Sometimes--and I'm sure you'll agree, dear reader--one just needs some rock n' roll that captures the spirit of the good ol' days. As one who (admittedly) wasn't alive during said days, I'm here to say that Cincinnati's Brass Owl offers a genre-melding approximation of the best parts. From classic rock, to acid jazz, grunge, to fun-lovin' improvisational jammery, Brian Tarter (vocals/guitar) and Lonnie Buckley (drums) deliver the goods.
Brass Owl's debut will be hitting the street on April 10th, so you've still got some time to daydream about the possible implications of the aforementioned confluence of sounds. It's damn good, but rather than tantalize further, we slumbering scribes offer up this interview to tide ye over.
We'd like to thank Brian Tartar of Brass Owl for taking the time and energy to chat! As always, we're deeply honored that cool bands are willing to sit down and churn our such thoughtful answers. Read on!
Sleeping Village: Thank you for taking the time, and congratulations on the upcoming release of State of Mind! Now that it has been sent into the world and is officially out of your hands, how are you feeling about the project?
Brian Tartar: I feel really good about it. I sort of rushed the 1st EP and with this one, we took a lot more time on the editing and mixing process. It sounds great in a car and on a home stereo. I feel like the songs are solid with a message to the lyrics. A good mix of hooks, sarcasm, and not too predictable.
SV: What are you hoping listeners get out of State of Mind? Is it all about the listening experience?
BT: I really hope that folks take the time to listen to it. It's hard to get people to take the time in today's world. Some of the songs go on a unexpected ride without being too lengthy. I would think there is a message or something to think about even for non-musicians.
SV: From hard rock to blues to jazz to grunge, the genres that shape Brass Owl are extensive, to the point that it feels like fans of music from the 60’s to now can find something to dig into. Is this fusion a deliberate way of connecting with a broad number of people, or just a byproduct of yourselves as musicians?
BT: Definitely both. Lonnie is a very well rounded drummer and we both are into multiple genres. We are probably less versed in metal than most. We take more of the approach of hot-rodding a classic sound and putting our version or vision. Maybe that's why it's not too much for folks that are not into metal. It's more blues based like Sabbath, but totally not blues much like early Mule and Cream, I suppose.
SV: Do you feel that classic rock as a genre is timeless, or does that sound remain rooted in (or reminiscent of) a certain place and time?
BT: I think it can be timeless but not always. Much like a classic muscle car. It will always be a great foundation but the choice of modifications can date it. There is something about that era that is classic rather than trendy though IMO.
SV: Your vocals are a shapeshifting force of nature. Your band bio mentions both Alice In Chains and Gov’t Mule, which are very appropriate comparisons. I’m also getting a gravelly Neil Fallon-esque vibe from your tone at times. Given the wide range, are there certain vocalists that inform Brass Owl’s sound on an intentional level, or do just go where the song takes you?
BT: Clutch is one of the few newer bands that I dig so I will take that as a compliment. Neil or Pepper from C.O.C. is about as heavy as I prefer the vocals. Maybe that's why I don't listen to much modern metal. They all sound like they are trying to sound like pro wrestlers and it sounds like an act too me. I mean do they order fast food talking like that? I much prefer blues based vocals like the above mentioned and guys like Jay Buchanan, Ray Gillian, John Sykes. I can't sing like any of them but that's where I get my phrasing from.
SV: Walk me through your songwriting process. Does every new track begin the same way, or is the process a little more fluid? How does the significant improvisational component impact the process?
BT: Most start with a guitar riff. Then a lot of times I will think about the lyrics while at work or driving and start writing. As far as the music structure, I will play the riff for Lonnie and he does his thing to it. It works great because I never tell him what to play and never plays what would be predictable or even in my head but I always love it. I like that he approaches it from his background and not the predictable metal drums. Then we work on the changes, how long to play this or that and come to an agreement.
SV: Getting into your underlying philosophy a tad, are you of the mind that vapidity and disconnectedness are products of modern society? Or is it the other way around? Or a third option I haven't considered?
BT: Maybe lol. I come from a weird place I suppose because I can relate to the broken system as a working man but also as a working man, I don't have much sympathy or tolerance for lazy leeches that constantly complain about the system but have no ambition or work ethic.
SV: As a followup to the last, “Side Effect” details various so-called “solutions” to produce happiness. In your experience, what is a genuine and/or underrated source of happiness?
BT: I actually wrote "Side Effect" years ago and my wife always liked it and wanted me to do something in it. It is sort of based on the prescription pill epidemic. It started from watching those commercials that advertise a pill as a solution to a condition, but you may have many side effects, so essentially trading one disease for another. Then add to the situation of the big pharma making tons of money on pills and not necessarily trying to help people. I know some people that take antidepressants and they are like zombies. Instead of fixing the problem it just numbs them. I guess to answer the question, I would not want to take pills to get a false sense of happiness. I really try to get the most out of life. I have built many things and traveled as much as possible. I guess for me that's what makes me happy. Knowing that I tried my best whether I succeeded or not. It can be different things for different people though. I would advise to live like there is no tomorrow.
SV: Given that the majority of our readership is well-versed in Rock n’ Roll tradition, but is pretty unfamiliar with the equally rich history of jazz, what artists would you recommend as a great acid jazz starting place?
BT: Al Dimeola, The Weather Report, even early Hendrix, Band of Gypsies and Cream is Jazz based. Add some fuzz and Mushrooms and Magic happens, lol.
SV: Speaking of recommendations, what are some Cincinnatian bands we should be keeping an eye out for?
BT: Well there a lot of good players in Cincy but the scene is pretty lame. I play guitar for a band called The Summit and we have toured with some classic rock Heavyweights like ZZ Top, REO, Foghat. Our bassist has a jazz fusion thing called Brent Olds and the Rhythm with our drummer Lonnie. They are both just sick players. And the bassist for The Summit has a rock reggae band called ELP that has a recent release. Some small world fun facts.
SV: What’s on the horizon for Brass Owl? Having spent some quality time with State Of Mind, I’m already itching to hear more.
BT: We are hoping to promo the record and do some touring and grow as a band. We are more than willing to do the work. Just hoping for the opportunity to prove ourselves.
SV: Thank you again for your time and thoughts. Is there anything you would like to leave us with?
BT: We appreciate your support of underground artists and taking the time to listen.
BRASS OWL - State of Mind will be released April 10th, 2020
BRASS OWL can be found:
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We provide thoughtful reviews of music that is heavy, gloomy...and loud enough to wake us from slumber. Written by a highfalutin peasantry.
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