The third time in Milwaukee is the charm for indie folk band Wake Owl
When singer/songwriter Colyn Cameron and the rest of his band Wake Owl take the stage Friday night, it will mark the group's third visit to Milwaukee in barely over a year.
When they first arrived in town, they were at the bottom of a three-band bill at the Cactus Club with their freshly released debut EP, "Wild Country." Since then, their crowds and popularity have only grown, moving up to a $10 Pabst Pub gig last June and now a Friday night headliner gig at Turner Hall Ballroom. And instead of a five-song EP, Cameron and company arrive with a brand new full album, "The Private World of Paradise."
It's been an interesting journey for Wake Owl, as well as for Cameron. OnMilwaukee talked with the band's frontman about "The Private World of Paradise," their inspirations for music and the new album and Cameron's past agricultural adventures.
OnMilwaukee.com: What were your musical inspirations for "The Private World of Paradise"?
Colyn Cameron: We just wanted to explore sort of a broader range of sonic things. We got into a little bit more of playing with keyboards and certain electric guitar tones. I guess we were less interested in being driven by acoustic instruments, but I still think we wanted to keep it very organic sounding. That's the kind of balance we were trying to strike.
I think part of the inspiration too was just wanting the music to have more space for when we perform, to be more intuitive musically and be able to jam. So there were all sorts of musical inspirations around the kind of music we wanted to be playing, especially on tour.
OMC: "Wild Country" is far more acoustically based, but this new album, while it doesn't complete move away, develops it into bigger, richer sonic sounds.
CC: Yeah, it just kind of came naturally through experimentation. By the time we came to recording the new album, I had sort of drifted away from playing solely and writing solely for acoustic guitar. It was a natural evolution just through challenging ourselves to write in different ways.
OMC: It almost sounds like there's a little bit of a soul influence. "Candy," for instance, almost has a little bit of a '60s/'70s soul vibe in the beginning.
CC: The song definitely leans in that direction, and it's definitely the kind of music that we both appreciate and listen to. We're just focusing on trying to make music that, for us, was like groovy and such, and "Candy" definitely stands out on the record as being a groovy song for us to play and have this sort of groove that walks us in every night so we can get into it.
OMC: What are some of your overall musical inspirations?
CC: I mean, all sorts of stuff. I've been inspired and influenced by everything. I've gone through all these different phases in my life of appreciating some of the better songwriters and hip-hop. I mean, that's such a hard question for me because really, I'm influenced by everything from the classic old Neil Young records to old Bob Dylan records to '50s pop music to Notorious B.I.G.
Everything we've listened to we've taken bits that we appreciate, and I don't think we ever consciously so much go into making the music we make now thinking, "Oh, we should make this sound like this." There's a depth of creativity and songwriting in a lot of those things we've listened to that, I think, pushes us to explore new territory and to challenge ourselves to be better artists.
OMC: The Notorious B.I.G. is an interesting one that you mentioned there as an influence.
CC: It's not like we heard it and wanted to make a hip-hop song. It's more like when I listen to him, it's just so raw and in your face and groovy. And lyrically, as a character, he's so in your face and real and creative. You can hear that kind of desperation in his rapping, I think, and that's what influences us. That's why we want to listen to him. It's just, like, wow, this is an artist that's channeling some pretty intense stuff lyrically and poetically and even spiritually. That's what I find that I'm influenced by.
OMC: In your college years, you studied organic agriculture, which is obviously very far from what you're doing now. Where did that interest come from?
CC: That came from an interest coming out of high school, a mix of sort of wanting to get out of the city and also wanting to save the world, I guess. I had a lot of idealism that somehow related to agriculture and food and farming. It sort of led me on this really intense adventure all over the world.
I met some amazing people, but at the time, I was almost dogmatically convinced that farming was absolutely the way the world would sort of heal, and we'd transform the problems that we have. That was where I was at the time.
OMC: What happened, and what did you learn on this adventure?
CC: I met all sorts of people from all over the world – South America or Asia or Europe – and had my perspective on life change drastically just from that. I just saw that there were so many other ways to be engaged with the world, to achieve healing and to have a good life. Over the course of a few years, I guess that sort of just put me back in touch with my musical interests.
I mean, I learned a lot about agriculture, and it's a very practical thing. I just wasn't ready to dive into being a farmer at 21. It's a certain kind of lifestyle that can be actually very antisocial, and I wasn't ready for that.
OMC: This will now be your third time performing in Milwaukee. Are there any Milwaukee spots you enjoy checking out?
CC: We haven't gotten into the city too much. Every time we've been there, our impression is really nice. It seems like a beautiful city. Last time, we were near the Pabst Theatre and that area, so we walked along the river. I look forward to having a moment there again.
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