Meditative-drone mixed with desert rock – while the genre label may have caused you to switch off already (damn you genres, you most foul and useless system of description), the San Franciscan duo of Jon Porras and Evan Caminiti – AKA Barn Owl – prove exactly how dynamic and emotive this sound can be.
Forever reaching for new plains, the pair have added an element of doom dub to their sound on their latest release, the electronica-driven V. Stay with us here, for this might sound like a bunch of overly-stylised bullshit, but these two take the fringes of rock and electronica and twist it into something extremely accessible.
Porras is getting ready to BBQ and celebrate American Independence Day, and if the movies and TV shows are true, he must also be getting ready to set off some fireworks. “Oh, um, yes,” Porras stutters. “I’m not sure how much of this I should admit but ah, yep, I’ll say it – there will be some firework action. It’s a cheesy holiday to celebrate but it’s an excuse to have a BBQ at a friend’s house so that’ll be great.”
Time with friends is precious for the pair, as Barn Owl have toured the US, and indeed the world, many times over during the course of their career. Australia hasn’t yet been lucky enough to be hypnotised by a Barn Owl set, and while the band is coming here for the first time – which generally means exploring the back catalogue in depth – they’re still in the midst of celebrating their latest album. “I try not to think about expectations and what the audience are wanting,” he says of the band’s potential set list of Australia. “We try to focus on an idea that we want to put forth and as long as we do that to the best of our ability, we feel satisfied.”
Barn Owl are embarking on a run of intimate shows; it’s in this atmosphere that they prefer to play. Their music is complex, with their sonic contour requiring a skilled hand at the mixing desk – something that many festivals fail to provide. “I like festivals in a way but they tend to be a little intense for a performer,” he says. “The stage turns into something of a cattle call, one band on one band off, no real sound check. You sort of have to overlook the details of your sound at a festival; you go up and cross your fingers and hope for the best. In an intimate environment we seem to have a greater level of control over things.”
Porras laughs at the suggestion that festival audiences can sometimes be like playing to a bunch of distracted hamsters. “Ha, yeah, it is; it can be frustrating,” he says. “To really feel the impact of our music you need the audience to have attention to detail. Festival audiences don’t seem willing to give their attention and that’s just how it rolls. You can’t give into that frustration though, it’s a really bad habit, it’s best to just focus on the task at hand and play the music.”
In the studio good friend and skilled producer Phil Manley has crafted their sound many times and they hope one day they can take him abroad with them. “Phil’s a good friend of ours and we have a great chemistry together,” he says. “He has a deep understanding of what we want to do as musicians and I have a real respect for him as an engineer and trust his opinion a lot. This album, V, was recorded digitally because we wanted to create a different sound. In the past, we were focused on the nuances of recording live and capturing those moments but for this we wanted to track live and then take the tracks away and further process them. Instead of looking for the nuances that happen in the studio, we were looking for the nuances that happen in post-production. There are interesting ideas that come from chopping things up and processing those ideas.”
Adding more electronic elements, with guitars no longer the centrepiece around which Barn Owl’s sound revolves, has furthered their tendency to make their live shows stand apart from their albums. “This album has made it more challenging to recreate on stage what we did on the record, but we’ve always looked at our live performances as something completely different,” he says. “There is a relationship between the two but live has its own thing. We don’t break up the songs, we play for one solid hour-plus block, and make it a relentless experience. By leaving parts of our set open to improv then the unexpected can come to life on stage.”
BY KRISSI WEISS
Barn Owl play Goodgod Small Club with Dead China Doll and Broadcasting Transmitter on Wednesday August 7.