Owl is trio that has an experimental sound unlike any other. With bassist/vocalist Chris Wyse (The Cult) playing the electric upright bass, the sound is really thick and layered. Adding in effects and often times even using a bow, Chris expands the dynamic range of the bass and features the bass as a lead instrument. Backed up by drummer and childhood friend Dan Dinsmore and guitarist Jason Achilles Mezilis, Owl has created their own niche in the rock world and one that I feel really deserves your attention. Their new album The Right Thing releases on April 9th.
Listen to the entire Chris Wyse from Owl interview below.
Today, I’m very excited to welcome Chris Wyse to the Unsung Melody family. Chris is the bassist and vocalist of the band Owl. First off Chris, thank you so very much for taking the time to speak with us today.
My pleasure. I’m glad to be speaking to you.
Most know you from your bassist duties in a legendary band, but we aren’t here to talk about that gig. We are here to discuss your project called Owl. You are about to release your second album as a trio. Let’s get a little history lesson going. How was Owl born?
Well, I always have been writing. Even if I was playing on different records, or different sessions, or being in the Cult or whatever. I was always writing. I kind of had a vision and style of my own with the upright bass with a bow. Just an experimental type of music that has developed into my own style of different expressive sounds from the bass. I’ve taken the bass as a lead instrument and just used it in an unorthodox way, it doesn’t even have to be the lead instrument.
Jason and Dan…Dan is an old childhood friend of mine and we had some of our earliest bands together. Jason became a friend here in Hollywood. I was just writing these songs and I had different versions of bands called Owl out there. It came down to me having quite a large collection of songs and wanting to record them. It was just time for me to really unveil this band.
I had some different lineups and stuff, but it really became clear that it was going to be Dan and Jason. They really liked the music. Dan and I were talking about getting back together, because we used to play together in New York. Jason was coming out and seeing Owl and I was learning a lot about him over the years and we became good friends.
Then, I could see everyone was on the same page as far as the sound and the style of the music and those guys really understood it. So, that’s why we got together to do this. I had a bunch of songs, but this new record was different. Often times, I’ll be the seed planter, but this album was much more of a collaboration and there is a lot of spontaneity on this album.
Owl is your first project as a frontman. Correct?
Yeah. I’ve been in various things where I sing or might be featured singing or whatever, but this is the first time that I’ve been the actual frontperson yeah. It’s funny, I don’t even think about playing and singing. I don’t even think of it like being a frontman, but yeah I guess technically I’d be the frontman. (laughter)
Was the transition a difficult one or was it a welcome change?
I was up for the challenge I think. What was going on a lot was I was writing these songs and singing them and realizing that they sounded pretty cool already. Then, basically my friends were all like, I don’t understand why you would have someone else sing this. It sounds great. I was like, okay. It was a bit of a headtrip maybe more than anything. Nothing really changed though, I was just singing all the parts instead of only part of them. It was natural for me to be singing and playing, so I never really felt like it was really much of a change.
The lights just a little bit brighter, that’s all.
(laughter) Yeah, there’s just a little bit more light on me now. That’s all really. I love singing and playing, it’s always been a part of who I am.
I hear several instruments on the album including a bagpipe. How many different instruments were used on this album.
It’s amazing how Jason does that between his legs while playing guitar, it’s awesome. (laughter) This guy, Aaron Shaw, we found through friends in Hollywood when we were searching for someone who would be really good. It took us a minute to find someone. We hit a couple dead ends and then we found this connection with Aaron Shaw and it just popped. It was so amazing. He came in, he heard the song a little bit ahead of time and he really just flowed with the song. I gave him a tiny bit of direction, just some of the ebbs and flows and he nailed it. It wasn’t like he had a problem with it at all. It was so natural. Just so electric. The energy in the air. Jason and I had grins for like two days straight. It was so fun. He’s an awesome musician too, Aaron Shaw here in Hollywood.
It sounds like Owl became the Cheshire Cats for a couple days.
(laughter) Yeah. It was really exciting for us because he was so damn good and this song and everything just ended up, it was just the proper complete last thing needed when recording that song. It was just really awesome for us. We’re really happy for that.
You play a lot of standup bass. Was that your weapon of choice in the studio?
Well, for this record it was more on the fly a little more. It was a little more spontaneous. I’d come through touring with the Cult or maybe we’d work in New York. I’d take a break there. Maybe the rest of the guys would come out to LA or whatever. So, it was interesting as I’d just grab what was lying around. I didn’t have the luxury of being as picky as I was on the first record where we did everything here in LA. Dan had his gear, but I was a little spontaneous. I used a Steinberger electric upright bass that a former student Christopher Ruth in LA let me use. A student of mine from years ago. That was really great. I’m using that on All Day and I’m using it in Mouse. Which is a real haunting kind of bow sound. That turned out really great.
