Weird Owl refuse to be pigeonholed. For seven years now, this Brooklyn-based band have been beguiling audiences with an intoxicating blend of psychedelic mysticism and catchy good-time rock. Simultaneously grounded and extraterrestrial, the band are goofily sincere, like a good friend on acid dropping profundities and non sequiturs in the same sentence.
Their new record, ‘Build Your Beast a Fire,’ flows like a classic Floyd or Spirit album, with alchemical themes, pastoral interludes, synthesizer experiments, and explosions of rock. Like harmonizing druids from outer space, Weird Owl take listeners on a magical mystery trip deep inside our planet in order to arrive at theirs. Rooted by Kenneth Cook’s hooky basslines and adorned by John Cassidy’s keyboard and synth work, the songs seamlessly incorporate elements of 60s psychedelia, 70s roots rock à la CSNY or The Allman Brothers, and post-modern sensibilities.
We asked vocalist/guitarist Trevor Tyrrell to give us a guided tour of ‘Build Your Beast a Fire,’ and boy did he ever. Scroll down to hear the album in its entirety and read a blow-by-blow description of how it came to be and what it might mean.
When we started work on this record, we very specifically discussed making an album, as opposed to simply recording a collection of songs that we were able to perform with some degree of competence in a studio. We wanted the thought to be continuous, but also to express it with enough dynamism to keep things interesting for the listener. Our intention was to have these songs belong together in ways that went beyond the mere fact that they inhabit the same musical document. Having said that, let’s get down to brass tacks on a track-by-track basis to see what the individual components bring to the whole.
“No Time Nor No Space”
This is one of a few tracks on the album that I recorded one cold autumn day on an 8-track in my apartment. We had a lot of discussion as to which song would start off the record, and this was a latecomer to the conversation, but it seemed to nestle itself nicely into that leadoff spot.
As a song, it can get on base and get things started. Maybe track two will bunt it over? Or will it swipe second and be in scoring position by the time track two steps up to the plate? Both are options, and we liked this versatility to start things off.
“Up from the Root”
Pretty soon into our recording process, we began to get a serious notion that this number was destined to be a number one summer jam. It kind of had that Jane’s Addiction thing going on with it from the get-go, but when Ken added that big Brit-poppy hook to it, the song gained a strange appeal all its own.
Initially, the song was negatively inspired by all the ravaging forest fires that were happening at the same time we were in LA a few years ago. But as many things do, the song mutated. It is a mutant, but a mutant based in the imagery of trees and fire. Lyrically, it serves as the perfect mode of introducing some of the themes and concepts that the rest of the record is built around.
The title of this song is nothing more than a slick abbreviation for a topic in which I am deeply interested: astral projection.
When I sing songs, most of the time there are very specific visualizations that I use to give the songs a clearer psychic identity. What started off as an almost involuntary act of imagination has developed into a pretty sophisticated mind method. By attaching a visual component to the songs on an imaginary plane, I feel as if I can transmit more precise sensory information, even if it is not immediately apparent on the surface. I once compared this process to tying ribbons around a snake that was then let loose into the listener’s sphere of perception.
With this song, there is a steadily ascending point of view, extending away from the planet and into the realms above. Often times, I see friends’ growing or recently-born babies and wish them well on their new cycle.
“Tiny Sleeping Animals”
This song was another of the home 8-track ditties. I initially planned to record this number on Halloween night costumed in full witch regalia in order to add an unseen (but hopefully palpable) sense of the sinister to an otherwise perfectly sweet and lovely tune.
“Mirrors in the Mud”
The musical impetus for this song was a jokingly half-tempo cover of the Jimi Hendrix tune “Crosstown Traffic.” If you hear our song, remove the words “You plant just what you please…” and begin replacing them with “You jump in front of my car…,” then you will get the drift of the cover.
There is a definite sense of the dense, lush vegetation of the forest floor in this tune. The job Ken and Justin Rice did mixing on this tune is one of the high points for me, as it enabled so much to be heard in just the right way while so much is happening sonically. You really get the sense of growth and decay intertwining in deep ways. Darkness and murkiness pervade, but there are periodic points of light — mirrors lodged in mud, offering glimpses of slivers of the sky. Not true images, though — reflections. Reflections being artificially continued paths of light.
Parts of this song remind me of the odd isolated swampiness of a Creedence tune. Check out Robert Smithson, too.
Dude — this one’s heavy. Sometimes you need a little crunchiness. Sometimes blood must be fed back to the Earth. Maybe you should check out what sacrifices accomplish on an occult level. But as the word “parallax” suggests, there might be differing points of view at play here. I also think about the abyss, or DA’ATH.
