From the cloudy-mountainscape cover art of their recent full-length debut, Montaña y Caballo,to the soaring vocal arcs and guitar-driven melodies of the songs within, it's easy to draw connections between Pullman quartet Yarn Owl and other Pacific Northwest folk-rock luminaries—especially considering the band's drummer, Tim Meinig, once played bass with Band of Horses.
YARN OWL With Chapter, the Young Lions. Columbia City Theater, 4916 Rainier Ave. S., 722-3009, columbiacitytheater.com. $6. 9 p.m. Fri., May 27.
But before you write Yarn Owl off as an imitator, the band is quick to suggest such comparisons might just say more about what everyone else is listening to. "A lot of the Yarn Owl sound comes from Javier [Suarez] and his voice and guitar playing, and then Tyler [Armour]'s unique guitar parts, and then the rhythm section—whereas with Band of Horses, everything was there to back up the vocals of Ben [Bridwell]," Meinig said. "It developed very naturally, on its own. We never went out to say we're going to sound like Fleet Foxes. You just take little things here and there from bands that you like and see where it goes."
Favoring note-heavy melodies over power chords, layered instrumentation metered by an active drum kit, and yes, vocal stylings very reminiscent of Robin Pecknold's, Yarn Owl certainly seems to have picked the elements of Northwest rock that suit them best. But if nothing else, their Palouse roots give them the freedom to do so.
The bandmates attribute much of their evolution to Washington State University and its college radio station, KZUU 90.7, for which all four have DJ'd. Though the relatively isolated college town means gigs often translate into long drives—75 miles to Spokane, 140 to the Tri-Cities, 300 to Seattle—the lack of worry about space or noise was a worthwhile trade-off.
"At the time it was a good place, because there are lots of opportunities to play with bands coming through Spokane and the Tri-Cities and Pullman and Moscow," drummer Ted Powers said. "You don't get as much exposure, but when all you have to do is go to class and play music . . . that's pretty fun."
After working with producer Chris Early, another ex–Band of Horses member, to record 2010 EP Stay Warm in a warehouse near Seattle's Safeco Field, the band took a different approach for the LP that better matched the idyllic sound: For two days they relocated to a remote barn amid the rolling fields of nearby Moscow, Idaho. Yarn Owl was chasing a bigger sound and concerning themselves less with noise and pedal experimentation, and the strategy worked.
"[Montaña y Caballo has] a more mature sound than the first two things we put out, and we've all owned what we've done a lot more in the last year," Suarez said. "It was definitely a departure from the normal recording-studio atmosphere, feeling pressured by a fancy room. Instead, we were just in a giant old barn. And that was the coolest thing: just being a band in a barn."
But the collective-consciousness issue remains: Is Yarn Owl the next incarnation of Band of Horses? You might say so, but they never will. In fact, it seems the bandmates aren't too concerned with what their band's existence means relative to others.
"I think the worst thing that could happen is for people to be dismissive of a band as a rip-off," said Powers. "When you put a band together, all you can hope for is that people enjoy the music. It's nice when you get comparisons to bands of that stature, but at the same time those comparisons might say more about what you're listening to than what we are."