June/July 2014

by Mohamed Hassan

Glass Owls – Turning Darkness Into Light

by Mohamed Hassan

Glass Owls – Turning Darkness Into Light

The passage of time has whittled Glass Owls down to a core duo of Tomas Nelson and Anthony Metcalf, both songwriters, vocalists and guitarists. They still see themselves as a band, and soon after talking with Mohamed Hassan the pair headed off to play their first international stage, at The Great Escape festival in Brighton, England. It would be one of the first gigs in support of the release of their debut album, which they’ve evocatively titled ‘Out From The Darkness’.

‘And action, Wayne.’ A man in an aged Elvis suit and giant gold cross on a chain steps out from behind the curtains. Once the music starts he instantly launches into a hearty performance, complete with pelvic thrusts and air guitar.

The song is called Tired Of The Internet and, ironically, perhaps only those committed to its use will recognise the urban legend of a man; Wayne Anderson: Singer of Songs. Watching him swagger along to the bouncy chorus about girls and addiction, you may be forgiven for missing the fact he’s singing about pornography.

The video is for the foot-tappingly poppy first single by Glass Owls, off their debut album, and it’s a stark contrast to the pair who sit in front of me, cool and reserved, wearing dark sunglasses, cigarettes resting in their hands. Their bags are packed, and Tomas Nelson and Anthony Metcalf are only hours away from setting off on their first European tour. What I want to know is how they managed to get Anderson to be in the video for their first single (we’ll get to the porn later). They both laugh knowingly.

“We just called him up,”” says Metcalf. “We talked to him about the song, and he felt quite taken with the lyrics, because there’s a lot of stuff about him on the internet that he doesn’t read.””

If nothing else, it was a great way to grab people’s attention with Glass Owls having been off the radar for so long. Given the four year absence since the release of ‘Dead Love’, their David Parker-produced EP, the album title, ‘Out From The Darkness’, also works as an apt description of the band’s re-emergence onto the music scene.

In many ways it’s a different band from that introductory EP. What began as a four-piece has been sifted down to the minds of Nelson and Metcalf. After a series of members came and went, they decided it was time to set something in stone and take the project in a more serious direction.

“I guess it’s the process of streamlining when you’re in a band,”” Metcalf explains. “When we put the EP out, everyone was in it, but it was more of a hobby. It later became apparent that me and Tom were wanting to take it a bit more seriously.””

The deciding factor was the departure of bassist Chris Pearce, who had been a consistent element of the band since its inception.

“I guess it made sense to just do that, but he’s been a great help in our band. He played all the shitty gigs that we had to do in the past.””

‘Out From The Darkness’ is then the debut album from Glass Owls, a new band who have been working at it for six years. It’s a collection of personal stories, musings from the pair and explorations into often dark ideas about failed relationships, death and yes, pornography. The two-man formula seems to work well. Nelson and Metcalf share a flat and contribute equally to the songwriting.

“If Tom brings me a set of chords or a lyrics, I’ll tell him if its got the potential to be something good, or vice-versa,”” Metcalf explains. “So even at that small stage of songwriting, we’re trying to iron out the bullshit.””

The album itself is a combination of the brand new plus tried-and-tested older songs like This Is How It Ends, re-hashed and given new life. It’s grand in scale and ambition, while retaining the warmth of Nelson’s earnest voice and Metcalf’s careful minimalism. Each song is sharp to the point.

“I think that’s where I draw a bit of influence from the older stuff I listen to, like ’50s and ’60s pop, because they’re quite direct and really simple,”” says Nelson.

Glass Owls Press nzm155Metcalf also lends his vocals to many of the tracks, in particular to the gorgeous Above Ground, a carefully layered ballad, transcending the gloom of the album’s namesake.

God Device is considerably the most daring break-up song on the album, exploring the bizarre excuses people use to end relationships. This one in particular, Nelson admits to being on the receiving end of many a time.

“It’s about how people will come up with an excuse because it’s affecting their relationship with God,”” he explains. “It was just a song that was calling it bullshit… surely if you’re two compatible people that should work out?””

Tired Of The Internet, the pair agree, never really fit in with the rest of the album, but they just simply couldn’t let it go. Aside from serving as an infectiously bouncy lead single, it helps lift the mood after a series of heavy topics. Having said that, the song offers perhaps the most honest and soul-bearing moment of Nelson’s writing here.

“I guess it’s like that with any addiction. At some point you realise what it is – and I’m not even that interested in it. I’m just sick of being reduced to lacking the self control to be able to stop, or be able to give up when it’s been a part of your life for so many years.””

He recalls an interesting encounter he and a friend had with an unwanted discovery when he was younger. Namely, an old suitcase full of porn magazines from the ’80s that was left under a tree on the side of the road. He notes it’s like that online now, where children often stumble on sites without intending to.

“I see it as being really perverse. It’s too accessible for kids, and they shouldn’t be forced to deal with it at such a young age.””

I ask if it’s a coincidence Tired Of The Internet is placed at the end of the album after a series of tracks about break-ups and failed relationships. Assuring it is, Nelson does admit that it had crossed his mind. However the song is understood, we all know the myriad of addictions the internet offers, whether it’s adult entertainment or Facebook stalking.

“I originally thought the song was about Tom scrolling through Facebook and looking at pictures of girls,”” says Metcalf helpfully. “You know, how sometimes you get into those Facebook black holes and end up looking at pictures of people you’ve never met.””

The album was recorded and mixed over the span of a week with the help of Djeisan Suskov, at the dreamy landscape of Revolver Studio in Waiuku, south of Auckland. One great moment in the recording process came on the last day, when sound engineer Alex Salmon laid down an impromptu piano track for God Device in just 15 minutes.

“I remember getting quite emotional, because it was a weird transcendent moment,”” says Metcalf.

After heading to Brighton to play alongside fellow countrymen French For Rabbits, Ezra Vine and Black City Lights at The Great Escape festival, Glass Owls will play a few iconic venues including Koko and The Dublin Castle, with a brief stop in Paris. They plan on a national tour once they return to support the album’s release early in June.

One of the pair’s modest goals is to reach the top of the search engines. Currently, a search of their name results in disturbingly niche images of actual glass owls and how-to videos of glass bongs, the latter of which the two laugh off, not sure what to say about an association with drugs so early in their musical careers. Not yet, anyway.

“It’s definitely not a drug album,”” says Metcalf. “I’d like to write a drug album, but this is not it.””