Catch up with Ryan Harkrider, frontman of Austin-based soul band The Nightowls, and watch the video for "Right Around The Corner" off the band's latest EP, Royal Sessions, out now.
What brought you all together?
Ryan Harkrider: I'm actually the only one born and raised in Austin, everybody else is a transplant. We've got folks from California, Wisconsin, the East coast; basically from all over the U.S. The Austin music scene is really vibrant and all of our guys are studied musicians and all came to Austin to play in bands and play music and, particularly, came to play in soul and Motown bands. All of us grew up listening to this kind of music and fell in love with it and have played in other similar projects and I started the band about 4 1/2 years ago now. I had been in another soul band and I had all of my songs - I wasn't a band leader at that point but I was a songwriter and I had a bunch of songs - that I felt would be good for a project like this, so I started this band with some of the guys that are in the band now and we made our first record and we've been making records and touring ever since, basically.
Do you remember the first song you wrote?
I'm trying to think... It might have been our song, "I Don't Mess With That". I don't really know but, probably, there's a song on our first album, Good As Gold, called "I Don't Mess With That" and it was definitely the first one or two songs.
Which musicians have you been influenced by?
Stevie Wonder, Al Green, Michael Jackson, Prince. I'm a big Beck fan. A lot of '60s and '70s soul and Motown, so I love The Jackson 5; I love The O'Jays; Earth, Wind & Fire. Yeah.
How would you describe your sound to someone who had never heard your music?
Man, you'd think I would have a good answer for this but I don't [laughs]. We're a high energy, soul, RnB, and funk band steeped in the classics - the '60s and '70s - style and presentation but very much a modern twist to it.
Where does your name, The Nightowls, come from?
[Laughs] Honestly, I'm not really sure. Basically, it's just a melding of two things. I really like owls, since this started 15 years ago and I just think they're really interesting and really noble and, of course, they stay up late... There's no meaning behind it necessarily [laughs]. Other than like, I kind of suffer from some pretty real insomnia and nightowls is very fitting for both of those two ideas.
Could you tell us more about your new EP, Royal Sessions?
Sure. Royal Sessions is a continuation of an idea that we had a year and a half ago where we wanted to take the band to classic studios that have made records with some of our heroes. So, about a year and a half ago, we made a record at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, which is where Aretha, Wilson Pickett and, then really, more or less notably - but more importantly - The Swampers, which is the house band that basically played on all of those records that we know and love. So we made a pilgrimage, basically, to this studio - which is still a working studio - and we made an album there. We were very much inspired by that sound, by the room, and we even brought in some of those Swampers who are still alive, some great musicians, to play on our album.
For, Royal Sessions, we wanted to continue this idea and go to a different part of the country and tour to a different style of music and that was Royal Studios in Memphis, Tennessee. Royal Studios, notably, one of our heroes, Al Green, that was the place where he cut and recorded "Love and Happiness" - among many others - which is one of my favorite recordings of all time. We really wanted to go there and be inspired by the room, by the city, by the music, the studio. Simultaneously we found ourselves, about a year ago, we were going to the studio with a band that really, for the first time, had found our process of writing music together and we were able to really collaborate to a very high level which, in turn, really made this recording and this album probably our best work to date, because we all got to put our blood and our sweat into these few songs and these recordings. All of these songs are very true to our experience as a band going into the recording. A lot of the songs were written on the way to the studio and we really wanted to make something that was very timeless and very much captured our sound, our process, our experience, and our life as a band last Fall.
How would you sum up that EP in one sentence?
Uhm, I don't know [laughs].
You're on tour now, do you have a favorite track off that EP to perform live?
Different songs for different reasons. "Right Around The Corner" is always a good one. It's usually our show closer and it has a great call and response at the very end, which we love getting the crowd involved, singing and dancing, and there's a moment at the very end where we get everybody involved, which we really love, so that's probably our favorite.
Could you tell us more about your video for "Right Around The Corner"?
We actually brought our friend, Jeff Ray - who is a director in Austin, Texas who's done videos for Sigur Rós and Blue October and he's extremely talented - and we got him to come out to Memphis back in December when we were recording Royal Sessions. After recording the album we were in the studio for a couple days and, on the last day, we set up the camera and basically just performed "Right Around The Corner" live. For us, as a live band, trying to capture that energy and the performance on film is always what we want to do. What we love about it, like I said, is at the very end of the song there's that call and response and that's one of the best moments we had in the studio together as a band; singing and laughing and dancing and having a good time in the studio. So, the video's a lot of fun. It's got video to it, obviously, but also we captured a bunch of black and white photographs that catalog and give a good little snapshot to life in the studio as a Nightowl.
What do you hope listeners are able to take away from your music?
The reason that we like this style of music is because it's all about connecting to an audience, it's about playing music but it's also about getting people on their feet, dancing, enjoying the moment; you're very much trying to connect with people. So we hope that people, when they hear our music, they find something that - and lyrics - that resound in them but, also, just, we hope that this music makes people feel good, it makes people want to get up and dance and have a good time.
Is there anything you want to add?
We're on tour right now and we're on the West coast. We've been touring for the last 9 days up on the West coast and we head to Denver in a couple days and then home. Then, in October, we are touring again; we'll be on the East coast, so Chicago, New York, Boston. We'll be going up through Memphis, Nashville, and Atlanta so, if people are around, come see us.
8/17 - Cervantes - Denver CO
8/19 - The Blue Light - Lubbock, TX
8/26- The Phoenix Saloon- New Braunfels, TX
9/2- The Palace Theater- Bryan, TX
9/3- Three Links- Dallas, TX
9/9- The Continental Club- Houston, TX
9/16- House of Fifi Dubois- San Angelo, TX
9/22- Discovery Green- Houston, TX
9/24- Pecan Street Festival- Austin, TX
9/25- Texas Reds Festival- Bryan, TX
9/30- Levitt Pavilion- Arlington, TX
10/1 -Lafayettes - Memphis TN
10/4- Beachland Ballroom - Cleveland OH
10/5- Tellus 360 - Lancaster PA
10/6- Pianos - NYC
10/7- Union Hall - Brooklyn
10/10- Local 506 - Chapel Hill NC
10/11- The 5 Spot - Nashville TN
10/12- Smiths Olde Bar - Atlanta, GA
10/14- Maison - New Orleans, LA
10/21- Phoenix Saloon - New Braunfels, TX