Ever since an encounter at a friends wedding the members of Owls & Lions have always known that pursuing a musical dream together would be the most rewarding thing each of them could do accomplish. Boasting a unique, Rock-Alt Country Sound the band is looking to make an impression on the music scene and grow their grassroots fan base.
Recently, we had the chance to chat with the group about how they came together, their unique sound and so much more
Who would you describe as your biggest musical influences?
We have so many, but the one’s that come to mind first and the artists we particularly obsess over include: Ray LaMontagne, John Mayer, Butch Walker, Damien Rice, Tedeschi Trucks, Brandi Carlisle. But let’s not forget so many classic artists we are enamored with and inspired by like Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty, The Eagles and Jackson Browne.
How did you meet and decide to form a band?
We met at a mutual friend’s wedding. Nicole had just moved to NJ from Nebrasksa, pretty much solely to get closer to the kinds of opportunities in music that were not realistic from her small town in Nebraska. So the story goes…..Jay was DJing the wedding and Nicole was playing violin at the ceremony. Jay approached Nicole and dug her vibe. He asks “Ever play violin in a rock band?” To which Nicole said, “No, are you any good?” She listened to his music, she loved it and it wasn’t long before she was performing in Jay’s band, Della Valle. After a 3 year adventure which included recording music & videos, touring and performing and a touch of band drama, Jay ultimately decided things weren’t going in the right direction. At that point, Jay & Nicole branched off and started their duo, Owls & Lions, and within a very short time, they were getting asked to perform at people’s weddings, house events and festivals. Playing at people’s events allowed them to make a profitable venture and stay fully committed during a time when they were both getting married and starting families.
How did you settle on the name Owls and Lions and what else was in the running?
Here may be the one instance where we really didn’t have to work and think too hard about what to call ourselves. Nicole has always been obsessed with anything having to do with Owls and Jay is the quintessential Leo in every way. They talked about “The Owl & the Lion” but thought maybe one day they’d have more band members, so they played it safe with Owls & Lions. To solidify it even further, on their very first wedding gig as Owls & Lions, the bride and groom made up a wooden sign for them with Owls & Lions painted on it. They didn’t even have a logo yet, but suddenly they were performing in this cool barn underneath a sign that bore their name. They’ve been using that logo ever since.
Did you always know that music was what you wanted to pursue?
Yes, we’ve both always had the calling to pursue music as a career. Nicole is a classically trained violinist and always envisioned herself going the distance and making music a lifelong and lucrative aspect of her life. Jay was raised in a musical family with a father who was a professional entertainer/musician, so he grew up seeing, hearing and understanding what that looked and felt like. His whole life was behind the scenes and on the stage until he eventually just stepped in to what felt normal. But for Jay, it was also acting and film and pretty much entertainment in general. He has never really had a job that didn’t involve music or entertainment in some way. Back in our 20s, being in a successful band was pretty much the vision, but as we got older we started to see how music could be a part of our lives in other ways as well. Nicole has a business teaching kids music and this is something she is so good at. Jay owns an entertainment agency that provides music/entertainment for weddings and he’s also currently pursuing his Masters in Music Therapy, a field that he has been enamored with since he learned of it while working with the charity, The Ukulele Kids Club.
Once you realized music was something you could pursue seriously what was your first step towards making it a reality?
We started really young, developing a certain kind of comfort level with performing and just putting ourselves out there. It really has a lot to do with that. Developing confidence and ultimately just practicing and fueling your drive to continue to excel at music and become self-sufficient as a musical person who is comfortable sharing your talents with other musicians and basically anyone. In one way, it’s all about the hours and the amount of time/opportunities you take to push yourself into zones that are uncomfortable at first, but which only make you better. There eventually comes a point where you never miss an opportunity to perform or share your gift. You know who you are, the power of what you do to inspire and move people. At that point, it never feels right to show up and NOT share your music in some way- even if it’s just 1 song played for the right people at the right time. This taps into a larger need for us to make a mark doing what we love to do. Whether that’s making someone’s party amazing with great music/entertainment OR having a song that someone listens to and identifies with at the right time in their life, it gives us great satisfaction to know that our work resonates, inspires and has the power to help people in any way that good music is capable of.
How would you describe your sound and musical style?
We say we play Indie Folk because it’s very acoustic and our lyrics tell stories, but we incorporate a lot of modern instrumentation in our recordings, which make them a sort of neo-folk, not what you’re expecting if you immediately think of classic folk like Bob Dylan or Pete Seeger. It kind of starts there, but our music has always had pop sensibilities (whether you call it pop or not, which we don’t) and can often effortlessly melt over into Americana, Rock, Alternative & Soul, depending on how we present it. But when it’s just us performing with 2 vocals, guitar & violin, it’s kind of hard for it not to feel just folk/americana. However, there is an Irish vibe in there as well. It’s not very intentional, but many listeners point that out. Kind of cool that we don’t try for it. Something about the way our songs invite you to sing a long. They invite people to be close and share meaningful moments, amidst the craziness of life. Pair that with some anthemic violin parts and gang vocals within an acoustic song, and you have the Irish thing.
What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned throughout your career?
Oh wow. Well first, don’t ever give up if you really believe in yourself and whatever you are doing. It’ll just be too hard if you’re really not rooted in the fundamental core belief that your art/music is necessary. It’s really important to have a flexible vision of what you want out of your career and how you want it to make you feel. What kind of experiences do you want your music to bring into your life and how are you going to leverage to enhance the happiness and satisfaction of the ones you love, as well as your fans & supporters. That might change as you get older, but it’s important to be conscious of it. Surround yourself with great people and musicians that are better than you and push you to want to be better. There’s a lot we wish we knew then that we know now. Things that would have saved a lot of time and money, but I guess these are the mistakes we were meant to make which led us to where we are now. I guess the message is to be present with wherever you are in your life and with your music, so that your music is an honest reflection of your unique experience. This is what’s interesting and really what has to be clear for us as we put the time in. Be really clear with your message and what you want to do. Clear with your music and your lyrics. In the words of Keb Mo, “vague is the plague.”
What’s next for you?
Thankfully, we are very busy in 2021/2022. Like I said, we perform at a lot of weddings, but as an acoustic duo and with our larger 6 piece band. We attract amazing clients who throw incredible celebrations and it’s always such a privilege to be hired to ensure a memorable experience on such an important milestone event with so many families. We have over 60 weddings to perform at in 2021 and we’re hoping to get confirmation that a handful of festivals will happen and we will be invited to play on some bigger stages. Fingers crossed though, as you never know these days! Besides the live performance, we have some really fun songs and videos in the pipeline for 2021 and excited to create some more fresh content to follow up on our last EP release which is still very much our focus, since we love those songs and are not ready to stop celebrating them! The best place to keep up with us is to join our Private FB Page/Street Team Community HERE. This is really where we try to get any new listeners and supporters to go, since it’s the one place where we are super active, extremely personal and present at all times. Other than that, we keep things fun on Instagram and of course post all videos to YouTube.