Only when it makes sense

“Basically,” says Andy Herod, “I write songs. I don’t necessarily write records.”

He’s referring the release of Cullowhee Songs, the first in a series of EPs from the Electric Owls. After striking a deal with his label to take over physical merchandise (they will continue to handle digital distribution and promotion) in exchange for the freedom to release music as often as he likes, Herod is shifting the focus of the project to better suit his songwriting style.

“The plan next year is to do four EPs,” he explains. “I’m not even going to mess with records. When I make such eclectic songs from song to song, it’s kind of hard to put a whole record together and have it really be effective.”

Listening to Cullowhee Songs, it’s easy to hear his point. Clocking in at less than 15 minutes, the album covers ethereal indie-folk, synth-driven dance rock and soaring, ukulele-infused mariachi in less time than it takes to find a parking spot downtown. But Herod underestimates the underlying consistency of his well-developed craft.

Whether lamenting the complexities of humanity on “Silverfawn” or narrating the downward spiral of a self-destructive New Yorker to the ironically uplifting horns of “Morir Aqui,” Herod’s lush arrangements and wide-ranging instrumentation (which includes a variety of iPad synth tones) maintain a wistful melancholy and infectious pop sensibility that are the common thread throughout all his songs. Rather than a signature sound, one might say the Electric Owls have a signature mood.

Not surprising though. Herod has developed a clear vision for the project, which began at Echo Mountain Studios two years ago. He had just left the Comas and sworn off making music, so the whole point of Electric Owls, he explains, was to approach things differently.

“Part of the mission statement was not to really pursue it the same way I had done music in the past,” Herod remembers. “I wasn’t interested in really going for it the way that I had. I wanted it to just be fun and only happen when it makes sense.”

Now, with a home studio (which he used to self-record Cullowhee Songs) and the freedom and means to put out music at his discretion, the project makes a lot of sense. Also an artist, Herod can record his music, design and produce his merchandise and leave the label to handle the headaches. It’s a practical relationship that leaves him with remarkable control and the benefits of being under the umbrella of a well-known imprint.

And, he’s got an increasingly steady income from movie and television placement. “I haven’t sold many records,” he jokes, “but people will license the hell out of them for some reason.”

“What I’m really trying to do is build an actual business for the first time in my life as a musician,” Herod explains. “Before, I didn’t care what happened; I had no plan. I just wanted to be a rock star. But I’m trying to have a business plan so that I can create art and keep doing it.”

That practical approach to the project is partly to blame for the Electric Owls’ noticeable absence from the local live music scene. Herod and his rotating cast of backers have made only a handful of appearances in town since he took up roots in the city two years ago. But the dense arrangements require a small army of performers, and hiring a 12-piece band, Herod notes, is not cheap. Although he also acknowledges a desire to get away from performing to focus on writing and recording.

“I’m at the point where I just want the shows to be events,” he says. “So I want to spend time making them a little more special. And to be honest, I don’t want to play out locally all that much because what I really like is writing and recording. I just wouldn’t want to dilute it too much. I have total respect for people who play out all the time and they make their living off of it, basically, just in Asheville. But that’s just not the way I’ve ever been.”

Make no mistake though, Electric Owls is an Asheville band and it’s here to stay.

“I’m just naturally a this-kind-of-town kind of person,” Herod says. “I like easy access to nature; I like things to be kind of mellow and laid back. And I enjoy being bored sometimes.”

— Dane Smith can be reached at dsmith@mountainx.com.

who: Electric Owls, with Sea of Cortez
what: EP-release show
where: The Grey Eagle
when: Saturday, Oct. 23 (9 p.m. $8/$10. thegreyeagle.com)

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