I got to sit down with Arizona folk/indie band, Owl & Penny, after their Los Angeles show at the Guitar Merchant on November 23rd. Owl & Penny–brainchild of founding member Ryan Osterman (pictured above, far left)–now includes Garrett Tretta (percussion), Derek Marquez (bass, background vocals), and Dillon Morris (guitar, background vocals). After the release of the Stolen Silver EP in early 2009 and the Fever Dreams LP later that year, the band has finally hit the road to promote the truly amazing follow-up LP, Milk and Sugar.
How were your LA and San Diego shows, considering this was your first mini-tour out here?
Ryan: They were amazing. They were really awesome.
Derek: Lots of good support.
Ryan: Seemed like everyone was really into it. Really interesting lineups. A couple seemed like they were punk rock shows.
Derek: I was really pumped about that.
Ryan: People are taking Owl & Penny really well. Maybe it’s because it’s a little tangent from what’s going on [during the rest of the show]. It’s been really cool.
Now that you’ve released a lot of new material, what are a couple of your favorite songs to play live?
Ryan: I guess all of them. Owl & Penny kind of started off as little acoustic songs in my room, so having these guys play with me just makes it that much more fun. I like playing “Harvest in the Sun” a lot. It’s a song that’ll be on our new EP.
Playing as many hometown shows as you do, you’re exposed to lots of local music. How’s the Arizona folk scene?
Ryan: Yeah, it’s pretty much not really there anymore.
Garrett: Well there are a couple people, like Justin Moody, but he doesn’t play anymore.
Ryan: Obviously, Dylan Pratt is doing his thing. He’s really awesome.
Dillon: Maybe nonexistent was a bit of an exaggeration.
Ryan: There’s a good amount of stuff going on, but if it is, it’s mainly at a lot of open mics and coffee shops. But in my opinion, it’s actually a lot cooler because now the scene has evolved into being really accepting of everything. Now, we play shows with punk bands, we play shows with bands like Sundressed (that’s kind of pop-punk), or we play with really mellow acts like Dylan Pratt.
I think that the scene there now is a really big open-minded community. As far as music goes, people aren’t going to leave the show because it’s not what they’re feeling. It’s actually a pretty strong community. I think we’re really fortunate. It’s not like other places where it’s hard to get shows and people might not help you out. I think everyone in Arizona wants to see everyone else succeed.
Garrett: There’s a lot of stuff in Tempe.
Dillon: I will say this: the community of bands is very tight, but it’s hard to get people out. There just aren’t a ton of people that come to shows. As opposed to here, where it’s really refreshing to have a lot of people attentive.
Ryan: I think that in a lot of the places we play, they’ll have a bar [in the venue], so sometimes people get distracted. They might not be 110 percent into the music. But we do play some really cool shows. We have the Crescent Ballroom, which is a really awesome venue. The people that work there are really awesome and really nice, and people go there to see shows. The sound is great there, so there’s a lot to experience.
Dillon: There are a lot of things unspoken for. Things that just don’t get as much attention as they should.
What are a couple of your favorite bands to tour or play shows with?
Ryan: This is our first time out of town so we’d love to tour. Obviously, Sundressed. We share members with that band, so shows are always a lot of fun. We also have good friends in Playboy Manbaby and Dylan Pratt.
Derek: And Northern Hustle.
Ryan: Yeah, we just played with Northern Hustle. They’re actually pretty new, but they are just incredible.
Dillon: We didn’t even know them; they just came out of nowhere.
Ryan: They’re doing something new. It’s pretty neat. Those guys are great. And like we said, it’s a pretty tight-knit community. Bands all hang out fairly regularly.
Garrett: Most of the bands in Tempe are pretty much friends. We all kind of know each other. We’ll see each other at shows and there’s no awkwardness. We know pretty much most of the bands, and we all come to hang out. We have a nice Tempe thing going.
Ryan: And we all live within five miles of each other.
Garrett: We have so many bands within Tempe. It’s like a circle, almost.
Ryan: Before I forget, there’s also a band called Where Are All the Buffalo? (unanimous approval) It’s a friend of mine named Kristina Moore. And she usually has a full band behind her. Violin and glockenspiel. It’s really soft. She plays multiple instruments.
Dillon: She’s one of the sweetest, most beautiful girls I’ve ever met.
Garrett: With the softest voice.
Dillon: I saw her at a music festival going on in Bisbee, Arizona, and she was amazing. She’s my favorite.
Ryan: If you listen to some of her stuff on Bandcamp, it’s incredible.
Seems like a nice little Arizona family.
Ryan: Yeah, we all just want to see each other succeed.
Outside of your local circle, what musicians or artists influence you personally?
Ryan: Personally, I really like the mentality of the frontman of letlive. Their singer, Jason, did an interview on Reddit. He’s just so humble about it.
Garrett: He’s very well-spoken. He has something to say to everyone. He wanted to start a movement, rather than just a band. He’s trying to get people on the right track. Put them in the right positive mindset. Basically, “Fuck the bullshit. Just be happy, and do your thing. Live your life.”
Derek: …and let live.
Ryan: What I took from it was that, especially with how successful they are, he’s really got a good head on his shoulders. I’d say, after reading that, he really motivated me to act in the same way.
