten really lazy with searching for new music (laughs).
The struggle is definitely real.
Yeah (laughs)! It’s funny because it’s easier than ever, but yet somehow, I’ve become lazier than ever. I used to get a CD and you would never know what the CD sounded like when before you purchased it, and even if I didn’t like all the songs, I would make myself appreciate it to some extent, so I got my money’s worth. Now, I hear something amazing, something new, and then I have to do the homework on who [the band] is, and it takes up all my time (laughs).
So, I know you’re pretty much the link to every other member of the band, and the one who brought everyone together to form Owel. But what sort of sparked the idea in your head that you guys should form a band together?
Well, I kind of wanted to start my own thing where I felt like the previous band I was in had a lot of different ideas with some compromising in the middle, which sounds pretty cool, but it can also be something where no one gets the sound that they’re looking for, it just becomes compromised for everyone. And so, I wanted to start off on my own, more specific sound. So, I just started thinking of people I liked as human beings, you know? Jane I knew since I was a little kid, I went to high school with Ryan, the drummer, Seamus I met when I was going to the Institute of Audio Research, and I didn’t even hear him play before I asked him to jam out with me because I just liked him as a person, and I knew musically, just by our conversations, that we would probably align. And it’s not super hard to play a lot of the music that we play, so with that being said, it’s more about the people and our ideas, and our musical capabilities with our instruments, I think.
Yeah, I can definitely say it worked out pretty well. Musically, you guys sound very in sync.
Yeah! I got super lucky.
You’ve said before that there isn’t really a reason behind the name OWEL, and that you weren’t really seeking a strong name to define your music. Did you kind of just want your music to speak for itself as opposed to drawing attention to the name?
Oh, yeah, for sure. I think when you name, let’s just say, your kid. For the most part, Bob doesn’t mean anything, it’s just a name—a sound that your mouth makes. And there are a lot of bands I feel like, when you hear their name, in a sense of what they sound like, and I didn’t want that. It could be limiting for a band, and so I just wanted a sound, something that had little meaning. Like Bob (laughs).
Oh, yeah, absolutely. Like Bob. I like that (laughs). Your new album, Dear Me, is coming out in November. What was the process like in putting that together?
It was very DIY, with a lot of luck. Rob Freeman, who owns this studio, he plays in Hidden In Plain View, my manager happened to know him, we were able to get a really good deal with that space, and he just did us a huge favor. It was a great space. It wasn’t a compromise at all, it was definitely a place where I’d want to go in the future, as well.
We had that, and I just so happened to know a really good engineer, Kevin Dye, from Gates—he engineered it. And originally, it was supposed to be me producing it, but he just kept throwing really good ideas at me, with microphone placement, and specific things like that. And I just thought, “Man. That’s really awesome how he came up with that.” I give him serious production credit, because he was doing more than an engineer would do at that point. So then he became a co-producer. He mixed it, and then it was a lot of me going to the studio and sort of…ruining his mixes (laughs). So I gave myself co-mixing credit, but yeah, it was a grind, because we allotted a very short period of time to do all this, and we somehow pulled it off.
Yeah! Speaking of, how short was the time period for you to put Dear Me together?
Like a month, basically. And that was where we were under pressure, time-wise, because we have to rent the space for that. And as far as mixing, Kevin mixed most of it, which was less pressure for us, but yeah. A month.
Wow. Very impressive!
Yeah! Yeah, we pulled it off. I remember before OWEL, we were a band called Old Nick, and when we first started Old Nick, Jane wasn’t a part of the band. It was just two guitars, a bass, and drums, and I remember thinking that we needed another layer or something. Another guitar wouldn’t be right. I mean, a violin has this certain personality, which is where I think the whimsy comes from (laughs). And there are a lot of strings on the new record.
Yeah, and you know, you can definitely detect that on “Paper Hands,” as well. And I know you said before that, in terms of the writing process for this record, you compared writing the songs like writing diary entries. It seems very personal. Did that make the writing process a little more challenging or nerve-racking for you?
No, I wouldn’t say so. I’m going to go ahead and assume and tell myself that no one’s going to quite understand exactly what makes it so personal, and that’s how I sort of get away with it (laughs). I may be left open to actually talking about the topics of the songs, and really just thinking about it in a vague way. But no, it didn’t make the process that hard. I think I just lied to myself and said that no one’s going to quite understand, but they’ll be able to connect to it in their own personal way.
OWEL will play MilkBoy in Philadelphia on Nov. 10, The Studio At Webster Hall in New York City on Nov. 11, and the House Of Independents in Asbury Park on Dec. 3. Their new record, Dear Me, is available Nov. 11. For more information, visit owelband.com.