Interview: Andy Herod (Electric Owls)

I was reviewing a CD recently and scanning over a bio when I noticed that the person who mixed that CD had also mixed a CD by The Comas. The last time I saw The Comas was at SXSW 2007 when I accidentally caught them performing at a day party put on by Jane magazine. I was there to see Great Northern but the show was running late and when I entered the venue I caught a band who sounded familiar but who I couldn’t place. It wasn’t until I went to the soundboard and saw the schedule that I noticed that it was The Comas who were playing.

Before going any farther, I have to say that The Comas 2004 release Conductor is nothing short of amazing. You can pick up a used copy through Amazon for under a buck. And, “New Wolf” from 2007’s Spells was one of my favorite songs of that year.

So, a quick Google search revealed that Comas leader Andy Herod has been working on a new project for the last year or so called Electric Owls. He put out a 4-song EP at the tail end of 2008 as a precursor to a full length that Vagrant will release in April. He’s been doing some dates, opening for Bishop Allen, and I sent these questions to him while he was on the road to discuss The Comas and Electric Owls.

What’s the status of The Comas? Do you have another Comas record either written or in your head or will you be turning your attention solely towards The Electric Owls?

Well, I’m pretty sure that there will be another Comas record in the future but for the moment my focus is completely on Electric Owls. The other members of The Comas are still in New York (which is just somewhere I couldn’t be anymore) so inevitably it had to cease being what it once was. Now that the Electric Owls record is totally finished, and I’ve had sufficient time to miss my friends, yes, I would could get excited about a new Comas record at some point.

There is definitely a difference in sound between the songs you write that end up as Comas songs and songs you write as Electric Owls songs. Because both bands are essentially solo projects with musicians you surround yourself with, did you think about using the Electric Owls songs and releasing them under the Comas name?

Hmm. The thing about Electric Owls is that I wanted to make sure that each step of the process basically differed as much as possible from the way I had come to approach The Comas. I wanted to use different instrumentation, different people, call on different styles of music etc. So, there is no way the songs could ever cross over really. Plus the name just really indicates a time. A time when, for all intents and purposes, there was no Comas.

From some concert reviews I’ve read, it sounds like you’re touring on your own. Should you be calling it Electric Owl? 🙂

Oh boy I haven’t heard that one yet! No, the plurality of the name wasn’t an attempt to be weird actually. Originally I wanted to play these songs with a band live, and at some point I probably will. But my first opportunity for taking these songs on the road supplied a budget that was suitable only for one. So, it was out of necessity that I put backing tracks on a laptop and did it on my lonesome. But, it was a truly rewarding and eye opening experience that fell right in line with the “new approach” mentality I had been wanting to embrace. It required something different of me as a performer and as a person to pull it off and I’m so happy to have discovered that part.

Have you done dates with Bishop Allen? Are you traveling in the same van with them? If not, are you traveling completely solo or do you have travel companions on this tour (that is, if you’re performing solo … this question is moot if you’re traveling with a band)?

98% of the shows I have done so far as Electric Owls have been with Bishop Allen, which has been fantastic because we love traveling together. I do ride in the van with them. In fact, I am riding shotgun in the BA van as I write this. We are on our way to play Montreal on this very evening. I really have them to thank for so much, including early feedback on the EO music as well as giving me the opportunity to showcase it for some of their fans. It’s been a great fit so far. So good that I’m going to Europe with them in the Spring! All this before my record even comes out. So, it’s been a good start.

How important was it for you to have an EP to sell while on tour considering you’ve got a full length coming out soon? I think it’s great you’re giving people a taste of what’s to come.

Super important for two reasons. One, you just mentioned, giving people a preview of the record, and hopefully piquing their interest enough to tell their friends and loved ones about it. And two, to have something to sell to generate a little more income out here in this cold cold world of touring.

Is Vagrant putting out the Electric Owls CD? Is it coming out in April (I think I read that somewhere)? What can you tell me about the full length – at what point did you decide to make something that wasn’t a Comas release? Where did you do the recording? In this day and age, were you able to record cheaply and in bedrooms and basements or did you go into a “real” studio.

Vagrant is putting the record out. It is slated for the first week of April 2009. It is 10 songs that were all written in in the first 3 or 4 months after I left Brooklyn where I had lived the 4 years previously. It’s personal, eclectic, fun, dark, melodic, flawed, sprawling, weird, noisy, sparse, naked, layered…

I went to Echo Mountain to make this record. This is an incredible studio in downtown Asheville North Carolina (also my new home). I probably should have recorded more of this at home, but I love to be in great spaces while recording and this is one. Not cheap. But well worth the money if you like mad vibe, vintage gear and a live room with a 50 foot stained glass Jesus filtering the light of an Appalachian sunset.

I’ve seen you/The Comas live twice. The first time was on the Danko Jones/Mando Diao tour. I thought that was a really odd lineup but I LOVED Conductor and am a huge Danko Jones fan so while I’m not sure the lineup was that compatible, I couldn’t have put together a better lineup. The second time I saw you, I didn’t recognize you. I stumbled into the JANE day party at SXSW a few years ago to see Great Northern and saw this band playing whose music I really liked. I walked over to the soundboard to see the schedule and saw that it was you playing.


The Comas at SXSW 2007

That’s a long buildup to ask you this question … what type of touring experiences do you enjoy the most? What types of venues do you like to play and what type of bands do you like to tour with? 

I have never had less than a ridiculously amazing time on any tour. It is very much a part of who I am to enjoy touring and all that comes with it. To the point that It makes it hard for me to feel satisfied at any “home” that I might have at any given point. For this reason I think, I get along very well with any band I’m on tour with. I think they appreciate my enthusiasm even in the dark times of touring, which are inevitable. To me, I’d rather be stuck on the side of the road with a flat tire 70 miles North of Bloomington Indiana in November, than to be punching a clock or taking someone’s brunch order, or pretending you like your boss at some job you hate and that makes you hate yourself…

Sorry, I’m getting carried away.

How WAS the Danko Jones / Mando Diao tour? Those bands are more ‘rock’ than the Comas (or at least a different type of ‘rock’). Did you get along with the other bands? Did their fans dig you and/or did your fans dig those bands?

Well, for the previously mentioned reasons, I got along with both bands very well and had a ridiculously amazing time on that tour. However, more than with some tours I’ve done, those bands did NOT get along with each other. Two very different schools of thought those two. It was uncomfortable at times, but funny too. They just offended each other aesthetically in this hilarious way. We had a good tour. The crowds liked us I think. We rocked super hard.

Given the economy (gas prices / people not spending as much on entertainment as they used to / etc), are you reconsidering how you’re going to be touring? Is it still worth it to go out on a 4 week tour if you’re going to have a number of shows where only 15 people show up?

Definitely. We’ll see how it goes. I’m just taking it one step at a time. If the money and/or the interest isn’t there, then I simply won’t do long tours. But usually you can find reason enough to go out for little 5 to 10 day jaunts at least.

Check out Electric Owls on MySpace to hear songs from the Magic Show EP.

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