Photo by Danielle Petrosa

Class of 2017: Pink Owl

Interviews with the likes of Iggy Pop, Bob Dylan, or the Edge rarely take the time to refer to their subjects as Jimmy Osterberg, Robert Zimmerman, and (believe it or not) David Evans. It’s not that those icons’ lives before the stage were any less interesting, nor that the story hasn’t already been told, it’s just that once they transformed, there was never any reason to call them anything else.

One gets the same kind of vibe with Columbus’ Pink Owl.

His mild-mannered alter ego of former art student/substitute teacher begets the persona he’s been cultivating since he was a teen in Belpre, Ohio. Across the river, his Parkersburg, West Virginia location has left a definite holler in his drawl, the shell of country radio in his subconscious, and a particular wanderlust searching for primal truths in his songwriting. The “crummy apartment” where the Pink Owl was born in bedroom-acoustic recordings on a hand-held tape recorder, remains a remnant in his music—a starting point for his gypsy time-warp to launch.

I’ll readily admit to knowing the man for years, but never knowing him as anything other than the Pink Owl. He’s enjoyed that anonymity throughout his gnarly bildungsroman, a story that is better told outside the realm of social media. His tenure at Ohio University is when the Pink Owl found rock and roll to be “tangible,” dancing a fool, soaking up the touring garage bands (“before garage became whatever it is now”), and getting an alternate education at the Union.

But as the singer in the now-defunct Red Feathers, the Pink Owl was encouraged to put on a tint of artifice and bravado—lipstick and feather boas—and engage audiences entirely unscripted. It fit the slash and burn punk and psych of that band almost to a destructive fault. Think of the Stooges infiltrated by a quartet of outlaw Appalachians.

Perhaps too much Jimmy Osterberg and not enough Pink Owl?

“At a certain point, I really had to front the band,” says the Pink Owl. “It allowed me a complete lack of inhibition. I got lost in it. More than anything it was fun. It was oppositional, hopefully. I wanted some excitement. When you’re wearing women’s pants, that becomes a major part of it.”

A move to Ann Arbor in the name of love delineated a definite dissolution for Red Feathers, and a break for the Pink Owl and his music. That said, the Pink Owl’s true love remained in his songs. The opportunity to see them grow with a new circle of friends, the Supernatural Fears—consisting of Aaron Troyer of Day Creeper on bass, Blake Pfister on drums, and Steve Shurtz on lead guitar—is what quickly brought him back to Columbus. Knowing the prolific freakiness of the Pink Owl, Superdreamer Records owner, Spencer Morgan instantly asked the group to record an album for the label.

“There was a point where I was wholly committed to these songs and doing what I wanted to do with the Pink Owl. When Spencer asked for a record, I knew I had to accept that challenge.”

Fully Delusional, the second full album by the Pink Owl (but first credited to himself and the Supernatural Fears) was created last summer and finds the character reeling back the confrontation and androgyny of old. It’s no longer about “the show.” The record allows the Pink Owl’s junk drawer of influence to shine through. There is honky-tonk, glammed-up pop, itchy Cramps snarls, Aftermath-era Stones, the loosely dirigible jams of T. Rex, and bedroom experiments converted into Technicolored cosmic wanderings. And he dresses the part, preferring a trucker hat, handkerchief, and high-strung acoustic guitar to spit, stale beer, and Cinemax antics. It’s not that the Pink Owl has never been serious or sincere about his work, his art, but hearing his skewed folk in the context of this weirdo caravan feels like a new level—the next step in his evolution.

“I love it because it still feels spontaneous. I’m a generative machine, so I’m always having to invent in the moment.”

Even if it all fell apart tomorrow, the Pink Owl could survive as a lone nomad—a Zappa or Ariel Pink type figure who could create within his own bubble. With the next phase, he’s committed to making a concerted push for whatever the big time consists of in modern times.

“Why do you think I’m a substitute teacher?”

For more information on The Pink Owl and his Supernatural Fears, visit superdreamerrecords.com.

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