By Andrew Bansal
Los Angeles-based hard rock trio Owl, fronted by The Cult bassist Chris Wyse along with Dan Dinsmore on drums and Jason Achilles Mezilis on guitars, released their self-titled debut album in 2009, and are now ready with the follow-up release ‘The Right Thing’, which is set to hit the stores on April 9th via Overit Records. This album has been in the making for a long time, and sees the trio express themselves more. The result is a relatively diverse and experimental set of tunes. A few days ago, I had a chat with Chris Wyse to discuss the album in detail, amongst various other things. Read the conversation below, and visit the band online using the links at the bottom.
Your debut album came out in 2009. First of all, tell me about what you’ve gone through in the past three-and-a-half years and what’s the process been like for this new album?
Well, I was on the road back and forth with The Cult. We had this initial idea of writing some new songs and putting out an EP and it turned out to be a full record. It was written and worked on over the course of a couple of years, and we were playing out live and doing different stuff, but actually I didn’t think I’d be able to even do another record. I had some material but this record was more collaborative and worked on together. When we did the first record I had kind of just started the band and I had the idea, and I had a lot of songs written. But this was just more like, a lot of great studio magic just happened between us jamming and stuff like that. We were open to whatever happened, as opposed to having a plan.
That’s interesting, man. So, I was just listening to the new album and I think it’s a little more diverse than the debut. There’s a few more things going on. Would you agree with that?
Oh yeah, absolutely. I’d say that the first record was a bit of a spectacle to some degree and we had kind of a hard rock stamp on it. There was a sound and style about the whole thing that was very distinct at the time. The band has grown since then, and I think my sense of melody has got a lot stronger. My parts of the songs are often the choruses. Sometimes I write the whole song and sometimes I don’t, but a lot of the times when I don’t finish the song, I’d just jam on it with Jason and Dan. I had no idea what to do with those songs. I usually work the chorus. So, I think I’m cutting to the chase in the songwriting more and developing it with the guys, and we’re also leaving room for the kind of musical stuff that we did on the first record which was almost progressive in a way.
The interesting thing is, the album opens with a cover of The Kinks’ song ‘Destroyer’, which is a bit unique because usually people don’t open their albums with covers. What’s the reason for picking that song and why did you decide to put it as the opener?
Initially, we were playing the song and trying it out because Dan was adamant about doing the song. He was like, ‘We should do a cover of this! And I thought the lyrics and that whole thing about that song is a little bit not Owl, and kind of goofy with the lyrical content (laughs). The Kinks rock, but it’s a quirky song. Dan didn’t let up, and that’s one of his favorite bands. So at this point Jason and I just decided to take a shot at it. We did it and I was shocked, because Dan was right. It turned out to be a really great cover with a lot of personality. It almost sounds like it was made for us. It’s crazy!
Yeah, I think it does because it leads into the other songs pretty well. Do you think that The Kinks influence has shown on the album, mainly through Dan?
I think it probably has, may be within the energy of his drumming and may be us being like real muso musicians. That’s the good thing about some of our influences. We all liked Van Halen a lot when we were kids too, and Zeppelin and things like that. I think all that kind of shaped our ideas. It’s the same thing with Dan and The Kinks. He likes to just rock even though he’s a sophisticated drummer, and that’s what we have in common. Having those influences keeps him in check, if that makes any sense at all. It’s a barometer where he can check in with us. It’s a good song and we grew up with The Kinks. So it’s cool for Dan. Even though we’re in the same band we all have slightly different experiences. We hear different things. He might hear Zeppelin in something whereas I’m just hearing some sort of classical. That’s what makes a band, you know.
After you released the debut, you played shows wherein you opened for bands like Helmet and Jet, and I guess those bands go a little towards the modern rock side. Do you think you’ll fit in with slightly different bands this time, or is it pretty much open-ended in that sense and you can play with anyone?
Yeah, it’s kind of interesting because the band has songs that are absolutely just straight-up good songs for almost any rock fans. They’re based on chords and melodies, so I think some of the songs really translate to the general market. And then we have this part of the pie, or part of our artistic place we like to go, where some of it is really over-the-top energy-bashing heavy, and it almost gets hardcore and wild-sounding. So we could play with a heavy band and with a very successful pop rock band and probably still fit. We could fit with the Foo Fighters and we could fit with some hardcore bands. We might not be able to play as long of a set when we’re opening, but we could fit, and that’s interesting. I think people these days don’t have to have a genre block of bands. If you go see a concert, it’s not necessary for every band to be a heavy metal band or a hardcore band. It’s not necessary for every band to be poppy either. The Cult played with a lot of different bands over the last year of touring on the latest record ‘Choice Of Weapon’. I thought it was cool! We went out and played with HellYeah, and we were so not as heavy as them, and we were playing with Buckcherry which is may be a little closer to the type of rock played by The Cult. Then we had some shows where we felt like the bands were classic and we didn’t even compare to them. We were on the same stage as Patti Smith and stuff like that. I don’t think it’s necessary for rock fans to have a whole night of the same type of genre, that’s all. So I hope bands are open to us. Like, I’m not into Maroon 5 per se, but they’re very much in the spotlight. I would think even guys like that can check out Owl and have something for them to like. We won’t fit as an opener to that band per se, but we’ll relate to a lot of people.
You’ve basically been a New York guy but I believe you moved to the West Coast a while back. How was that transition for you?
