The Nightowls have one of the most unique sounds I’ve honestly ever heard. After I listened to their single “#selfiequeen,” I immediately went and found all of their previously released tunes that I could. I’ve always been a fan of big-band stylings and The Nightowls’ music finds the perfect balance between sultry soul, big-band, and pop-y goodness. Love! Ten members make up this energetic band: Ryan Harkrider (lead vocals), Rob Alton (bass guitar), Rydog Johnson (guitar), Vince Wiley (keys), Justin Hights (drums), Sara Stein (vocals), Kamilla Lamar (vocals), Andrew McLemore (saxophone), Luke Scallan (trumpet), and Zol Waterhouse (trombone).
I got the chance to ask frontman Ryan Harkrider some questions about the band’s formation, Austin’s influence on the music, their new album and so much more. Keep reading to see what he had to say.
For those who might not have ever heard of y’all, can you give us a brief history of the band and how it culminated into what it is now?
I formed the band in 2011. We spent our early years writing songs geared towards the classic 60/70s soul, funk, and Motown and made records at the historic Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama and Royal Studios in Memphis, Tennessee. Recently, we’ve been honing a more modern mix of soul, funk, and R&B rooted in our live performances while touring over the last 2 years.
Your sound is so unique. If you had to describe your sound without using genre names, how would you describe it?
Bold, danceable, powerful, optimistic, spiritual.
Who are some of your musical inspirations?
Prince, Beck, The Scabs, Pimps of Joytime, D’Angelo, Boyz II Men, and of course, Stevie [Wonder].
You guys are an Austin-based band. Does Austin play a role in the music you create, whether it be references in the lyrics or just the overall sound of your music?
I’m born and raised in Austin, so the city is always in the songs and the music I write. Our song “Laybackwittit” has a unique Austin funk vibe with that swampy slide guitar part played by Rydog Johnson.
Let’s talk a little bit about your new music. Talk a little bit about the writing/recording process for this album. Do you guys write all of your own material or do you have co-writers? Were there any specific challenges with the recording process for this album?
I’m the songwriter in the band and all the songs start with me recording a million ideas, melodies, lyrics, etc. into my iPhone’s voice memo. Then I usually make a demo of the song and take it to the rhythm section to settle on the arrangement and start adding horn charts and background vocals. Typically, we then take the song and add it to the live setlist to work out the final kinks through trial and error at our shows before finally recording it in the studio.
In an ensemble with a lot of moving parts, adding new material takes a bit longer than with a 4-piece band. So the challenge becomes making sure the song gets careful treatment at each step of the way.
You guys have released three singles from the new album. What made you choose these three particular songs as the singles?
We wanted the songs we chose as singles to highlight all of the different sides of our band. From the pop string arrangement on “Don’t It Feel Weird” to the call/response lyrics on “#selfiequeen,” the songs range from soul to funk, disco to pop.
I’m particularly fond of “#selfiequeen.” What was the inspiration behind creating this song?
We’ve started noticing a funny trend at our live shows where fans will turn their backs to us and get their phone out to take selfies with the band in the background. It’s an odd scene from our perspective and we just wanted a song that talked about this phenomenon and make it fun and something we all enjoy together in the moment.
Is there a track of yours, whether it’s from this new album or one of your previous albums, that you feel best represents who you are as a band?
So, I wrote about 40 songs total for the album of which the band played 30 of them and we recorded about 22 of those songs and in the end, only 11 made the final album. So, I feel like the album as a whole is truly the best representation of the band.
That said, there are few moments on the album that come pretty close. Like the crowd noise in “Get Funked Up” or the piano solo at the end of “Nice and Slow” or the instrumental song, “We Are The Nightowls.”
I’m sure your live shows are a blast. Since you’re getting ready to hit the road, what can fans expect from one of your live shows?
The live show is rocking right now. With the album finally finished, we’ve been able to really dig into the songs during our live shows. It’s a spectacle and fans can expect to sweat all night.
Last question — we’re called Talk Nerdy With Us because we all have an inner-nerd about something. What is something that you nerd out about?
Soccer. I’m a huuuuuuuuuuuuge soccer fan. I can’t wait for the World Cup this summer. I also have a team that I play on in Austin several times a week. Go Waterloo FC!!!
You can follow The Nightowls on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. For more information about the band and to see if they’re coming to a city near you this summer, visit their website. You can also find their new “self-titled” album, We Are The Nightowls, on Apple Music, Spotify, Soundcloud and wherever else you listen to music.