Black Owls invade Peach’s Grill
Mention the term “glam rock” and the mind immediately races to images of David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust or T Rex’s Marc Bolan slinking across the stage. I doubt a place like Granville, Ohio comes to mind.
But maybe it should.
The small college town is home to the Black Owls, a band that sounds and seems like it has been around for ages. That sound, and even the group’s name, evokes a familiarity within the listener that creates a weird kind of déjà vu.
“That was by design,” said front man David Butler. “We came up with what I consider to be almost a generic kind of name, but it almost has like a preordained sense of history to it.”
The band formed in 2006 as little more than a group of guys getting together to jam. The individual members had all been in and out of bands and came together as almost a lark.
Butler and guitarist Ed Shuttleworth have been the driving force behind the band since its inception. The early days featured Mike Brewer, whose subsequent band Nancy would later morph into The National.
The current lineup boasts Brian Kitzmiller on drums, Brandon Losacker on guitar and Sammy Fulfeck on bass. While the membership has grown over the years, Butler and Shuttleworth serve as the Mick-and-Keith-like creative force behind the band. They also benefit from the rural nature of their hometown, which allows the musicians to focus on their constant flow of new musical ideas.
“It can be a very pure art when you’re holed up in the country,” Butler said. “It’s a really nice thing to remove yourself from a lot of distraction. If you live in Brooklyn and you’re friends with 10 other bands, you’re going to all feed off each other – and I think that’s a really good thing, but it’s not really our style.”
That constant need to create resulted in the band’s 2012 eponymous double album.
That’s right – double album.
In a current music business that values singles over everything, taking on such a massive project might seem a bit counterintuitive. When the group looked at the body of work as a whole, however, there seemed to be a cohesion and flow. There was really nothing to do but release it as a double disc.
“We have this mad impetus to create new songs all the time,” Butler said. “We write a ton of material. Because we have our own recording studio, we can do it on the fly. We can get together every night if we want.”
There also exists an undeniable overall aesthetic. Butler grew up in the world of visual art and that mindset pops up in the band’s cool, dark and quasi-mysterious presentation. It harkens back to a time when an album cover was the only connection fans had to the musicians. The Black Owls want to preserve that sense of musical wonder. That’s not to say the visuals are more important than the songs, but the presentation supplements the artistic intent.
“Rock and roll is a show,” Butler said. “We’re there to entertain people. It’s a package. You’re selling not just the music, but an identity. Our music is almost a little bright and optimistic, but with very dark lyrics. There’s a certain amount of that kind of weird, modern heritage to the look of everything we try to do.”
Still, the band exists in the brave new world of music as business. While technological advances have made it easier for musicians to record and market their music, that has become problematic. Breaking through the white noise of millions of bands trying to get noticed can be taxing. While many original rock bands might struggle to grab their slice of the listening audience in the world of bit torrent and YouTube, the Black Owls feel that the cream always rises to the top.
“You can reach that audience if you work at it,” Butler said. “If you’re doing something that stands above, eventually you will get noticed. You can build equity in what you do. It just depends on the level of effort that you want to put into it and if you have a sound that people really want to listen to.”
Yet, it’s hard to imagine classic bands dealing with these modern vices.
“You wouldn’t imagine Kiss ever tweeting and you wouldn’t imagine Led Zeppelin ever putting up a Facebook post,” Butler said. “We like to maintain a little bit of mystique to what we do. That’s part of the fun – to make up your own story for the band.”
And a big part of the Black Owl’s story has unfolded in Dayton. The band is often compared to Guided by Voices and lists Pollard and The Boys as a main influence. Other than their hometown club, Peach’s Grill in Yellow Springs has been the band’s most often played venue and Butler loves the all-inclusive vibe of the town and club.
“Peach’s is a great place because they get jazz music, world music, Afrobeat music, DJs, heavy metal, punk,” Butler said. “They get everything there and there’s always going to be an audience for it.”
Black Owls will play on Saturday, April 27 at Peach’s Grill, 104 Xenia Ave. in Yellow Springs. Admission is free, ages 18 and up. Doors open at 9 p.m. For more information, visit www.blackowls.com.
Reach DCP freelance writer Rusty Pate at RustyPate@DaytonCityPaper.com