I live in Hollywood, and it’s just very convenient for me to be in the middle of town. I live in Laurel Canyon which is very woodsy and beautiful, and I actually live pretty close to the school up in Wonderland. It’s a classic great neighborhood to be in, at the centre of the Hollywood side of the hills. All the studios and everything are local. One of the worst things about LA is traffic so the location is a big deal. I’d rather live in a very good location than outside right now, because my days have to do with going to clubs to play shows and sitting in with friend’s bands. I’m pretty active when I’m not playing with Owl. But when I got here, it was shocking! It was a completely different world. It’s sunny and beautiful all year round, and some of the biggest celebrities and musicians are here. So, you can feel a little bit small and up against the world because the best come to LA, and it was a humbling thing as a younger kid, really. I was just a fresh brand new adult coming to Hollywood, California. But I just stuck to my guns and kept at my music. I didn’t worry too much about anybody’s little scene or party world. I love going out with some of my friends and stuff, but I really do a pretty good work ethic and people just started noticing that. Hopefully they hear my unique style too. I got a lot of session work, but really all along I had this unique songwriting style and I’m a singer-songwriter at the end of the day, not just a bassist.
So it all came to fruition with getting to know Jason over the years. He’s been a close friend and all of a sudden he was in the band! He was around, he could do it and he understood it. Dan and I were speaking about getting back together for many years because we had some of our earliest bands together. So, it was all just a great opportunity. Dan owns a media company called Overit in New York and I had a lot of songs I was writing. I had access to Matt Sorum’s studio, and worked out a situation and deal with him. It was all lining up and it was time for all of us to do it, you know. I’m really grateful. Our second record is almost a surprise because it’s just awesome that people have any care and excitement anymore these days. It seems like people are very generic and pop-culture oriented when it comes to music. So it’s exciting that people are getting wound up about our new record ‘The Right Thing’. People want to know what it sounds like, what I’m up to and how the band sounds now. I think Dan’s drumming is outstanding. I don’t know if I’m doing anything better than what I did years ago but it’s very honest and true-sounding. We’re not shooting for anything. This is what we sound like and this is what we do. That’s what I’m proud of. We’ve got some unique qualities. People compare me to others all the time, and I hate it but I somehow realize it’s a compliment. We’re really mostly just doing this from our guts, you know.
We just fit right in, and he sort of knew the nature of the whole thing. I had this wild beast of an animal Owl going and he was well aware of it because he used to come to shows. I think it was probably a little difficult working with him at first, because I had different lineups for Owl. It was always kind of temporary. Years ago, we were invited to be on a Nine Inch Nails tribute record and then on a Chilli Peppers record, and I was just working with my pro-tools rigs and all that stuff. So there was a whole development before Jason got in there. He was awesome to be super respectful and understood the vision I got started. He realized that I needed off-standard kind of thinkers, creative thinkers. For the first record, he had to deal more with me having all this material written and wanting to get out of people what I had in my head. That was probably a little challenging. I can be very intense about what I want. I think it’s a lot of fun, but sometimes it’s difficult to be on the other end of it. I appreciate it because I’ve worked with many producers and when someone wants something from you, you’ve just got to dig deep and do it.
Jason’s a trooper and he hung in there. On the second record, I would say there was less communication to him. With Dan and Jason, all this stuff happened and we developed as a band, so I didn’t have much to say to Dan. I’d go and listen to it and couldn’t believe the stuff he was coming up with. It was the same thing with Jason. He was coming up with melodies and I was like, where’s that coming from? I was coming up with the riffs and they were playing off of it. So I’m proud of the guys for being part of this team I have. We’re just playing off each other now and I think that’s what you probably hear on the record. We got better at getting to the point of what we’re doing, and we got better at crafting our songs.
When we play here it’s pretty cool because a lot of friends and well-known musicians come to the shows. It’s exciting when Owl plays. There’s always a mixture of people at the
show and what makes us happy is that people are checking us out because they’re curious what we’re up to. I enjoy that a lot. It’s great to get together and be the host for the evening, so to speak. We often have an after-gathering and things like that. It’s just awesome. I think LA is one of the best places we play, and a lot of our fans and friends get into it. At that time it doesn’t seem like we’re in LA. We’re just having a great party and playing our set with as much energy and zest as possible. In LA it’s easy, we can call a club and tell them that Owl is ready to play a show. For other places it’s tough but we’re talking to agents about getting some proper touring set up. That’s something we’d really like and all that’s in the works. Most of my friends in other bands are like, ‘This shit rocks! It’s totally cool.’ So I think we’ll get on some pretty good tours but as far as playing in LA, I live here and we have a hometown feeling. There’s a sense of that in New York too, since we’re kind of on both coasts. But there’s a big difference in the culture here. It’s a different town entirely. If you haven’t been to LA, it’s just unexplainable. But so in New York, really (laughs). I love playing LA. It’s cool!
The final thing I want to ask you is, why is the band named Owl? Is there anything about the animal that represents the music?
Well, I think there is something about the actual animal that kind of relates to something nocturnal. I wouldn’t say it’s goth, and there’s nothing evil about anything we’re doing, but there’s a dark edge to things in the sound. Sometimes we get into some themes that are a little thought-provoking. You can lean into almost a vampiric feel, like in our first video ‘Pusher’ we had the Owl character developing like a Batman-type mystical creature. So there’s something cool about that. But the other thing is, my last name being Wyse. The W-Y-S-E is just an old English spelling for wise. The kids in New York would ask me if I was the wise owl, and there’s wise potato chips in New York. So it sort of became a thing, that Chris Wyse is the wise owl. I heard it a lot, and it got attached to my name way before the band. So that’s really it, and even in my Wyse family there were little Owl trinkets, statues and picturesque things around all the time. When people saw that, they thought of us. So when the band was getting put together, a good name was hard to come by. And then it just hit me, Owl! Wise owl, it’s kind of mystical, the music’s a little thought-provoking, hopefully, and it seemed like a perfect fit. No one else had it, and that shocked me. I know there’s Owl City and a few others that have come and gone, but we have been able to maintain the name by our presence, which is awesome.