The Blind Owl Band sure looks like a bluegrass band at first glance.
The instrumentation lines up — the Saranac Lake quartet features banjoist James Ford, acoustic guitarist Arthur Buezo, stand-up bassist Christian Cardiello and mandolinist Eric Munley. And the group does draw some influence from both traditional and modern bluegrass musicians such as Earl Scruggs and John Hartford.
But those influences are blended with the musicians’ strong punk, indie and classic rock background. The resulting music has echoes of all these things, from punk rock gang vocals courtesy of Buezo and Ford to driving rock rhythms, minus the drum kit of course. This mish-mash of styles has helped the band earn a large and diverse audience in only two years of playing together.
“We’re playing as hard and as fast as a metal band, but we’re playing with acoustic instruments,” Munley said. “So a metal fan at our show will be like, ‘Wow, they’re really ripping it,’ and an older person will be like, ‘Wow, they’re playing mandolin and banjo; I really like this.’ Any crowd enjoys having a good time and dancing and singing along, and that’s why the music has resonated.”
The Blind Owl Band
When: 8 tonight
Where: Red Square, 388 Broadway, Albany
How Much: $10
More Info: 465-0444, www.redsquarealbany.com
Building an audience
That audience is only growing. The band’s first gig, in March of 2011 at The Waterhole in Saranac Lake, turned into a weekly show for three months that was drawing around 100 people by the end of the run. In the past year, the band has played extensively, logging at least 130 shows throughout the Northeast reaching as far as Pennsylvania, and have at least 40 more coming up for the next two months.
Tonight, the band will return to the Capital Region, playing at Red Square with Binghamton string band Driftwood. In March, the band hit the now-defunct Jillian’s with Eastbound Jesus, and since that time they have been looking to expand their audience in the Albany area.
“We’ve seen a lot in Albany and interacted with the Albany scene a good amount, and we really enjoy it,” Munley said. “I think it’s one of the zones where people really connect to music. Going into a city as a string band, you hit dead ends, but the Albany music scene is lively enough that we fit right in.”
All four members of The Blind Owl Band are transplants — Munley and Cardiello hail from New Jersey, while Ford and Buezo are originally from Connecticut. They all relocated to attend Paul Smith’s College, met up there and began jamming in their living rooms.
“None of us were planning to be in a band at all,” Munley said. “It became this acoustic circle, playing in living rooms.”
He had never been in a band before, having just picked up a mandolin about a year earlier. The group’s other members all had prior experience in bands, with Cardiello bringing close to 15 years of experience in rock, funk and jazz bands.
“We definitely all have improved our playing ability by twofold each,” Munley said. “Even our bass player, who played for close to maybe 15 years — in the past year and a half, he’s doubled his ability, because we play so much.”
After the band’s first residency at The Waterhole, the band broke up last summer while Munley was away in South America. Last September, the group reformed, beginning another three-month residency at The Waterhole. Heavy touring of the Northeast followed.
“Since then it’s been go, go, go, go, go,” Munley said. “We’ve been traveling only since January, but now we’re playing 15 shows a month. We’ve hit six or seven states already. We’ve had a very good, encouraging summer, and we realized we did choose the right style of music — or the right style of music chose us.”
The band’s debut album, recorded in Morrisonville with producer Larry Dolan, features 13 original songs.
Songwriting is largely democratic — sometimes Buezo or Ford will bring in complete songs, but often the band will just jam songs into existence.
At this point, the band is almost ready to record its second album, and is looking to expand its sound even further.
“We’re definitely trying to move our thing forward; we’re doing a lot of adding in more jazzy lines and swing songs, to really couch all the acoustic roots that you don’t necessarily hear in everyday music,” Munley said. “But by the time the song really turns out, complete, it’s rocking and has more energy, that kind of stuff.”