I also used a bit of my Messenger bass on it. It’s another custom from a Luthier guy up in Forestville, CA named John Knutson. It’s really cool looking too. It’s got the aesthetic look of the bass. It’s got the scroll and the old look, but sonically it’s just a crusher. The electric bass guitar was one thing back in the 50’s with Fender, but the electric upright bass thing was the next phase of my development and that opened me up to realizing how to use a classical instrument in a totally different way. Now I can use Hendrix-like, Eddie Van Halen effects on my upright bass. Then, literally, you are shaking peoples privates in the crowd if the sound man has got the PA on. (laughter) It’s real exciting to draw a bow over say a low D for example, with a little bit of delay and reverb and watch. Just that alone is quite fun.
I can see where that would be amazing, because the album is really thick and I think that’s something that a lot of people aren’t accustomed too. Very cool.
We’re not afraid to use the low end. Obviously all of this has been sort of sorted out by nature it seems. There are four strings in the string family and four different seats in the choir, different categories and so forth. So, you know there’s plenty of room for bass, drums and guitar (laughter) to fit sonically in a mix quite well.
You kick off the album with a cover, which is pretty much unheard of. You cover The Kinks classic Destroyer. I personally think the song sounds more like an Owl song than a Kinks song now. Which, honestly, blew my mind. How did that whole scenario come into play?
I am so freaked out by that. Dan pushed for doing the Kinks song. It’s his favorite band and it was just something that he felt in his gut. If you check out the lyrics, I was like, “I don’t know man. I don’t know if I even want to sing this.” I mean this is a little, uhhhh, I don’t know, sort of flamboyant. I don’t know what you’d call those lyrics and it was different times. I don’t know, whatever, but it totally worked out. It was very comfortable for me to sing and sort of emote the concept and have fun. It was loose and there is tons of the Owl mixed in. It worked out really well and we were delighted.
I was just thinking that was going to make Dan happy, but it wasn’t going to make the record. (laughter) Now it’s the first song on the record and you know why we did that? We just felt like it turned out so great, who cares? Who cares that we didn’t write it? It’s our first cover and bands throughout history always do covers. That’s why it was a good idea. It was another way to express our sound.
It’s a good way to grab your attention with the album as well. You’re kind of like, “Whoa. Whoa. Where is this coming from?”
That was Dan’s idea too. I think Jason and I were like, “No, you can’t put that first on the record.” We resisted all the way on this one and now we love it. So, it’s so funny.
I liked the little lyrical tweak from little green man to little green leaf. We all know that’s what Ray Davies was alluding to, so I commend ya for that.
(laughter) I didn’t realize I changed the lyrics. (laughter) No, I’m joking.
The Right Thing is the 2nd track on the album. Tell us a bit about that song and why the band settled on it for the album title.
It’s kind of fun to keep asking yourself if you are doing the right thing or maybe it’s not fun, but you’re kind of having the internal struggle with Heaven and Hell or good and bad or whatever. You’ve got the devil on the shoulder and the Angel on the other. Each time you ask it, you’re looking for truth. Are you doing the right thing? Personally, in the world, are we doing the right thing with the earth? Are we doing the right thing with our friendships? Are we doing the right thing with our families? I like it. We are always on the verge or recession all the time. We’re potentially in trouble. Are we doing the right thing? There’s lots going on to talk about these days, but that statement seems to embrace that. Are we doing the right thing? We just felt like it really grabbed the tone of our time. There’s also a personal quest that we are on as individuals as well. We’ve got to get ourselves together, it does a lot for the energy and the people around us.
I’ll dub you the philosophical Owl over that one.
I don’t know if I can myself the wise owl or not, but I get that name sometimes. (laughter)
John Tempesta sits in on drums for the track All Day. Are the bagpipe and Johnny the only guest spots on the album?
Yeah, our two awesome guests are the bagpipe man Aaron Shaw and Johnny Tempesta, of course from The Cult. We had Billy Duffy on the first record playing on a song called Skyrocket. It was a ballad that came out awesome. So it was just kind of natural that since I eat, sleep, and perform with Johnny. I was like, “Hey Johnny, would you do this bit on the record?” He’s like, “Totally.” It was a lot of fun and we did it at Jason’s studio downtown. I try making an experience. The song is not only the song, but it’s the energy of the thing you provided at the session. You brought some nice coffee, (laughter) who knows, but I like to set a tone. I like incense and candles and stuff like that when I’m recording. This was just about having a great friend around. The rhythm section of The Cult was there too, which is cool. Very exciting for us and I think Jason had a blast too. Of course Johnny killed it. You’re hearing Johnny and Dan at the end of that song. If you can stand in between those guys and still survive, you’re a strong man. Because that’s a lot of drumming. (laughter)
I see a couple concerts planned leading up to the release of the album. Is touring a difficult animal to tackle with this band?
