“Playing Every Show I Could For Nobody”


By Nicholas Friesen

“My first show was here actually at Ozzy’s for Manitoba Music’s New Music Wednesdays,” Eagle Lake Owls’ frontman Andy Cole says over breakfast at the Osborne Village Cafe, which sits above the basement bar. The vocalist/guitarist/percussionist started the trio, which also consists of multi-instrumentalist Dominique Lemoine and cellist Nathan Krahn, as a one-person outfit while living in Timmins, Ontario. Shortly after making a self-titled, basement recorded LP (available here at no charge), Cole relocated to Winnipeg for work and began gigging as Eagle Lake Owls about two years ago.

EagleLakeOwls pic“It was just me playing every show I could for nobody until it was the two of us playing every show we could for nobody,” Cole says of the trio’s humble beginnings. Having simply put out a call on Facebook for accompaniment, the singer, who plays acoustic guitar with a kick pedal against an old suitcase, soon found himself with a band.

“I knew I didn’t want it to be just me,” he says. “I figured if I had a band name then it would put it in my head that it was gonna be a band.”

After making their first recording and debuting live in basements, the natural progression was to work in a professional studio, which wound up being located in a basement. Engineered and mixed at Home Street Recording in Winnipeg with Jeffrey Patteson (Dust Adam Dust) and mastered by Andy Magoffin (Great Lake Swimmers, The Constantines), the five song, self-titled EP is already receiving love from such blogs as Quick Before It Melts, which writes that “songs like this are what keep you going through the isolation of a prairie winter.”

“Nathan had to leave for England so we did his parts real quick,” Cole says of making the record. “In one day we got the guitar and percussion, some of which I did at the same time, for better or for worse, and cello—that was all done the first day. Then we spent the next two months piece by piece just putting the rest of it together.”

The five songs that made the cut for the recording were easy to choose—the band simply went with the ones that seemed ready to go. Lemoine believes the EP is a positive representation of the live sound of Eagle Lake Owls.

“To me it seems right that we’d do what we do live because that’s how we started,” she says. “That’s what our sound is.”

Cole’s lyrics paint a picture of isolation and hope, and the easy comparison might be to call them a more stripped down Rural Alberta Advantage (not just because Cole’s sister Amy is a member of the Toronto indie rock heroes) as the songs chart small town life, delivered through Cole’s raspy yet subtle yowl.

In EP opener “Little Brittle Bones,” the thirty-one-year-old troubadour sings of childhood adventures, relatable enough to be anyone’s own, though for a non-Winnipegger, incredibly immersive:

The long winter came and froze us out
The deeper the snow got we grew brave and we ventured out
With mitten fingers dug a cave and we made it home
And we disappeared beneath the snow.

Then on “Animal or Man?” Cole’s banjo and makeshift kickdrum deliver a repetitious rhythm to accompany his warbly “I think you like it in your cage” chant, something akin to what Kimya Dawson would do on one of her children’s albums. It’s a tune written in admiration of a wooly beast, possibly from Max to one of his Wild Things. The whole disc seems to have a childlike wonder to it, though it’s more cloaked in folkloric nostalgia than current experiences.

The more he writes, the more Cole finds that it’s easier to speak through these characters in song, possibly as a way to cloak his own stories.

“I’d like us to do a full length,” he says. “I find even with the stuff I’ve been writing lately lyric-wise, it seems to have a theme or a setting of a place that’s not personal. The writing is personal but the actual settings of where the stories are taking place and the songs are kind of drifting to this other place that is not about my life specifically.”

“Sometimes I don’t ask you what your songs are about so I’m not really sure if they’re about you or someone you know or a story,” Lemoine adds.

“Yeah, lately they’re just stories,” Cole responds. “I was inspired by this book called Plainsong by Kent Haruf. It’s a depressing book but it’s good. It takes place in this little town in Colorado, and it seems that I’m writing these stories about these people that live in this little town. I don’t know if that’s where everything’s gonna go, but at least that’s where my mind is right now.”

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Aural History

Nicholas Friesen

Nicholas Friesen is a Winnipeg artist and writer. He has written about the arts for Uptown and The Uniter, and his films and music videos have screened across the province. Director Bruce McDonald once called him his "new favourite writer." Follow him @Nicholastronaut.