TYTO ALBA is a brilliant indie rock four-piece “born” in August 2014 that I’ve been listening to a lot lately. Meet singer/songwriter/guitarist Melanie Steinway, guitarist Matt Rossi, bassist Ryan Self, and drummer Jeremy Van Zandt. Steinway and Self previously played together in Howl Moonshine Howl, while Rossi and Van Zandt performed in Umbrella Weather.
Melanie and Matt were kind enough to entertain my queries for the latest installment of “Thirteen Questions.”
1) Why an owl for a band name? MS: It’s the scientific name of barn owls. I love the way it flows. It feels simultaneously graceful and powerful and therefore really emulates our sound. I love animals and most of my artwork circulates around animals and nature, so the name felt perfect in that aspect as well.
image by Ian Glass Media
2) Can you describe the melding of your two bands into one? MS: It was a bit more complicated than melding together two bands. MR: While Melanie and Ryan carry the melody and softness, Jeremy and I bring in a bit of dissonance and a more aggressive edge. The relationship between the two solidifies our sound.
3) What’s everyone’s day job? MS: I’m a tattoo artist, freelance illustrator and fine artist. I just make things look pretty. I’ve also recently become a caretaker for two baby guinea pigs, so that’s pretty sweet. Ryan is an online high-school teacher, and Jeremy works part-time as a silkscreener at Indy Ink, but if you’ve got a job for him, hit him up because he sleeps too much. MR: I am a full-time student at MSU Denver studying music production and management. When I’m not in school, I work as a band coach for local high-school rock bands. Other than that, I work part-time at a local boutique where I sell sparkles and candles.
4) How was SXSW? MR: Melanie and I had an amazing time mingling downtown. Our rhythm section is a bit more withdrawn and had a good time enjoying the local food and drinks. MS: I had such a great time and met so many amazing bands and people. I saw Milo Greene live, which was great, along with several Philadelphia bands that I hope to pursue a long-term relationship with, namely Vita & the Woolf, Tutlie, and Owl & Wolf. We also met a great Denver band called Mega Gem. It was such a valuable experience as far as the music scene goes. Also, the food trucks in Austin are amazing. I can’t wait to go back.
5) Where did you record the “Oh Tame One” ep? MS: In our drummer’s living room in the good ol’ DIY fashion with our friend and fellow musician Noah Simons of Denver post-punk band Male Blonding. It went very smoothly … because we had been working on solidifying the songs for months. Noah mixed the album as well, and then Brian Bash of Sonido Studios mastered it.
6) How did you create the e.p. cover art? MS: I went through two drafts. I made the initial artwork into a t-shirt design and progressed to the second design, which is a bit more stark and looks better at that smaller size. I did it initially with pen and ink and added the color in Photoshop. It’s hard to say how long it took since I chronically multitask while I’m working on artwork. I love doing all of the band’s art. It’s branding at its most personal.
7) Is Denver a hard place to break out of? What do you think of our music scene? MR: The scene has become much more revitalized as the city has gained popularity over the last few years. We’re starting to gain national attention out here. “Breaking out” is sort of a hard term to identify. MS: The music scene here is pretty tight-knit, so it takes time to establish yourself after walking into the city as someone nobody knows. I love how everyone seems to play in everyone else’s band, and people are just so supportive. Illegal Pete’s has done wonderful things for the music scene here, most notable for us being the SXSW Kickoff Show at the beginning of March. That really helped us and a bunch of other local bands raise money to cover the cost of traveling to Austin. I’ve also seen some bands host some really impressive benefit shows for fellow musicians and friends in need that have suffered expensive injuries, which is really heartwarming. I’m looking forward to participating in this scene and seeing where it heads in the next few years.
8) Touring plans this year? MS: We may go to Kansas to play with some musician friends of mine or Montana, but we’re mostly staying in the area to work on some new material in preparation for a full-length album. There are more local scenes we’re looking forward to exploring like CO Springs and Fort Collins. I’m from Boulder, so it’s fun to bring the band there every once in a while, too.
9) If the band was starving on a deserted island, who would get eaten first? MR: Probably me. I’d be able to give up one of my legs. Being that I’m the most energetic of the band, I wouldn’t mind getting a sweet pegleg and hopping around. Melanie would probably be the tastiest, though, seeing as she has the best diet of the band.
10) Does this band have a collective ethos? MR: We all want to explore music to the fullest; music is all we see. MS: The thrill that we all get playing in front of a receptive audience is like nothing else. The sense of community … of family … it warms my heart and makes me feel so full. I love how social of an art form it is, and I constantly look forward to the brilliant new people we get to meet every show.
11) Most bands imagine themselves to be democracies, but aren’t. Who’s in charge? MR: Melanie. Duh. MS: Haha, I suppose that would be me. I brought the band together and handle the basic songwriting, as well as most of the promotion, booking, and visual/artistic aspects of the band. But everyone contributes. Matt handles a lot of our social media, Jeremy prints our t-shirts, and Ryan helps out with applying to festivals and also made us a sweet stage marquee with our name illuminated.
12) Can you say a few words about your songwriting process? MS: I’ll bring a basic song to the table, and over the course of a band practice it will completely transform in energy and often change time signature. It’s really exciting to see a song morph like that once everyone puts their piece in. I used to get really emotionally attached to the way I wrote a song, so it makes me happy to see myself progress in being able to love a song without being overly attached and embracing its transformation within the group.
13) Why should someone come to Hi-Dive on April 9th
for your e.p. release gig? MR: Because we love running around on stage. I try really hard not to swear excessively on stage because Melanie glares at me, but sometimes I can’t hold it back. Also Jeremy usually takes off his pants halfway through the set. Melanie usually ends up chucking around the drumset in a rage at which time Matt, Ryan and Jeremy attempt their flawless Kenny Loggins set that they’ve been trying to revive since the ’80s. Also we have this kickass new sign with our name on it that Ryan made. MS: We put on an energetic and engaging show. We’ll have our e.p. that I made by hand for sale, and we’re also playing alongside two killer bands: All Chiefs from Boulder and Oko Tygra from Denver. We love the Hi-Dive and it’s going to be a great night!