No, not necessarily. We’re on the verge of potentially opening up for bands. We’re talking with agents and management and such. It’s truly amazing how this stuff keeps happening for us. There’s a demand for it and people are excited about the record, they’re talking about it. A lot of people say that rock is dead, but I think if you are creative as an artist, that’s kind of ridiculous to say that.
The Cult’s off for a bit and I think there is strong potential for us to go out and tour and stuff like that. There’s breaks back and forth, but the Owl thing has been consistent all the way through. So, now we’re doing a stint of shows on the East Coast in New York and then the West Coast. Then we’re going to start announcing all those dates real soon. There will be a couple weeks worth of stuff coming up. There’s a lot of things brewing up, so we’ll see which works best for us.
I want to re-visit the first album for a second. You released an intriguing video for Pusher. I want to revisit that one, because I’m really curious who you worked with on that one. Also, can we expect to see an artistic video from this album?
Sounds like we are going to have at least two, maybe three different things for the new record. We’re going to have a couple announcements coming up, dare I say, about the first video. Then, we hope to have a couple more. The Pusher video was done with a Batman illustrator and that’s where that artwork came from. It was tying in our Owl character, which we’ve been alluding to on the first record. It was something that we could have a lot of fun with, in the comic format. The superhero format. Dan, Jason and I often talked about a story that could go along with this sort of thing. Maybe our next record could be something that came along with a comic book.
I’ve been working a lot of different ideas over the years with the concepts, but that’s kind of the seed planter in the first video there for Pusher. It really lays out what the band does. We’re a little sonically different with the upright bass in that song. I wrote this song a few years ago now. I was doing the Ozzy Osbourne record, Under Cover, and I think Ozzy was fresh on my mind. I wrote a few songs with Marti Frederiksen, the Aerosmith producer. Marti and I were having a good time and we were very spontaneously writing when we put together Pusher.
I’m sure Ozzy was still fresh on the brain, since I was doing his record. I think there is a little tinge of Ozzy in there. We got to do the video. It’s all perfect for that sort of almost vampirey character concept that we sort of unveiled there. So, on the new record, there’s that sort of undertone of what we can develop as far as our imagery. That’s going to be fun live to have some more of that on this next run. We’re going to be doing different kinds of shows, all of the time.
We may even play acoustic like we just played on Playboy radio. We did an interview with Sirius radio, which was a little nerve wracking. We knew it was seven million people and it was just playing songs acoustic. So, I had my Martin acoustic bass guitar, Jason had his acoustic guitar and we just stood there right on the mics in the studio and it came off great. So, we’re open to doing lots of different stuff with this band. A little acoustic run could be cool. Just go sign the CD and show up in stores or whatever.
I have to say that Dan is a pretty intimidating character in that video.
(laughter) Yeah, he is. Dan’s a great guy and he’s really one of the best drummers out there. He’s also a performer and he has a lot of stuff that he brings to the table. Dan and I go back to when we were just kids, so I remember when we first got together and jammed. My family was gracious enough to have me play downstairs. We moved the furniture and set up amps and a drum kit. The band that I had going at the time, Dan stopped by, we had just met. He was a drummer, so we were like, everything is set up at this point, let’s just jam. So we did and it must have been this super epic thing. My brothers started coming downstairs, my Mom and Dad came downstairs, our girlfriends at the time came in and we had a little audience going. We finally ended and they were like, “Wow. Hi.” We were like, “Hey.” Everyone was like, “Where did that come from? When did you guys do this and who is this guy in the house playing drums like that?” So we just jammed as a band and there was this jawdrop kind of moment. Even he and I were like, “What the heck did just happen?” There’s moments in life where you know people and Dan and I have that. It’s a great thing to have him.
Alright, I always try to end on a random question. It’s a bit of a tradition around here now. So, I suppose you can’t escape it. I won’t be too tough on ya today though. You’ve been a great interview. If you had to choose yourself or one of your Owl bandmates to be cast as a James Bond villian; Who would it be, what would their name be and why?
Oh wow. I would go with Dan, because we were just actually talking him. He’s appropriately fitting, because he can be very sinister looking with his facial expressions. You would just have to go with like Dan the Man, because it sounds like he’d be a hitman. He might have a side name of like Danimal. I know that’s kind of cliché, but it would just be so fun to see and be rolling over laughing in the movie theater. I would love that.
I figured Dan with his hat was a no-brainer for an Odd Job follow up character.
Yeah. I would like to cast Dan in every movie that we can get him in. Let’s just do this as much as possible. (laughter)
Chris, I really appreciate you taking the time to speak with us today. The site and myself wish you guys absolutely nothing but the best. Hopefully, we can get caught up at a show sometime soon.
Check out the video for Pusher by Owl below: