Interview + Giveaway :: Jack Colwell

May 31st 2012


Jack Colwell might be young, but his musical pedigree is about as impressive as they come. He studied at the Conservatorium of Music, plays with some of Sydney’s finest musicians in his own little ‘owlchestra’, and is just about to release his debut album. Oh, and he’s just finished hanging out with Karen O on her VIVID Live show, ‘Stop The Virgens‘. No biggie.

Jack’s album, ‘Picture Window’, out June 6, features vocals from Bridezilla‘s Daisy M Tulley and production by Chris Rollans (Lanie Lane, Cloud Control). We were pretty excited about the first single ‘Captain’s Melody’, and we’re even more excited to have two double passes to give away to the album launch at Good God Small Club (details below).

Before the gig, we had a chat to Jack about the perks of being a music student, playing with owls and working with the best in the business.

Flog: Firstly… why owls?

Jack: Contrary to all the cute knitted owls seen around Newtown stores – owls are actually a domineering, powerful and vicious creature. I don’t know how we’ve made them into such ‘cute’ things when they’re clearly great predators of the night.
People also spell my name wrong all the time or pronounce it as ‘cowell’ (it’s actually Col-well, kinda like cod-rell) and if you take every second letter of my name it spells ‘OWL’ (c O l W e L l).

Your debut album has been described as ‘dramatic’… can you elaborate?

‘Picture Window’ I certainly think isn’t ‘easy listening’. It can seem like a pretty full-on and dark album at times. The subject matter isn’t light, dealing mainly with loss and internal heart-break & there’s some absolutely mountain high string moments on their, especially in ‘Spitfire’. It’s in no way reaching the drama that albums I’ve spun a thousand times like, ‘Two Planets – Bat For Lashes’, or ,’Lungs – Florence + The Machine’ reach. With more funding those are the types of sounds I would like to be creating.

What did you study at the Conservatorium?

Officially, I was there for double-bass (classical, not jazz), but I also took composition lessons and piano lessons. I guess the latter two won out.

How was your time there – is it different studying at the Con to being a ‘normal uni student’?

I actually went through the ‘Conservatorium High School’, so to alter the question a little bit in terms of ‘high school’ I think it was a really unique and individual experience. It’s a highly competitive environment amongst only 100 or so peers (that’s 7-12) and a lot of the time you’re doing things within the tertiary environment anyway with players from the Sydney Symphony, ACO, international performers (Richard Tognetti & Jane Rutter to name a few) & the ‘Con Uni’.
Most high schools aren’t lucky to have a fully working and refurbished pipe organ or access to three antique harpsichords, let alone have an entire school that acts as a professional orchestra & choir.

Who has more influence on your music – classical composers or contemporary artists?

I think the classical influence will always be in there, it’s certainly a strong element to my sound, but to be honest in the last year or two I’ve spent more time listening to contemporary artists who also capitalise on their formal training in a similar vein, people like Owen Pallett, Patrick Wolf, Joanna Newsom – all the names you’d expect me to say I suppose. I think though, the older I get the more I realise that the training only assists with certain things sometimes, a great song can be written by anyone regardless of their knowledge. Ideas like “I’ll do an entire harpsichord album” or “Is the world ready for another oboe solo?” always seem like good ideas to me though.

The orchestral nature of your work means that you get to work with a lot of talented musicians when you perform live. What have been some of the highlights?

Recently I was invited back by the Conservatorium (with some kind support from FBi!) to play an orchestral showcase of my album with Rainbow Chan supporting also featuring orchestral arrangements of her songs. Our work was arranged by Hayden Woolf & Miles Horler. We got the chance to work with a very talented group of musicians who made up our chamber orchestra, and for me that will always be one of my career highlights.

You often play with comedian and past FBi breakfast host Genevieve Fricker – how did you guys meet?

Gen and I met in Highschool, we were in the same year so we took most of our classes together, before Gen I had no idea who PJ Harvey was. She also plays double-bass and we had the same teacher so we sat next to each other in the SBS television orchestra; we even shared a book locker (nawww).
Who could’ve ever imagined one lady could be so talented!
My favourite memories of Gen are the time we crawled our way to the front of the Moshpit in 2006 to see Franz Ferdinand at BDO and got sun stroke, talking to her cat MONKEY on the phone (now made famous by her recent Syd comedy fest show) and playing in a double bass trio that was affectionately named by our tutor, ‘Big Wood’.

You have been working with Karen O on her VIVID Psycho Opera – what did that involve?

Officially my role was as the ‘Chorus Co-Ordinator’ for ‘Stop The Virgens‘. It was my job to find the young women suitable for the roles of the ‘Virgen Acolytes’ in Karen’s work and then help to assist them during rehearsals. They act as a Greek Chorus to the rock & roll tragedy.
The Opera House and VIVID team believe I have good taste in young artistic women. I was very honoured to be involved in the project, watching the rehearsals, being able to sit in with NYC rock royalty and too see how they work was ultimately a life changing experience. For those attending the show be on the look out for some familiar Sydney music faces in the chorus (Rainbow Chan, Genevieve Fricker, Anna Chase, Millie Hall).

What was your relationship with Karen/Yeah Yeah Yeahs before the experience – were you a fan?

Yeah! I was definitely a fan of their work and own copies of their albums. I had a kind of off and on again romance when I was ‘sweet sixteen’ to the soundtrack of ‘Show Your Bones’, I remember ‘Gold Lion’ was a pretty good make-out track (oooh!) – they’ve become such an iconic band to so many people; even my dad knew ‘Heads Will Roll’.


WHAT: Jack Colwell & The Owls ‘Picture Window’ Album Launch
WITH: Packwood, Moon Holiday + Glamour Attack DJs
WHEN: Wednesday 6 June
WHERE: Good God Small Club, 55 Liverpool St
TICKETS: $10 through moshtix



We have 2 double passes to the launch to give away – if you want your name to be on the door, just email and tell us something rad about owls.


This Sunday morning (June 3), share your headache with Jack, his owls and the lovely Heidi Pett on the Weekend Overhang. They’re coming in at 9am to have a chat and play a live song for y’all. Stream it online using that little red guy at the top right of this page!


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