Interview | Wake Owl: “We only have the language we have, you know? We have to just make the best of it”

Photo by Madison Rowley

I don’t feel like I’m falling, I’m up against the sky
I said I’d taken it all in to make the good life
Let’s grab the heart of the world and turn into the light

Wake Owl’s Colyn Cameron has experienced more in his young life than many people twice his age. After attending Emerson College in England to study organic agriculture, Cameron traveled the world while working on farms in Europe, Chile, and Canada. Now based in Vancouver, BC and Portland, OR, the precocious singer/songwriter will be releasing Wake Owl’s debut EP Wild Country on January 29th, 2013.

We at Speakers in Code have been digging everything we’ve heard from Wake Owl for quite sometime now, and we even had a remix of the EP’s lead single “Gold” as our Jam of the Day a few days back. We recently had the joy of talking with Colyn about his upcoming EP, the benefits of long distance collaboration, and his rap skills.

Hi Colyn, how are you doing this afternoon?

I’m pretty good, how about yourself?

I’m doing very well, it’s great to finally talk with you. I have a few questions, and If it’s all right with you I thought we could go ahead jump right into?  

Yeah man, for sure.

I’ve been been curious about how you first became interested in music. What catalyzed that initial interest and helped you start writing your own songs? When did music become a more passionate thing? 

I first became quite interested in music before high school, around grade seven. That was when I was buying my first CD’s, and at that point I was trying to rap and write verses (laughs). It was about the middle of high school, I was about 16 I think, when I learned guitar and started writing songs. That’s when my real passion began. I went to England for an exchange, and I spent most of my time in the UK playing music and writing songs.

I’ve read a little bit about your rapping. Could you talk a little bit about what inspired you to rap? Were there specific artists in the hip hop community that interested you, or was it just an interest in the rhyming that grew organically? 

It was an organic thing. I was just really moved when I listened to music. When I had a cool rhyme and a chance to work on it, it just drew me in. I think I was really lucky to learn (to play guitar) at that age because I’m trying to learn new instruments now and to not know how to play guitar now would be so discouraging. I didn’t learn that many covers or anything, I started writing my own songs right away, which had its ups and downs. I think I might have benefitted from learning more covers. I can’t explain it, since I started doing music creatively in any regard I’ve had a deep connection to it.

In terms of songwriting, do you find yourself pulling primarily from personal experiences? Or is it often more abstract ideas that help move the song forward, or is it a mixture of the two?    

It’s a mixture of the two. I think in a lot of abstract ways, and sometimes my songs can be a little bit abstract, but we only have the language we have, you know? We have to just make the best of it, but sometimes I feel like language can limit the ideas you’re having. I feel like personal relationships and experiences I have inform the songwriting process quite a bit, and also inform the abstract ideas I have about life and my own path. It’s a conversation between those two things.

I’ve heard that you and your bandmate Aiden live in different cities. How has that distance influenced the way that you guys work and your collective writing process? 

So far, it’s been the perfect balance between having our own space to cultivate ideas and live our lives and being together, sharing ideas, and collaborating. It’s worked out really well. I think we both appreciate our time on our own and (our time) together to bring those ideas together. It’s definitely not that kind of band; I haven’t ever been in a band like this. I talk to people and they’re like “Oh, you don’t live in the same city? So you don’t jam that often?”, but for us it’s more really intense collaboration when we’re together for a week or two weeks, and then sharing ideas via email and at other times. So far, it’s only been a positive thing.

 Photo by Madison Rowley

You mentioned that you spent some time in the UK during school, but you also spent time traveling in Europe and South America afterwards. I understand that a lot of the material on Wild Country was written directly after your time traveling, so how did those experiences influence the EP?

The distance I had from creativity at that time was pretty profound, and I think it had quite an effect on me. During that time I was really going into the agriculture and working; I didn’t have a lot of time to write music or poetry, or anything like that. It gave me a realization, which came a little bit later, that (creative work) was really important to me, and that I should pursue it. Directly related to the music, that was the most profound thing, that the distance from it created an appreciation for it that I hadn’t been aware of before.

Your debut EP Wild Country will be out on January 29th. I’m sure it’s like picking a favorite child, but is there a song on the EP that you’re most proud of?

