For Andy Herod, there was nothing like suffering through a good existential meltdown to get his creative juices flowing. A founding member of The Comas, Herod fled the successful indie rock band last year after a nine-year run, leaving his apartment in Brooklyn for several months of couch-surfing and soul-searching that eventually led him to Asheville and the birth of a new project, Electric Owls.
Before the Electric Owls took flight, the singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist says he was so traumatized by the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle and the pressures of living in New York City that he considered giving up music all together.
“I’ve devoted my life to it and I love it, but when I left New York, I was like, ‘I don’t want to play music, it’s not going to be the focus anymore,’” Herod says.
Living out of his car, Herod tried hacking out a living as a visual artist, and soon found himself crisscrossing the country traveling between art shows and odd jobs, including a stint working at a nuclear power plant in California. He says he lasted about three months before picking up a guitar.
“My idea was to not play music, but when it came back, it came back really strongly, and it came back with a new clarity, and that’s what Electric Owls is,” Herod says. “I really enjoyed not being in The Comas and just bouncing around. … But I realized after that kind of got out of my system, that I don’t do anything else. I can do other things, but I defaulted to ‘Well it’s time to make another record.’”
Writing songs by himself in motel rooms and friends’ houses across the country, Herod soon had 20 new tunes written and recorded, demo-style, on his laptop.
“They weren’t Coma songs. They were a lot more personal, a little more fragile,” he says. “I can tell now that a lot of it was this purging of like, ‘Alright, I’ve been such an idiot and here I am admitting it.’”
The raw material ready to go, Herod then sought out a proper studio, and Asheville’s Echo Mountain, with its vintage analogue equipment and Moog Voyager, fit the bill.
“I wanted to make this orchestral psychedelic pop record; part of the reason for wanting to come to Asheville was I felt like this place could deal with it,” he says.
He recruited friend and fellow Comas member Jason Caperton to join him on guitar, and the two road-tripped to Western North Carolina from California, working out musical arrangements as they drove. Joining them upon their arrival were local bassist Matt Gentling (the Poles, Archers of Loaf) and drummer Cully Symington (Gutter Twins).
While Herod had a vision for the new songs, the only firm rule the band had going in to the studio was that there would be no firm rules.
“Although I wrote all the songs and I had demoed them exactly how I wanted them to be, when I got in the studio I was like ‘Let’s just go crazy, whatever,’” Herod says. “I had this big plan going in there, and what came out of it, which is the way it always is, the way it’s always been with The Comas, the same way it’s always been with everything I do, is that it turns out nothing like the plan I have.”
Ain’t Too Bright
That sense of creative openness and experimentation is evident throughout the resulting album, Ain’t Too Bright. The opening track, “Magic Show,” welcomes listeners into a world of delicately layered psychedelic pop rock that could rightly be described as magical. The album blends the best of late ‘60s blues-influenced weirdo-folk with the distorted guitar pop balladry of the ‘90s and more modern times. If the ghost of John Lennon got together with Billy Corgan and Perry Ferrell to make an album in an LSD-fueled space shuttle captained by Rick Rubin, it might sound something like this.
Even when Herod is exploring dark personal material in songs like “Cannibal Superstar” and “Us, weakly,” he does it with an inviting sense of vulnerability and fun sarcasm that isn’t off-putting or self-indulgent. As dark as it gets, a feeling of hopefulness prevails.
Herod fell in love with Asheville during the recording sessions, and is now proud to call the town his home. He hasn’t had much of a chance to settle in though, as his one-man band version of Electric Owls (Herod on guitar, vocals, and laptop) has been busy touring the country with Brooklyn rockers Bishop Allen. They’ll embark on an extensive tour of Europe together this spring.
As for the future of The Comas, Herod says the band will probably come back to life at some point, but he’s clearly more excited about what lies ahead for Electric Owls.
“The response has been, sadly, way better than any response I’ve ever gotten from any Comas thing. I mean, tangible, where you get off stage and people are like, ‘Oh my god, can I buy a lot of stuff!’ and I’m like, ‘yes you can.’”
Jake Frankel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
who: Electric Owls, with Arizona, Bishop Allen, Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band
where: The Rocket Club
when: Sunday, March 15