Owls have metronomes in their heads: An interview with Foreign Owl by Sinead McKeever

Foreign Owl is made up of Eognan Donegan, (guitarist and lead vocalist, 19), Ciaran McKay, (drummer) and Michéal McKay, (guitarist and vocalist 21.)

What are your Star Signs ?
Eoghan: I’m a cancer.
Ciaran: I think I’m a Tartis, or what’s the other one called, a Taurus.
Michéal: I’m a gemini, the last time I checked.

Where are you guys from?
Eoghan: I’m from Donegal.
Ciaran: I’m from Japan originally.
Michéal: I’m from Japan originally.

You all met in Donegal?
Eoghan: Yeah, these guys came over from Japan ten years ago. And we met roughly five years ago. I met Ciaran and became very close to Ciaran. So I was always going round to his house, then this guy (Michéal) was there because they share blood. So I became very good friends with Micheal. So that’s how we met.

Are there any similarities between Donegal and Japan?
Eoghan: Ammmm. (Pauses.) No. (laughs.) Not at all. Completely different.
Michéal: I’d say the cities are somewhat similar. Like culturally and the way people think and stuff is a little bit similar.
Ciaran: No I don’t think so.
Eoghan: Like the cities in Ireland, are similar to the cities in Japan?
Michéal: Yeah.
Eoghan: Well maybe that’s kind of like a city culture thing, that’s kind of world wide. Cities kind of take on a culture of their own. But I don’t think that’s a correlation between Ireland and Japan.
Ciaran: They both have humans.
Eoghan: They’re different mentalities like, there are similarities in the sense it’s a city and a city but like. I donno, I think they’re very different, just the vibe. Of course there’s similarities in everything.

What inspired you to get into music and to form a band?
Ciaran: Boredom.
Eoghan: Yeah, it kinda happened one day, we used to make films together for fun. We used to make ads and short films, yeah just really stupid things. We started really young. Then one day Micheal played bass and wrote some songs already. I had gotten to know Ciaran and Michéal, there was a drum kit upstairs, which was Ciaran’s sisters. I had never played before. Then we went up one night and said “Let’s learn how to play this stuff.” Then we did. Then we played “Come Together.” So yeah, it was boredom, and we just really enjoyed it and like we said Micheal had already written songs so we were like “Yeah, let’s do this, let’s play these songs then.”

Who would be your biggest inspirations in music?
Ciaran: Interesting music.
Micheal: It’s changed over the years I think. Like at the start we were very religiously listening to Red Hot Chilli Peppers and this Japanese band called Radwimps. Now Alt-J came into our lives.
Eoghan: Yeah, we all have a lot of fascination with different music and especially now we’ve all branched off in different directions of what we like. We all share each others music. When we started we never really drew from any inspirations. There was stuff we listened to but it’s only recently we have a bigger vocabulary where we go: “Oh, this is a bit like that or this is a little like this.” Before it was like “We’re just doin’ the song or we’re just listening to a song”, we didn’t have the ability to make correlations. And that kind of stuck with us because although sometimes we go “Let’s do this kinda like that,” we never try and write something like someone else, we try to do a certain style, but we notice it more. Like having a bigger vocabulary in music, for us it doesn’t give us something to write to, it gives us something to reference to, like ‘ah that’s kinda like that thing.’ And that kind of helps you understand what you’re doing.

When was the first time you heard of Stendhal ?
Eoghan: It would have been 2 years ago. I used to be in a band when I was in tech, I’m not in that band anymore but they went to Stendhal. They’re called “What about Bobby.” I’m really good friends with the guys, lovely guys. They got Stendhal that year, so they went and played there and that’s where I first heard of it. And then I heard it was kind of rising, so it’s really nice to get it this year because it seems like it’s just building and building, so it will be nice to be part of that this year.

We’re really excited to have you 🙂
Eoghan: Thank you.

Have you been to Stendhal.
No we haven’t been. How Old is Stendhal now?

Stendhal has been around for 6 years now.

What is your favourite gig that you’ve ever done?
Eoghan: June 24th a gig supporting Lost Avenue. I don’t know what it was about that gig. The sound was amazing. There was just something about it. For me when I gig, it’s quite like a high, I feel very different. So that one in particular, I was like a vegetable for like an hour after. I remember sitting outside Sandinos after, it took me like an hour to come down from that one. There was just something about that one and the way it was performed. That gig, nothing has trumped it.
Ciaran: Mines was probably Miyazaki. That one was stellar like, it was open air.
Eoghan: We really like open air. Open air is kind of tricky because the sound is kind of like. It can be dodgy. But if it’s a good gig, especially if it’s like a festival, it’s a big sound, that’s where we really feel best. In a bar it’s kind of cramped and you have to really work as a musician to sound good in a bar. You kind of have to fight it. When you’re at a festival for us at least, that’s where we can be ourselves.

I can see yous working really well at a festival, just your sort of a vibe. Sort of primal or something.
Eoghan: That’s why we’re really glad we got Stendhal as we’ve been really hoping for festivals this year.
Michéal: My favourite gig so far is a tie between Miyazaki and the last gig we played in the nerve centre. A lot of support from the fans and we got an encore.

Do you like owls?
Eoghan: You know what I realised about owls this morning, they’re really rhythmic, they’ve got like a metronome in their head they’re like “doot doot, doot doot, doot doot, doot” They’re always staying in rhythm, it’s really cool.

Why are you called Foreign Owl?
Ciaran: Good question.
Eoghan: We thought up a lot of different names. It kind of came from like “For an Owl”, like a gift for an owl. And it’s also like literally “Foreign Owl” as Ciaran and Micheal aren’t from here and in a way i’m not either. I really like the world foreign.
Micheal: I like how it’s spelt. For-ae-ee-gan.
Eoghan: It’s also a cool word as anything that can be categorised as foreign is really cool.
Ciaran: Cause it just means different.
Eoghan: It just means outside of where you are. And that’s 99% of the world. Foreign is everything else. So it’s a really great word. And the owl, we just like owls. There were times where we were thinking of other names but nothing could beat it. We also like it because people have difficulty pronouncing it.
Micheal: Especially in Derry.
Eoghan: ESPECIALLY in Derry.
All three: *says Foreign Owl in a thick derry mucker accent.*
Eoghan: And that’s kind of funny. I’m sure they would love it if we had a name they could pronounce but it’s fine.
Ciaran: It’s pretty funny that the only people who can pronounce it AREN’T local people.
Eoghan: Only the foreigners. (*All three laughs*).

Have you got your wellyboots ready for Ballymunny Cottage Farm?
Eoghan: The only other festival I was at was Swell in the Aran Islands, and I was not ready for it and I left that island looking like a scare crow with plastic bags on my feet. So I will be more ready for Stendhal. But hey, if you don’t get dirty at a festival you’re not doing it right.
Ciaran: Just bring change.
Eoghan: Just bring change, (chuckles.) Just embrace it. It’s alright to get dirty.