I’m proud of “Gold” because it was the last song I wrote that was part of the EP and it kind of came out of nowhere when I was in the studio. There was not a lot of time left to finish recording and I didn’t feel like (the EP) was complete, and then “Gold” came and really gave me that feeling of completion; (the feeling that) those five songs were meant to be together. It also encompassed a lot of the different musical ideas I had been exploring on other songs and brought them all together into one cohesive piece.

I saw the music video that you recently released for “Gold.” Can you tell me a little bit about the video? The footage is really beautiful. 

My bandmate Aiden, who is really into film, had this footage from some prior shooting he had done up in Alaska, I believe, and held onto it for a while. We were talking about ideas (for the video) and the only thing that stuck out to us was having children be part of the video. (We were trying to capture) that kind of mysteriousness and wonder of the world that children carry in their facial expressions for the song because that is one of the bigger emotions attached to that song: the wonder of how beautiful life is. That footage ended up being perfect for what we were trying to do, but it wasn’t filmed with the intention of being that video, which added a little mystery itself from not knowing how it was going to turn out. We definitely put a lot of thought and time into (the footage.) We had other ideas that we had been exploring that were completely thrown out because they didn’t suit what we were trying to do. It was the right video for sure.

I understand that Wake Owl has already done its fair share of touring, including some supporting slots with Bahamas, Zeus, and The Jezebels. Have you enjoyed life on the road so far?

I can’t say that most the touring we’ve done hasn’t been hard, but we’re actually really looking forward to this upcoming tour. Some cities that we’ve been to we’re really looking forward to getting back to, like New York and San Francisco, and (we’re looking forward to) seeing places like Nashville for the first time. And it’s our own tour, so we’ll be headlining most of the shows and have the ability to really put on our own show. Sometimes when you’re opening it’s hard because you feel like you’re stepping on the toes of the band that you’re opening for. (Life on the road) has its ups and downs, but honestly I feel like it’s too early to know whether I like touring or not. I feel like it’s part of my destiny at this point.

Not to put you on the spot, but if you had to survive on a desert island with only one album to listen to for the rest of your life, what would  it be? Or at least what would be a few contenders? 

Albums for the rest of my life?… Only a few come to mind. I’d probably say (The Beach Boy’s) Pet Sounds, or maybe (Neil Young’s) Harvest Moon, or maybe some Beatles album. I definitely feel that, at least for those two records, I’ll never get tired of them.

Aside from music, what are some things in life that you are passionate about? 

I enjoy lots of different creative outlets, but I don’t spend a lot of time doing other stuff right now because most of my time is devoted to music. I try to do a bit of painting, print making, and stuff like that because I definitely feel that it helps with the music by giving me a break. Another passion of mine, I don’t know if you’d call it “social work,” but I’ve done a bit of work in Los Angeles and Vancouver organizing some youth gatherings for community development and (to) support young people pursuing their dreams. (We’re trying to help young people) not to get sucked into the system and the way it is, and to try and develop what’s living inside of them at that really prominent, important age where they’re making those life decisions. I feel like I had the support to pursue my dreams around me when I was getting out of high school, and I feel like that’s important. I’m trying, with the songwriting and with how I’m going to be touring, to connect back and have (my passions) feed into each other.

Could you describe Wake Owl’s music in a few words?

I would say that it’s striving for independence and it’s not trying to be anything (specific). That striving for independence is fueled by a passion for music and for having emotional experiences through music. Hopefully making people feel something, you know? Whether it’s a bit of an uplifting feeling, or something more contemplative. I’ve been doing a lot of writing over the past few months for the full length record that we’re going to start in the spring, and I’ve been trying to push myself and challenge myself with the music I’ve been writing.

That is a perfect segue into my final question. Could you tell me a little bit about how the full length that you’ll be recording will differ from Wild Country? Aside from the obvious compositional differences, what will be different about what you’re trying to convey in the music?

I don’t want to go too far into that right now, but there are a few guarantees: It’s going to be much more collaborative because of who I’ve been working and touring with, and how playing the EP together has evolved into playing music together quite often. It’ll be more reflective of that collaboration, while the EP was really just me with an acoustic guitar exploring songwriting. I feel like the writing for this next record is going to be a little more informed by the experience of playing live and how one creates the best live show, all the way down to the way the songs are written their dynamics. Those are the two things off the top of my head that will be guaranteed.

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