We’re pleased to bring you the premiere of Owlbiter’s new song “Clap” (listen below). The track is taken from their forthcoming album Stud Farm, which is scheduled to be released on August 10, 2018.
About the band:
You’d never know that Owlbiter – the latest project from Brooklyn-based musician Matt Cascella – is the product of a guy who grew up playing the drums. After all, Owlbiter’s new album, Stud Farm, is full of gently plucked acoustic guitars and ukuleles, drowsy brass and the occasional keyboard atmospherics, but very little percussion. As Cascella explains, that was a result of the keep-it-simple approach he sought when Owlbiter was in its nascent stages.
“The band that I’d been playing in for five, six years crumbled fast,” Cascella explains. “There were a lot of unfinished ideas still kicking around in my head. I didn’t want to go into a studio and make it a big ordeal. I didn’t really have a band, I just had some oddball ideas, and I wanted to keep things scrappy. Get a good buddy of mine to come over and not think too much – just have at it, keep it really bare bones. There’s a trombone but, other than that, it’s pretty much bare minimum, which is how I wanted to do it.”
The good buddy he mentions is James Downes, who engineered and produced Stud Farm, and played guitar. Cascella wrote and sung the songs, which were embellished at times by Jeff Doyle (keyboards), Jimmy O’Donnell (trombone) and Cascella’s fiancé Jen Cordery (backing vocals).
The ramshackle but intimate environment in which the album was recorded became an essential part of its charm. “Most of Stud Farm was tracked in my apartment in Brooklyn and the rest in James’ apartment,” Cascella says. “We dealt with construction going on in both apartments at the time, which was pretty comical. There’s a playground outside, so occasionally you’ll hear children cheering and crying. There are a lot of accidental, horrendous sounds most producers would frown upon—fortunately, we weren’t aiming for sterile perfection because the record is definitely far from that. People are always like, ‘I did this bedroom recording,’ and it sounds like Mark Ronson produced it. It’s like ‘Where’s the bedroom?’ So we wanted to stick to our guns and not overdo it, just keep the songs really simple.”
Stud Farm was influenced by artists like John Prine, Ivor Cutler & Harry Nilsson, who often tell stories that lead with sense of humor first and then sneak the pathos in there without the listener even realizing. “It’s probably a defense mechanism, but I have a hard time with being too serious and melodramatic about things,” Cascella says. “And I think my favorite stuff, whether it’s film, books or music, is straddling the line between comedy and sadness.”
Owlbiter provides Cascella the perfect context for this sensibility to shine. Many of the songs feel as if they’re floating around weightless thanks to the absence of a traditional drum kit. Cascella’s unique vocal timbre tends to twist his melodies toward the wistful even when he’s deriding jerky behavior (“Clap if you’re an asshole” is the album’s first line) or pleading for a little sexual healing (“At Least We’re Naked.”)
Many of the songs on Stud Farm feel like Cascella’s best attempt to drop anchor amidst the waves of madness crashing around our world. “Why’s the ground always shakin? Got me up in a tree,” he wonders on “Bug Eyed Lately.” There are also plenty of moments where his unique gift for off-kilter character sketches shines through, like when he spotlights the woebegone castaways in “Mr. Willow,” the berating father in “Pipsqueak” or the woman caught somewhere between glorious freedom and harrowing isolation in “Roof Of The World.”
Cascella suggests retreating from the manic nature of the everyday, a theory espoused in the touching “Make Breakfast.” “The song is about these next chapters that are unraveling,” he says. “My friend’s father died. My other friends just had a baby. With the hustle and bustle all around us, it’s just trying to slow time down. Even if you’re not in a city – just cool out and take it easy for a second. I have a pet peeve with people who say, ‘I’m so busy.’ I probably do it, too. But there’s no way we’re all that busy. Not with everyone blowing so many hours on Netflix and social media.”
Stud Farm is a charming, subtly moving record. Cascella sees it as part of a progression for him as an artist. “I think that comes from being a little bit more comfortable with the rawness and nakedness of the record,” he explains. “With my old projects, it always turned into a production. Not that this wasn’t a production, but it was liberating as far as, ‘Ok, I can make something on the scrappier side that still has heart and soul and doesn’t need all this trickery and crazy songwriting. And that kind of simplicity is really where I’m at.”
Top photo by Dave Adams