Talking to Yoni Berk, whose nom de rock is Little Owl, you quickly learn that many of his personal revelations happen on the road. Recently returned from a three-and-a-half-week, six-state tour, he tells me that a suite of songs is now in the offing. Berk’s peripatetic life began with itinerant rabbi parents moving him from congregation to congregation. On his own, studying philosophy at Santa Cruz (or “sitting around talking about thinking,” as his friend described it), Berk answered a beckoning call from pal Elie Sherman to put together a band in Santa Barbara. Here he dabbled in surf rock, then went all singer/songwriter, and then rebirthed with cool avian name at a gig he played with friend Shayna Brown. “And now six and a half years later, this is where I am,” he said.
If that sounds more or less permanent, you haven’t been watching or listening to the crazy array of possibilities in Little Owl’s brand of rock and roll. The current lineup features Brown, pianist Emily O’Dean, drummer Maxx Farris, and guitarist Kyle Lowe. But it’s on the road where his ideas become musical flesh. Berk writes on a guitar or a harmonium, but songs become real “by grinding it out at shows where we can also structurally fine-tune it.” You can hear it, he said, in the dramatic flourishes that make Little Owl so exciting to watch live. “We realized we have to adopt a theatrical quality [onstage] to go along with all the changing dynamics of the music, the way the songs shift.”
Berk’s road stories include his sudden inspiration to become a yoga teacher, a profession that has kept him solvent while allowing enough latitude to travel when needed. We’re excited to see Berk’s future flights but will be happy as long as he keeps roosting in S.B. His philosophical training helps, too. “There are so many directions the music can travel,” he said, “I’ll just have to see where we get to from here.”