I’ll start by saying I am a proud vinyl geek. I cannot be stopped from flipping through stacks wherever they’re available. When I go on vacation, I search for nearby record stores and don’t leave until each row has been flipped through. I love a good find of an old favorite as much as I enjoy discovering something brand new. Let’s just say I was quite intrigued a few weeks ago when I saw this local post online: “Gifting box with vinyl records if you are an artist you can do something with them.”
I’d seen similar posts online. Pictures of decades old, decaying, scratched and cracked records – nine times out of ten, the records are garbage. However, what caught my attention in this post more than anything was that this stack of records, though without covers, seemed in great condition. Even more intriguing than that, they seemed to be several copies of the same album, from a band I’d never heard of. A quick search later and I was listening to a couple of songs on an old Bandcamp page. I hopped on my bike and 30 minutes later was being blown away by the emotional, riveting music coming from my turntable.
Their songs reminded me of early Arcade Fire. Lively male/female vocals pushed the songs over peaks and valleys of electric guitars, cello and violins. The lyrics talked of characters going through tough times, of struggles both external and internal. There were songs about the holy spirit and of meeting people on church steps. In fact, the closer I listened, there were a lot of religious references. The words were never didactic or heavy-handed though, like I would normally associate with a “Christian rock band.” This was something entirely different from that. It made me wonder if the lyrics used spirituality for additional emotional depth; like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Spiritualized and Jesus and Mary Chain, or the words were that of a devout believer? Then I wondered if the belief of the artists matters at all if they aren’t being preachy? The answer was a resounding yes. I loved these songs regardless.
After a few spins that afternoon, I conducted some research. This group Barn Owl, from Hamilton, ON released the album back in January 2007. The vinyl was done in a limited run with handmade and printed cover jackets. The group at some point had split and was now defunct. Lead singer/songwriter Jared Both has since relocated to my hometown! He continues to share music online under the name Jared Both and the Secret Hymns, and sings with passion, often and raw and pushing its comfortable boundaries. He and the group utilize primarily analog and acoustic instruments to create songs that ride the line between folk and punk. I was blown away and intrigued. What I couldn’t find the answers to in the songs or in the limited online presence, were questions like: Who is this guy? What is up with all the religious references in songs? What happened to the group? How did I happen to stumble upon a stack of pristinely preserved records?
These questions needed to be answered, so I reached out to Jared via an email address on the Bandcamp page and waited. A few days later I received a reply and much to my surprise – he was more than happy to meet and discuss. Jared suggested we meet at a pub, which just happened to be one of my favorites. I was seriously confused how we hadn’t yet met – London isn’t that big a town. When we both arrived on bicycles, this confirmed my suspicions that we had similar tastes and I was excited to pick his brain. We sat outside on the patio as the sun set and sipped a beer. Jared is just as passionate in conversation as he is in recorded song. Topics ranged from his musical roots and inspiration, from punk bands and DIY aesthetic, to changing priorities and expectations as one ages into different stages of life. And of course, he answered my question about the religious references… He’s a pastor!
Jared and his wife Michelle moved to London to work at a local church, and even with a growing family, their passion for music is far from being extinguished. Jared hosts an open-mic, participates in others around town and continues to release original songs. Let me tell you, they are well worth your time. What strikes me most about Jared (and the Barn Owl songs) is sincerity. Music styles based on simple structures like punk, folk and country all rely on sincerity. The stories in the tunes are what makes them memorable and relatable. The lyrics don’t need to be 100% autobiographical but, for me at least, I need to think the singer needs to believe in them. This belief in what he’s saying is one of the many reasons Jared’s songs speak to me.
So, the mystery behind this record has been solved. I hope this is a reminder to all other indie artists out there that music will find its audience. It may take years but if you’re true to yourself and your art, know that at some point your songs will find the right ears. I am sorry I missed the opportunity to catch Barn Owl while they were still active, but I am overjoyed to have found their songs.
“Chasing the Glow” by Barn Owl and Jared’s new songs are available via Bandcamp. The most recently shared song titled “There Is A Light” was released in December 2022. It has an obvious nod of the hat to The Smiths, and is a tale of never giving up. Life’s struggles are constantly changing, but there is always room for hope and the strength to carry on. Jared and friends are currently putting together a live show of “sad dad cover songs” (think Wilco and The National) – if you live in or around Hamilton, I strongly encourage you to check it out!
Photo credit: Artist – Bandcamp