Was introduced to OWL at Gotham Rocks. Just seeing that upright bass Chris Wyse was doing sound check with got my attention; it said hello to Gramercy Theater. And as soon as they opened the show, it was apparent the trio was three times kick-some-ass. Chris is doing double duty leading this band alongside touring with a little known outfit called The Cult. You may also remember him from the Metallica doc ‘Some Kind of Monster.’ But that’s just one little fact amidst the number of works he’s done over the years. Same is true for the remaining members.
Drummer Dan Dinsmore – who also runs the band’s record label – had met Wyse when they were both 16, eventually forming EastWall; they separated when Wyse moved to L.A. The two friends reunited to form OWL and invited Jason Mezilis, an L.A. veteran to complete the trio.
OWL is a new band, yes, but each member brings a vast collection of influences and experiences to the band. The sound is in the pudding!!
JM: Most everyone on the Greek side of my family has an innate musical talent. My father was a classical guitarist, and is still heavily involved with choral music. My parents actually met while my father was giving my mom guitar lessons!
My earliest musical influence (aside from The Muppet Show) was legendary pianist Vladimir Horowitz. Even at the age of 4 or 5, I remember watching him on the TV and being transfixed with amazement at how he would just bang his hands down on the piano and it would sound so big and beautiful. Piano was the first instrument I took up – before guitar. Early exposure to traditional Greek dance music also was influential in terms of the ease with which I have come to appreciate performing and composing within odd-meter derivations.
G: Do you remember the album that had the biggest impact on you?
JM: If I had to pick one, it would be 1984 by Van Halen. That record was what inspired me take the big step from air guitar on a tennis racket in the living room, to doing the real thing.
G: What is your primary guitar now? What effects/pedals do you use?
CW: For OWL, I use a left-handed Antoria Les Paul knock-off – it’s one of the mid-70’s Japanese models that’s similar to the well-crafted Ibanez “lawsuit” series of the same period. I got it for a steal but spent 3X as much on setup and a re-fretting job with my fantastic tech Greg Coates at Future Music in Los Angeles, and now it plays like a dream.
My FX / pedal set-up is pretty minimal. For amp distortion, I use any decent old Marshall along with a Cry Baby wah, an old yellow Ibanez flanger, simple delay and volume boost pedals (for solos) and a tuner – all nailed to a small piece of wood.
G: What one tip, each, would you give to beginners on a) practice b) songwriting c) recording and d) performing live.
Practice: Turn on the radio and play along with everything that comes along, from rhythm, solo, whatever, and make parts up. Think of alternate melodies that aren’t there, and play those too. As a beginner, the most important thing is to make it fun because the joy will inspire you to develop your skills to the point where you can get serious.
Songwriting: Always try and remove yourself from what you’re coming up with. Ask yourself, “If I heard this on the radio, what would happen next in the song that would make we want to turn it up?” and then try and find that. Keep it interesting, which doesn’t mean complicated. Simple shit can be the best.
Recording: Just do it! The more you do, the better you learn what your skills and gifts are, where your special talents lie, and how to deliver them consistently. And you learn how to ask for what you need in the studio to be comfortable, which is key.
Performing Live: Visualize. See yourself on the stage before you get there so when you step out in front of the crowd, it’s not a surprise, and you’re comfortable. You want to be as at home in front of the audience as you are playing by yourself in the bedroom.
G: Recommend 3 essential albums all guitar players should listen to.
JM: Van Halen’s Fair Warning, The Police’s Regatta De Blanc, and either Steve Vai’s Passion and Warfare or Joe Satriani’s Flying In A Blue Dream. Get ready for staggering technicality married to melody that will leave you breathless.
CW: I’m 100 percent Irish and born in NY. Traditional Irish music and Classical/Opera was very much a part of my youth. My parents and brothers are still huge music fans.
G: How did Owl come together, and what different muscles are you getting to flex by writing for and playing as a trio?
CW: OWL is the only outlet there is for our kind of music. I’m playing upright bass with effects and singing songs that have a lot of musical experimentation, but still hold a songcraft focus. Playing in a trio makes you max out your talents.
G: Noticed you play an upright bass guitar on stage with a mean distortion. Can you talk a little about the bass, and the distorted sound you’re known for?
CW: My upright electric is a Messenger/John Knutson Luthiery. I’ve worked to develop my over-drive tone over the years and it really is a tube amp-driven kind of sound. It’s full, yet clean for fast passages.
G: What one tip, each, would you give beginners on a) practice b) songwriting c) recording and d) performing live.
CW: a)Practice with a goal in mind b)Write from a place in the heart c)just plug in and record live d)playing live is a natural thing and shouldn’t be overthought
G: Recommend 3 essential albums all bassists should listen to.
CW: Iron Maiden–Number of the Beast Black Sabbath-Black Sabbath Led Zeppelin-Led Zep 2