As the man behind Owls of the Swamp, Pete Uhlenbruch’s indie-folk sounds have managed to find their way from Australia all through Europe. Pete recently took some time out to talk to us about his music.
When did you first begin performing, and how did Owls of the Swamp come about?
I’ve been playing guitar in various bands since I was around 16. Owls of the Swamp didn’t come about until around 2004, the year a band I was in for quite a few years disbanded. I didn’t want to give up music, or dive into another band right away, so I decided to start writing, recording and performing my own songs under the name Owls of the Swamp, a very loose translation of my German surname, Uhlenbruch.
How does a guy from Melbourne, Australia, end up in Reykjavik?
That’s a long story. I first came here ten years ago for a ten-day visit, having been profoundly inspired by the music. I also found myself visiting various parts of the country in my dream state most nights, swimming through glacial ice and exploring random churches and landscapes, so there was also a strong subconscious pull I haven’t been able to rationally explain. My first visit was quite memorable, and it felt a lot like my soul had found its ‘fit’ on this planet. I kept coming back again and again to visit, and met my partner along the way (she’s from Reykjavik), so it made sense to make the official move around a year ago.
I hear and feel a sense of solitude and perhaps even loneliness in your work. Do you think this has been influenced by living in such a remote environment?
It’s so hard to actually discern whether the influences in one’s creative output are internal or external. Actually, I think it’s both, inextricably entwined. I think I’d be still be making introspective music (commensurate with my personality) no matter the location, though I do believe the surface sounds absolutely reference the environment within which they’re birthed. I think my record, Go with River, (2011), that was recorded in Inverloch, Victoria, definitely sounds more ‘Australian’. And I suppose it makes sense my current music sounds more ‘northern’, somehow.
What is the music scene like in Iceland? Surely it can’t be all Sigur Ros and Bjork however much tourists might like to think so?
The music scene here is just incredible. I mean, considering the population (around 330,000), there is such a high quality output of fearless bands across all genres. The hip-hop scene here, for example, has really exploded over the last few years and is now making international waves.
There’s a pretty healthy metal scene here as well, not to forget also in electronica and indie. I’ve come to understand that almost everyone here learns instruments either at home or school, so there’s a very high rate of musical literacy. Add to the mix very long winters during which a lot of experimentation, practice and fun rehearsals happens and it starts to make sense how there is so much musical variety going on.
Iceland is also becoming a new hot-spot for discovery of new talent, with the growth of the Iceland Airwaves music festival over the last decade and a great geographical positioning between the United States and Europe, where music industry scouts are increasingly visiting. At last year’s Airwaves festival, for example, I was at a tiny record store with twenty people, and one of them happened to be the US Rolling Stones’ Robert Fricke. I hear he loves coming here.
What was the process of your last release, Atlas like? What can we expect in the future?
Atlas was recorded over 2012-2013, a period during which I was constantly moving around Europe (between Germany, England and Iceland). Almost the entire album was home recorded on my laptop, in various bedrooms, living rooms and basements. The songs themselves reflect a sense of trying to create a sense of ‘home’, no matter where you are. So it basically reflects my journey of exploring overseas at this time.
I’ve just finished recording my next release, an EP that’ll be released around November this year. That’s a whole other story involving the jungles of Peru, visionary shamanic plant medicine and experiencing some strange kind of ego dissolution (which thankfully reassembled). There’ll be a brand new single from this upcoming release coming out in August so stay posted!
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