John Cassidy’s synth blasts on this one are mind-melting. J. David Nugent, who was not with us when we recorded the album but who is now very much a member of the band, also lays down some seriously sick synth textures on this one live. He is also able to add an extra vocal dimension to many songs, which is immense for us.
“Build Your Beast a Fire II”
Since we were so audacious as to have two “title tracks” on our record, we thought that there needed to be some difference between them. This one is the shorter, more organ-heavy version. I remember Ken calling me from a session and telling me it sounded like Deep Purple after Cassidy had laid down the keys.
I like that the two title tracks do not happen in order chronologically, and are really only snapshots of songs rather than bloated carcasses full of overblown ideas, which is the danger in naming a song the same thing as your album.
This is one of two amazing instrumentals on the record that Ken made. As I mentioned, we wanted the record to have a dynamic to it that was more than just 8 or so rock songs heard in a row, and these synth pieces were created to that end.
For a while, they had no titles or were referred to as “Untitled,” but I wanted them to have more of an evocative identity. I have always been a fan of surreal song titles that seem to have absolutely no relation to the lyrics, except to give them another avenue of realizing themselves (perhaps no one was better at this than the late, great Captain Beefheart).
Anyhow, just read the title of this piece, imagine the feeling that seeing a saucer-shaped shadow would create within you and then you will hear the music that much more, in my opinion.
“Skin the Dawn”
Easily the most esoteric of our tracks on this record. I feel as if I could write volumes on the information contained in this song, but I won’t (sparing us all). I am not too interested in being overly didactic, especially when it comes to lyrics. I do not want to deprive anyone of the immediacy of his or her feelings and interpretations when hearing our music. I can point you to the meadow, but you’re going to have to graze on your own.
This is just one of those songs where the content came pouring out and I had to work my damnedest to create a structure and boundaries in which it could be contained. To this end, I built certain walls that might be left-of-center for a lot of folks, but I feel like the resultant cathedral ultimately benefits.
In my opinion, this song contains some of the most tasteful guitar Jon Rudd has laid down for the band. Also, the strange rhythm as propelled by Sean’s drumming, really gives this song as sense of intriguing uneasiness.
Obviously, one of the main themes of the record lyrically is the integration of opposites, and I do not think any other track so clearly attempts to illustrate this concept. Maybe even to a slightly heavy-handed degree.
Ken and Justin did a serious number on the mixing on this song as well. When I first heard how a lot of the instruments drop out during the first verse, I was quite shocked; only having heard the song performed in a “live” environment, I had no expectations to hear it any differently. That is one of the main lessons of this recording: hear it differently, make it interesting, figure out how to play it live last.
“Horn Antler Tusk”
The second of Ken’s two synth instrumentals. Hauntingly brilliant. The title came from me listening carefully to the piece and actually feeling the various bones that can grow from a skull as they began to protrude from my own cranium on a psychic level.
“Mountains on Top of Buried Stars”
I don’t know why I would write a song in a key that can be so difficult for me to sing in, let alone why I would go to the lengths of capoing up to get to that key, and yet I did it on this song. Damn G.
Anyhow, this is a cool tune we originally recorded as a demo at Jon Rudd’s folks’ summer house but in the dead of February, which is slightly strange, because I can see a lot of solar light radiating through this number, although some of it does get blocked by the forest canopy. It has an old-timey, back-to-the-country feel in some ways, which is probably responsible for some of the Crazy Horse comparisons we receive on a fairly regular basis.
I recorded this instrumental in my house on the eight track. It feels as if it might belong in the cosmic pantheon of The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s ‘Their Satanic Majesty’s Second Request’-related numbers. Hands down (in my book), that is the best psychedelic record of my generation. Or at the very least, the one that I have had the most psychedelic experiences to. The title refers to the incubation of a hypnotic tension of an interstellar variety.
“What We See What We Know”
The final installment of the trilogy of acoustic songs I recorded at home. In preparation for making this album, I spent several weeks recording minute-long demos on my computer and e-mailing them to the band in order to see what songs they would like to pursue further. The initial version of “What We See What We Know” came from these sessions, and the one on the album is only slightly different from the demo.
“Build Your Beast a Fire I”
At last, we reach the main title track of the album. This is a total “Toys in the Attic” riff that turns into shamanic exultation, lit by bonfire.
When we had first recorded the basic tracks for the album in Vermont with Justin Pizzoferrato, we drove back to New York narrating fictional car commercial advertisement over this song. Just think about it: sprinkle the words “dual-hemi,” “V6,” “torque” or “rear wheel anti-lock brakes” over this riff, and you’ve got pure sales gold — which is an interesting point considering the shadow-side elements embedded in this song. Is my personal disgust at cop-out/sell-out bands really just a repressed side of my own self? Help me find out, Madison Avenue…
Buy Build Your Beast a Fire on iTunes.