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Bear Creek Preview: Ghost Owl Talks Songwriting & Suwannee

Our favorite fall music festival is just around the bend, and this year, there are a handful of first-time acts debuting on the Bear Creek roster. While we’re stoked to see returning favorites, we’re most definitely intrigued by newcomers, including Ghost Owl, comprised of three former members of long-time Bear Creek vet Perpetual Groove. We caught up with Ghost Owl guitarist Matt McDonald to talk about the music writing process, rekindling with his axe and what to expect in 2014 – all in lieu of Bear Creek’s return, November 13 – 17, 2013.

Melodysiac: We hear Ghost Owl has been laying down new tracks for the debut album. Tell us a bit about the process.
Matt McDonald: It’s been a very different process with this album than any other project I’ve worked on. When we decided to start Ghost Owl in January, we didn’t have any songs yet, no preconceived idea of what exactly it would be, we just knew it had to be different. Then we went on a four-month songwriting frenzy. Since then, we’ve taken all of these songs into the studio and started completely rearranging them; what was once the chorus is now an intro, or a verse is now the chorus. It’s been a pretty awesome experience to not be under the gun of a label or upcoming tour pressuring us to hurry up with a release. We’re in the position that all bands are in for their first album – there’s nothing to be gained by rushing it out. We’ve been patient with letting these songs mature on their own, and sometimes evolve into completely new ideas from what they were at inception.

The band is still fairly new, but GO already has several festivals under its belt, and you’ve played some great venues on the East Coast. Tell us about one of two of your favorite live performances to-date?
Catskill Chill was the one that stands out in a big way. Catskill was the first official contract for a show Ghost Owl ever got. Larry, Dave, Josh, everyone there has created such a perfect environment for both attendees and artists. Athfest was huge for us here [in Georgia]. They gave us a headlining slot on the main stage right before Zoogma. It was the perfect way for Athens to be introduced to the new project, and see how clearly different it is from anything we’ve done in the past.

What are some of the ensemble’s goals moving into 2014?
We’re going to release our debut album, Say Goodbye to Finland, that we’ve been working on all summer, and we’ll start to add some more dates. Quite honestly, we plan on getting right back in the studio on the follow-up album. We have almost a full album of new tunes that we’ll be itching to get in the studio and hammer out. It’s a cycle that we don’t plan on stopping.

What music have you been favoring most recently? Anything special influencing your current style?
I’ve been listening to the new Naked and Famous album, some of the new Grouplove album, the new Paul McCartney. I think I’m always throwing LCD Soundsystem in my playlists; some things should never change.

You’re known for your chops on the keys (with PGroove), but these days you’ve traded in for the guitar. Which instrument do you prefer and why?
Guitar. I’ve always done more songwriting on guitar. I think it’s because I was classically trained on piano, and it always came from a very theory-based origin of execution. When I started guitar, I self-taught initially, so I had less preconceived ideas of what was or was not ‘correct.’ That opens up the space for creativity a lot of the time, and I feel more comfortable with this band in that space. Also, we needed to switch up roles in Ghost Owl. Adam is playing a lot of keys now, especially his arsenal of Moogs. Of course as it would work out, Adam has always done the majority of his writing on keyboards, so the collaboration of writing together on these instruments actually came quite naturally to us both.

What sort of visual presence should we expect from Ghost Owl at Bear Creek (LEDs, projection mapping, etc.)? Is the band currently touring with a set lighting designer or a rotating cast?
We recently purchased a couple of new projectors and some collapsible screens that are a lot more portable than what we were using before. We’ve moved towards these screens because we wanted to make it more of a set piece than a centerpiece. The video we use is all custom art we’ve had built or built ourselves. The stage show and production is an ever-changing and growing aspect of the show. Owen Pike is our production manager and an essential part of the team. We are approaching production and performance in an entirely different way with Ghost Owl. Our good friend Jason Huffer has been working with us recently as an advisor and designer on some new production ideas for 2014. I wouldn’t be surprised if you saw the band grow by a member or two in 2014 as well; it’s an evolving project like all art should be.

For older fans that have not yet had the chance to experience Ghost Owl since its inception last winter, why is Bear Creek an ideal festival setting for them to experience the band firsthand?
Bear Creek hooked us up with a great slot inside the Music Hall where we can bring our full production and do our show. Right now, we are hitting some new levels on stage because we are all becoming much more comfortable with the songs and just playing in this format together. We’re confident, comfortable, and most importantly, having more fun than we’ve had in a long, long time on stage.

What other acts are you looking forward to seeing at Bear Creek? Should be on the lookout for any sit-ins?
We roll in on Saturday so I’ll definitely be catching The Roots and Dopapod. The great thing about sit-ins is that they are almost always very spontaneous and day-of-show, so who knows! I’d love to rock some cowbell with Questlove…

For more information and to purchase tickets to Bear Creek Music & Art Festival taking place at Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak Florida November 13 – 17, 2013, click here.

Article originally published on Melodysiac.

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