Formed in 2011 by frontman and multi-instrumentalist Ryan Harkrider, Austin-based soul band the Nightowls has made a name for themselves in the Austin music scene and beyond with their Motown vibes and big stage presence. Their debut album Good as Gold received high praise in 2014 for their ability to pay homage to soul artists of the past without boxing themselves in as retro artists. They’ve kept their momentum going with consistent recording and tours across North America, including festival appearances at venues like Austin City Limits and The Levitt Pavilion. On April 27, 2018, the Night Owls released their third studio album, We Are the Night Owls. Their latest serves as a declaration of sorts for the band. “Our previous 2 albums were concept albums that paid homage to the historic recording studios in which they were recorded. This new album is more about capturing the band’s sound…it’s more of an updated, cohesive statement about who we are.” Harkrider explains. We Are the Nightowls is just that–there’s plenty of quality soul to be found, but the band brings Motown into this millennium with renewed, dance-friendly energy and songs like “#selfiequeen.”
Harkrider chatted with us about the Nightowls’ latest ventures–check out the interview below for the inside scoop on We Are the Nightowls, tour life, and what you can’t miss if you’re visiting Austin.
The Young Folks: In case some of our readers aren’t familiar with your music, can you describe your band in three words?
Ryan Harkrider: #craycrayAF…does that count as three words?
TYF: It’s amazing to see such a large ensemble making music together–how did you all come together? What’s your dynamic like in the studio and on stage?
RH: I put the band together in Austin about 6 years ago piecing together a bunch of my musician friends and other folks met through the local music community. What you see on stage is pretty accurate of the band anytime- a bit raucous, wild, fun, and dedicated to making great music.
TYF: How did you decide to pursue soul music?
RH: Most of us grew up listening to soul, funk, Motown via our parent’s records collections and there was never much of a thought to do anything else.
TYF: Austin has a such a rich music scene. Would you say that your hometown has specifically influenced your music?
RH: Yes, of course. We always want to make sure that our music contains unique elements of our hometown and of ourselves. When we’re home, we’re constantly going out to see bands and listen to music. So, we’re very influenced by the Austin music scene. For this album, you can hear Austin specific vibes via the slide guitar on “Laybackwittit” and the Austin-specific lyrics on “Get Funked Up.”
TYF: We Are the Nightowls is your third studio album–what has changed in your recording process over the past few years? Has anything become easier? More difficult?
RH: For this album, we approached the songs differently because we wanted each one to feel unique. Some were written exclusively in the studio while others were hashed out while on the road touring. With 10-people, our writing and recording process is constantly evolving and we’re always trying to find better ways to get our collective ideas out and meshed together.
TYF: “Don’t It Feel Weird (Falling In Love)” is the first single from We Are the Nightowls. Why did you decide on this track to introduce your latest album?
RH: Once the album was mixed, we spent a lot of time working on the sequencing of the tracks. The songs range in style from funk to R&B , soul to pop and we wanted to make sure that the songs as a whole told a larger story of the band over the last few years. We decided to open the album with Don’t It Feel Weird because it’s a bit of an outlier sonically and has some really beautiful elements like the strings that haven’t been featured much on other albums/songs.
TYF: It looks like you have played a variety of festivals, in addition to more traditional venues and clubs–how do you prepare for these different types of performances?
RH: We’ve been touring and performing non-stop for over 4 years. So, the band stays pretty tight all year round and we’ve got a bunch of different set lists/shows ready for all kinds of shows.
TYF: Do you have a favorite song from We Are the Nightowls to perform live?
RH: Probably #selfiequeen. It’s a fun one to play and we love watching everybody dancing and taking selfies during the song.
TYF: Do you have a favorite tour memory?
RH: We love Colorado. So, anytime we get to tour through there is amazing. We played a festival in the mountains in Ouray, CO that is one of our favs.
TYF: If you could tour with any musician/group, dead or alive, who would it be?
RH: Stevie Wonder.
TYF: What have you been listening to recently?
RH: Bahamas, Janelle Monae, Jill Scott, Gabriel Garzon-Montano, Meshell Ndegeocello, Childish Gambino, Archie James Cavanaugh.
TYF: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us! One last question–if our readers find themselves visiting Austin, what’s one thing they can’t miss?
RH: Swimming at Barton Springs Pool!