Garrett: His energy on stage, too…best frontman in the entire world.
Derek: We saw them this year at Warped Tour for the first time ever.
Garrett: I was hooked after that. We just listened to letlive. for the rest of the day.
Ryan: They’re coming to Pub Rock in a week or two, so hopefully we’ll catch them.
Ryan: I’ve never seen them before. They seem really cool. They’re just doing the right thing.
Garrett: And at such a young age.
I’m pleasantly surprised. I never thought I’d hear you guys talk about letlive. or anything heavy.
Ryan: I mean, Glassjaw is one of my favorite bands in the entire world.
Garrett: Yeah, Ryan and I have a pretty metal background.
Dillon: And Derek and I listen to Michael Jackson.
Derek: We all listen to a big mixture of everything, honestly.
Some of your song titles are in Icelandic, and you seem to be entranced with that language. What prompted you start learning it?
Ryan: I’ve always been obsessed with Iceland. Every picture I’ve ever seen is just hauntingly beautiful. I feel like I must’ve lived there in a past life or something. I’m obviously a humongous fan of Jonsi and Sigur Ros. It’s cool to just be able to be exposed to a language that’s so aesthetically pleasing, and I like to hear it. It just seems beautiful to me…in my opinion, it’s the most beautiful language.
Would you say that your music is somehow spiritual for you?
Ryan: Yeah, I try to convey that in the music. I’ve always been a firm believer that there’s something higher to whatever this existence is. It’s just always made sense. And this kind of writing allows me to tap into whatever’s going on in my mind that I may think about, but that I don’t really process a lot. It just lets me hone in on my thoughts. How does it tie into my own personal dilemmas or emotions? Happiness, loss, heartbreak, or whatever it is, it’s always helped me bridge the gap and make sense of it all.
Ryan: for me, it’s just nature in general. I feel like that’s just the craziest art form. It just spontaneously creates itself forever. Even just seeing pictures of forests or fjords is amazing. Stuff like that, that’s not man-made. Naturally occurring things just leave me completely in awe.
Derek: I completely agree. Even capturing that energy is crazy to me. I’ve been watching a lot of the Planet Earth series. I get exactly what Ryan is saying. It’s nature but it’s captured on film, so you can experience it while you’re at home, which isn’t the same but it still allows you to see the whole world. It’s really humbling to see how much more is out there and how much more opportunity there is. A lot comes to me through nature.
And there’s so much precision in nature. The slightest change in the constants could’ve changed the way everything turned out.
Ryan: Yeah, if the slightest little variable were off, things wouldn’t be the way they are.
Derek: This planet is incredibly accommodating to everything that inhabits it.
When listening to Stolen Silver, I imagine being around a campfire with some friends. When listening to Fever Dreams, I imagine being in a forest early in the day. What’s the ideal setting you picture to accompany Milk and Sugar?
Ryan: Well, I think it changes from song to song. Definitely convinced there’s a forest or field setting sometimes. As far as time of day, sometime around twilight. Around that time of day where you know that the day’s over, but there’s still a lot of night to get through.
Even the album cover portrays that.
Ryan: That was actually taken just on a camera phone by a guy I know in England. It was really foggy, and he was posting pictures on his Facebook. I asked if he could go out one morning, take some pictures, and send me some. And I was absolutely captivated by them. His name is Danny Griffith and, like I said, it was just on a camera phone. I like that the picture is kind of blurry, but you can still see the tree line and everything. I think that picture does a really good job of encompassing the environment and the nature of those songs.
What would you say is the lyrical and instrumental progression from the old EP’s to Milk and Sugar?
Ryan: It’s definitely changing a lot with the new EP. It’s a bit darker. But like I said, I wrote the songs on Stolen Silverwhen I was 18. I feel like I was a completely different person. And even earlier, I had a project before this called The Raintree. I was writing those songs and hanging out with some friends who were really big into traditional folk music…and that’s what was inspiring me at the time. I got a banjo and was excited to do something with it. But lyrically, I was a kid, and I was trying to figure things out. And I still am.
I still feel like a kid who’s trying to figure things out. But I feel like I at least have a better grasp on what I’m trying to get out of my music. Just the instrumentation alone tells a very important part of the story, as well as the lyrics and melody.
I guess you could say I’m figuring out myself on some kind of spiritual or mental level now. It’s getting darker. It’s definitely darker music, but even though it’s somber, there’s an element of hope to it. I want it to be very uplifting, even if it’s dark. I want it to dig into those places that you might not necessarily want to dig, but you know you have to.
So what can we expect from the new EP?
Ryan: The songs are written. We’ve recorded a few of them with Derek. It’s in the process right now, and I’m really happy. They’re 10 times bigger than the stuff on Milk and Sugar. They’re really moving, at least as far as the tempo goes. I’m messing around with different things and different time signatures. I think they’re really nice-sounding and pretty, and I hope other people will think that, too.
You can pick up Milk and Sugar on the Owl & Penny Bandcamp. And here is their newest music video for “Candy Teeth” to tide you over until you can see them live. Be on the lookout for upcoming tour dates! You definitely don’t want to miss these guys.
–Shirley Leslie (interview/photos)
Owl & Penny frontman Ryan Osterman pictured in top image, far left.