Sunday, August 2, 2009

Denim Owl, Melbourne

Current band rollcall?
Organ/synth-playing and singing words: Denim Owl.
Real name: Janita Foley.
Drums, loops and samples: Brain Cobra.
Real (ish) name: Aleks Bryant.

Denim Owl has been around since ...
3rd November 2006. On that day, I was at my friend Simon’s house and whilst in the loo, I came up with the name Denim Owl. Then I went in to his studio and recorded a skeletal version of Kitten Gloves on a Bontempi air-powered organ and er … um … made a MySpace page.

Let's play Six Degrees of Denim Owl. What are some interesting musical links you could come up with?
I'm friends with this guy Jamie Mildren. You may have heard of his band Slo-mo Speedboat? A band to watch! Jamie plays pretty, slo-mo style kalimba on Chattering Face (When The Hammock Hits Quartz).

First song ever written?
A silly song called Tiger On A Holiday written with my younger siblings. It was about a tiger who flees the jungle to go on holiday but it sucks, he gets yelled at by people on a beach and also by a butcher. They freak out when he opens his mouth to speak, as he can only “roar” or “grrr”. It’s quite important on a political level.

Music making for you began when ...
My pop bought my sister and I a Yamaha Organ when I was about eight. We rocked Supercalafragilisticexpialadocious like bitches on wheels. About age 13, my parents bought me a keyboard and I started composing proggy keyboard pieces. Those were the days!

Most unusual sound/instrument you've used in your music?
The sound of our cat Wind Panther “meowing” at the very start of Kitten Gloves. I had to give him a little squeeze to get him to perform. Sorry Windy, but you got to be on my record. That was the deal.

Strangest gig you've ever played?
We played in Tokyo last year, a set of Ramps and Denim Owl songs to backing tracks. It was quite strange to be doing it at all. At one of the shows, we wore white surgical masks and we drew sharks' mouths on them. Somebody pointed out afterward that we were wearing the masks upside down. Hilarity ensued.

Then all the indie kids lost their collective shit over our Omnichord. Which was strange given that they are made in Japan. We assumed they’d have thousands of Omnichords, clogging up waterways, etc etc. Apparently not!

Do you pin up images when recording to help inspire your songs?
We do have a picture of the cosmos (or a segment thereof) up in our studio. Last night, we were rehearsing and I was staring into it. And it was indeed inspiring. I think I will do this for the next record. (Some patterned wallpaper samples from the sixties might also rock.)

The best thing is nature. Staring at nature is top of my list for getting inspired. Especially gardens. But studios are always dark windowless places. Patterns and cosmos are more realistic image choices. And kittens. Kittens are a given.

Unlikeliest thing to influence your music?

Most unconventional topic you've covered in your lyrics?
I recently wrote a song that was partly inspired by a story by Miranda July. It’s called The Swim Team. The story is about a woman who teaches old folks to swim in her house. It’s a gas. My song is about a couple creating a nautical fantasy in their living room. It’s about escapism, and the way pointless intellectualising can dilute another’s experience of joy. I think.

If you had to offer any of your lyrics as love advice (or life advice), you would offer ...
“There’s bacteria in the water, so we must drink alcohol.”

Most useful lyrics you've heard in a song?
“He was smiling through his own personal hell
Dropped his last dime down a wishing well
But he was hoping too close
And then he fell
Now he’s Casper the friendly ghost”
That's Daniel Johnston unravelling one of life’s looming questions: who was Casper the friendly ghost, pre-death? When I read those comics as a wee 'un, it never occurred to me that he died penniless and in a desperate bid to gain respect from society. He was just a nice dead dude.

Do you think the town you live in affects your music in any way?
Yes. I was really glad to move to Brunswick (an inner suburb of Melbourne) and importantly, away from TRAM NOISE. I don’t mind it so long as I don’t have to hear it all the time. Silence is an enormous golden statue of an adorable fluffy penguin. It is a valuable lawn ornament. And Melbourne is a pretty stimulating place, compared to lovely laid back Launceston (Tasmania, where I come from).

Living in Melbourne, I appreciate the fact that I can feed off the city's energy, but still maintain a decent level of solitude. Also, there are many opportunities to perform here which raises the value of live shows; so Melbourne should, by that logic, be populated by amazing live bands. We are endeavouring to be at least an above-average live band!

You would love to record with ...
Yoshimi from OOIOO.

Favourite person you have performed/recorded with ...
Aleks and the (other) Ramps.

Outside of Denim Owl, you spend your time ...
The first rule of Denim Owl is, there is no outside of Denim Owl.

Next for you is ...
Writing songs for a feature-length extravaganza on ice.

If record stores had to come up with a new genre name to file your music under, it would be called ...
... Misc.

Somewhere along the way, 'quirky' got hijacked as polite codeword for 'annoying'. To me, the term still means 'endearingly eccentric' and is a compliment rather than a putdown, and I would apply it as I would a gold-star to Denim Owl's music. The goofy lyrics (particularly on songs like Red Leather) seem to act like a jokey decoy, aiming to distract you from how lush Janita's vocals are (like sticking a fake-moustache on a pretty woman's face). And all the about-turns and offbeat tricks in each song almost does sidetrack you from the main attraction, but her voice is this lovely haze that's hard to ignore. Dream Pocket is the name of Denim Owl's latest EP and it's been something of a stayer for the last few months. Click on her MySpace for more details.