Not so long ago, a little band called Ona was poised to take over Santa Barbara in a very big way. The fivesome were a constant source of high-powered rock, drawing comparisons to groups like Incubus and Stone Temple Pilots, among others. With back-to-back gigs up and down State Street and a steady stream of positive feedback growing in their wake, it took many of us by surprise when the guys called it quits in late 2007.
By April 2008, whispers started circulating about an offshoot outfit of sorts, starring three of the band’s original five musicians. Now, nearly one year later, the Omar Cowan Band is finally ready to unleash their musical might on the S.B. masses - just don’t expect Ona, Version 2.0. Together with keyboardist Dusty Ineman, former Ona members Omar Cowan (vocals), Shane McKillop (bass), and Justin Flint (drums) have spent the past 12-plus months pouring their hearts and souls into the music. And this Tuesday, April 14, the four-piece will take to the SOhO stage to show off the fruits of their labors. Sonically speaking, the Omar Cowan Band can best be compared to a less electro-happy version of Muse. Heartfelt lyrics combine with crisp, crunching guitars, driving bass lines, and meticulous piano parts to create a sound and vision that is about as cohesive as they come.
Recently, we checked in with frontman and namesake Cowan and got the skinny on what’s next for the band.
Coming off of the success of Ona, what was the collective vision that spawned the start of the Omar Cowan Band? What did you guys learn from your past experiences and how has that played into the new band? The way this project started was quite simple and effortless, really. We knew the languages Justin, Shane, and [I] spoke musically were very similar, so on that level we had a good basis for communicating. That definitely started with Ona. The three of us continued to play together after Ona because it felt good, like we were following the music - it wasn’t necessarily about a “vision” until much later on. I’m very happy that it happened that way because there isn’t that feeling of manufacturing or contriving the music to fit the vision.
Why the decision to go with a super straightforward band name? Were there other options in the mix and how did you come to settle on the “Omar Cowan Band?” I knew we’d get shit for this one sooner or later! Turns out sooner. Well, first of all let me point out how incredibly difficult that process is, at least for us. Part of the reason for picking that name was probably default, and also just being tired of not having one. In the year or so we’ve been playing together there was never a “That’s it!” moment. I think the main reason, without sounding egotistical, is that this project does feel like my baby. Although we are a band, I’ve sort of taken on the songwriting and vision aspects of it. Who knows? If that magical name pops up down the road, we may snatch it up.
What did you grow up listening to and how/why were you attracted to playing music as kids? My parents had very cosmopolitan tastes in music, so I think I absorbed a lot of that and am very grateful for it. I started playing classical guitar as a young kid, but I became really interested in lyrical, blues-tinged guitar players like Mark Knopfler and David Gilmour, and later John Mayer. As far as songwriting and singing, I’d say Stevie Wonder, Jeff Buckley, Incubus, Michael Jackson, Coldplay, bands that write really great pop tunes without sounding trite. That’s what I think we’re all into, and that’s really the hardest thing to accomplish. As far as the other guys, I know Shane’s into guys like Tony Levin and Flea, Justin’s into Steve Jordan and Matt Johnson, and Dusty’s into Bob Marley and The Police : ”
If you had to describe the band’s sound in three words, what would they be? I really wish the guys were here for this one. I’d say “groove,” “simplicity,” and “heart.”
Having played the Santa Barbara circuit before, what are your plans for the next few months to a year? To branch out! The road calls. That’s what we all yearn for, I think. Santa Barbara is tricky because I feel people get sick of things quickly here, so you don’t want to over-saturate. A Santa Barbarian’s thought process is something like, ‘Should I go see that band that I saw a couple weeks ago, or should I just bask in the gorgeousness that is this town and chill out?’ We’re spoiled here.
What would you change about the Santa Barbara music scene? It’s funny you ask that because I’ve been starting to feel like it’s picking up. It’s been pretty stale for a while, in my opinion. As far as a core group of great bands that really give people a great time and their money’s worth, there hasn’t been much. But I think that’s changing. There’s a place called the Biko [Garage] in I.V. that’s really fun, and a few open mikes have been popping up. I always hear bands complain that the audience in S.B. sucks, and that might hold a smidgeon of truth, but I think, ultimately, if the music is great, people will show up and dig on it.
When can we expect to see an EP (or full length) from the Omar Cowan Band? At SOhO on Tuesday! It’ll have four tracks.
The Omar Cowan Band will play an all-ages show at SOhO (1221 State St.) this Tuesday, April 14 at 8 p.m. They’ll share the stage with fellow Santa Barbara artists Krity Hepp and the Austin Beede Band. Call 962-7776 or visit sohosb.com for details.