Team Owl has a penchant for playing music under a full moon. In fact, the band’s debut album, Simulacra, was laid down at Missoula’s Habbilis Studios during the harvest moon last September, mostly in a calculated attempt to reap crazed inspiration during the three days they had in the studio before a planned permanent relocation to Portland, Ore.
“It just seems like there’s always a weird, good tension in the air at a full moon,” says bass player Jay Ward.
The session, perhaps in part because of that full moon, rendered more than Team Owl bargained for: the trio surfaced with a fully mastered experimental rock collection as well as an offer for a comprehensive deal with Habbilis’ record label, including free range of the studio’s recording facilities and full promotional support for the release of the upcoming CD. The new label—Habbilis was launched in January by Cameron Kerr and Blake Bickel—offered all this, of course, only if Team Owl agreed to remain in Missoula and not move to Portland. Given those amenities, band members admit it was an easy decision.
“It’s a privilege,” says Ward of being the first (and so far only) band thus far to be signed by Habbilis. “For somebody to have that much faith in us…it took a little while to get used to it.”
Team Owl may be a relatively new band—they started playing together this time last summer—but Ward and guitarist Gilbert Gilderoy are far from greenhorns in the Missoula rock scene. Gilderoy’s first band, Orgone Box, has the claim to fame of once having opened for Pearl Jam in Missoula in the early ’90s, back when local bands got few such breaks. Ward has milled through several local rock bands including Ever Since the Accident, which also involved Team Owl’s drummer Chris LaCamera.
When Gilderoy and Ward began writing songs together and tinkering with improvisational fills, they say the practice elicited a sort of “emotional authenticity” they hadn’t reached with prior bands. The result, despite the band’s use of crunchy self-descriptions that include words like “organic” and “jamming,” is undeniably in the tradition of early Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin. It’s a sound they say was cemented during their first significant live show, at Helena’s Memorial Park.
“The sun was going down and the rain clouds were coming in,” Gilderoy says, laughing, realizing his description already sounds over the top, but going with it. “And it was one of those moments where we realized this is it, “[we’ve] affected the collective consciousness of the world.”
Ward adds, “We felt like we just tried to kick the universe’s ass” during the seminal set.
Team Owl is philosophical about their music, and they seem to revere the weirdness of everyday life. They live and practice on the far western edge of town, where the highway drowns out their amps and where they’re bordered by a multitude of off-the-beaten-path characters and a cow pasture. They talk a lot about how the quirky setup directly influences the continued development of the Team Owl sound.
“We try to take the filters off and let whatever fragments of our life at the time come through,” Ward says. “We kind of just threw the manual out of how we functioned in other bands before.”
That can be a risky approach when applied to live shows, where Team Owl often invites other musicians to sit in, and rarely sticks to practiced song structures.
“It’s definitely not that kind of jazz improvisation where we’re all such technically skilled musicians that we’re able to do it—it’s all mostly emotional,” Gilderoy explains. “You’re playing to the limit of your ability, but not consciously aware of it; you’re really only consciously aware of, ‘Oh man, I’m way out here on the edge. Is it gonna work? Am I gonna fall apart?’”
One thing Team Owl seems sure of is that the band will stay in Missoula for awhile. With a studio at their disposal, they’ve already recorded an additional EP (release date to be determined), planned a summer tour and marked out the beginnings of a second full-length album they expect to record in the fall or winter. First, however, they’re focused on their upcoming local CD-release show—Ward jokes it’s “an Owl-bum” party—which they lament will not take place during a full moon. Instead, and perhaps more fittingly for a band celebrating its beginnings, it’ll be performed under a new moon.
Team Owl’s CD release party takes place Friday, May 26, at The Loft above Higgins Alley at 9 PM. $5.