Zoo Owl: The Camp Wavelength Interview

Purveyors of: Smart, snappy electro-pop that’s infectious — but not in a clinical way.
File next to: Dan Deacon, Doldrums, Pan Sonic, Orbital
Playing: Camp Wavelength, Friday August 28 (Late Night!!) at Artscape Gibraltar Point. Get your ticket here! *Late Night Ferry Ticket Required. Purchase one here!

Toronto’s Bryan Sutherland has been gigging around our city as Zoo Owl for a few years now, moving the fannies of audience members with his likable electronic grooves and peering at them via his trademark night vision goggles. With songs made of snippets and strung longform via electronics and the like, Zoo Owl is known for theatrics that sometimes make audiences dance and sometimes scare the shit out of them. Considering onlookers will be captive on an island during Camp Wavelength, Zoo Owl will have prime opportunities for both. We managed to track Bryan down whilst in Germany for a chat about Zoo Owl as an entity and where he draws the line between live and in studio.

You recently played at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). Different type of crowd, I imagine? Where in the museum did you play?

The ROM gig was great. I set up in the main hall behind the Futalognkosaurus. The crowd was massive: A mixed cross-section of the city, mostly young, but eager to be hyped up. They gave me lots of love even when I knocked my gear over. The set could have been louder, but there’s a lot of fragile antiquity that shouldn’t get rattled, right? It would’ve been cooler to see more elderly museum-goers present — the ones who have watched the ROM evolve over the years — and to get their take on this year’s Friday Night Live opening theme of “FutuROMa.”

Where does your interest in electronic music come from? What were some of your early discoveries, influences in the genre?

The Prodigy’s Experience was the earliest record that really gripped me (at age 13). Death Grips, Animal Collective, and Björk continue to inspire. And I can’t deny that whole electro banger era back in 2008, when my band Opopo was still a thing. Cinema and film scores have definitely influenced the live show too, and Zoo Owl’s whole immersive, theatrical, character vibe.

Do your songs tend to come together quickly or gradually? From what I gather, you like to gather bits of inspiration from various places and sounds and piece together songs therein.

Gradually. It’s a lot of sampling sounds from life and processing them. I try to produce demos on site either camping or during long trips. It’s actually less about the songs and more about their themes, which will have multiple instrumental sections and beats written for them before the proper one is chosen. I spent almost a year trying to do justice to my next single’s theme. It’s about plants.

Though Zoo Owl is largely a solo project, what kind of collaborations have you done and would you like to do in the future?

I’m trying to find alternative ways to collaborate with artists other than remixing (though I’ve done a few) and I find visual elements most exciting these days. In the spring, I did a video for Digits’ single “Safe” and got to explore directing, camera operating, and post-production editing. Also, I have made forest installations for different Toronto events — my favourite being for Julie Reich of Bile Sister. It was a lush, plant-filled hallway at CineCycle with lights and specialized greenery. I’ll be doing an installation piece at Camp Wavelength too, in the outdoors for once. In the future, I hope to produce more interactive and immersive experiences using emerging technology. Did you know there exists a 3D hologram you can touch? I want in on that.

Where’d your goggles come from? When was the first time you wore them onstage? Have you seen the lights the dudes from Orbital wear on-stage at times?

The light goggles were custom-built (by me) and I wear them at every show. Yes, I have seen Orbital’s gear. They seem more utilitarian in that they help light up their equipment. My eyes are more of a tool for the audience.

In closing, any general thoughts about actually owls? You like ’em? Ever seen one in the wild?

Owls are keepers of folklore and wise hunters. I have heard plenty of them hooting when I lived in Tofino for three months in 2014. Moths with wings that mimic the gaze of an owl are especially fascinating, though. To camouflage oneself with a fake set of eyes and mimic a monster relates to Zoo Owl entirely.

– Interview by Cam Gordon (Completely Ignored)

Zoo Owl plays Camp Wavelength Friday, August 28 at Artscape Gibraltar Point (Toronto Island). Get your single day tickets here! Or better yet, join us for the whole weekend and get a Festival Pass!