mechanical owl
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mechanical owl

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"Exitfire Blog"

Yet another gem from Leeds, Mechanical Owl is the solo project of Mike Payne. His tunes come down somewhere between melancholic indie and varied electronica, with lyrics that paint a picture in a Belle & Sebastian sort of way. The recent Snowdonia EP shows a musician that's influenced by every band he hears, as well as the sights and sounds that surround him with six memorable tunes.

In addition to this project, he can be found in Mrs. Dice Feet (with Nic Burrows) and Crayon, which is a pop band rounded out by Harry Dean and Nic Burrows.


"Live: Man Alive! @ The Brudenell Social"

Star of the night though was Mike Payne aka Mechanical Owl, who surprised with some genuine pop gems. After some technical mishaps including a core meltdown on his MACbook, and a badly placed mobile phone (which resulted in the tell-tale interference of an incoming SMS – though in this context, it may not have been totally out of place), Mechanical Owl impressed with the well rounded maturity of his varied and well thought out songs – smile inducing, strong and melancholic. - Amelia's Magazine (london)

"Newspaper review"

How to better your life this week: listen to Mechanical Owl. Otherwise known as Mike Payne, he has been away at University in Leeds for the past few years but is know back in his hometown of Mold. Listening to his songs though you'd think he has travelled around the world, via Scandinavia and back again. Think Sigur Ros soundscapes and synths coupled with Thom Yorke's delivery. Expose yourself to 'Brittle II' and you'll never be the same again. Go visit and tell the world. - Evening Leader, Flintshire

"Snowdonia E.P review"

"Solo project' usually means 'indulgent toss', but every
once in a while you get pleasantly surprised and with
this EP I'm not just surprised - I'm smitten. From the sound
of Arctic ice crystals shimmering across the opening bars
of 'Brittle II' there is an air of melancholic anticipation,
thawed by the warmest of guitars and massaged by Mike
Payne's unassuming, double-tracked vocals. It's a tem-
perate iceberg of a track - dulcimers, synths and metro-
nomic drums lift and support the sound as it loops away
in the manner of classic British minimalism, entwining
Maps, Radiohead and Mike Oldfield. Little details make
it even more marvellous: plucked and sampled strings
lend a latter-day Four Tet quality to the title track, erratic
rhythmic stammers adorn 'Row Your Boat' and give way
to pure electronica on 'Gravel Grain'. Each song sounds
well-crafted but familiar, poppy yet unique. Dangerously
good." - Sandman magazine (Leeds)


Occasionally, the only reason you discover a new band or artist is because you
like the sound of their name - it can be that shallow. Thus it was for me with Mechanical Owl. I opened my ears to his home-grown debut CD Snowdonia and found myself trans-
ported back to a time when melodies were relatively fresh and Radiohead and Smashing Pumpkins provided the soundtrack to my post graduate melancholia, only this time it was all
right, the bad things were only imagined, beauty won and greed was given up as a bad lot.
You could say Snowdonia impressed me just a touch.
So it is with an air of reverent anxiety that I wait for him in the public bar of the Brudenell Social Club listening, aptly, to Radiohead. When Mike
Payne, the man behind Mechanical Owl, arrives, he is accompanied by Douglas Adams from Sky Larkin, brought along partly for moral
support and partly because he's his mate and one time partner in music. Mike is quiet, unassuming, seems a tad bewildered and comes across as a stubbly yet stable Syd Barrett; in
fact, if you look up 'mild-mannered' in the dictionary you will probably find a picture of him.
"I'll try and make myself sound interesting" he says quietly, eyes wide and looking a little scared. To ease him in, I ask about his musical
background. "Since school I've been in bands" he confesses. "My mum used to teach piano, so we always had music in the house". Mike's
home is Flintshire, near Wrexham, although you wouldn't suspect Welsh lineage from his accent.
"I've always made [music] on my own and been in bands at the same time", he continues, "but it's only recently that I've thought I might as well do something with the songs I've been writing by myself". So what has prompted this desire to record an EP?
"I moved back to Wales last summer and it's just [made up of] some songs that I recorded around then - a few of them I've had for a while,
but I had the opportunity to spend a little time recording them properly. Some of them are about things...that have happened". He laughs nervously, but doesn't elaborate. It turns out that his roots lie in electronica, but a recent addition
to his musical life has made a big difference to his style. "I managed to get a drum kit back home because I wanted to make [the music]
sound like it's being played by a band. I recorded it all myself but I'd quite like to get other people involved. I'm trying to get some guys together to do a proper live show - I'm not too happy playing on my own with a laptop because it's a bit dull to watch''. "I was in a band with Doug called All My Friends Are Dead'' he continues. ''I enjoyed that, but
then Doug joined Sky Larkin and we both just drifted apart from that band really". Mike maintains contact with former bandmate Nick Burrows though. "I'm still making music with
Nick as Mrs Dice Feet. I like working with Nick - I like working with people - but I like working on my own too". I ask him which of the two he prefers, and he drifts into thoughtfulness for a
while, considering an answer. "I probably prefer being on my own" he answers quietly, slowly, "because I'm in control... I like to be, but I tend,
in a group situation, not to impose it. I'll let someone else do it instead". He thinks a bit more before going on. "I like the city...I think I'll probably come back to live in Leeds or
Manchester or somewhere... just because I've done the recording and I want to play the songs live now, get a band together and take it for-
wards. It's hard to do that when you're miles from anyone''.
Returning to the recording and comparing it to Thom Yorke's work prompts a smile from Mike.
"That's the kind of music really enjoy listening to, more so than really obscure electronica. I kind of like those too, but I question my motives
to be honest. When you get into music you want to hear something different all the time, but
then you get to the point where you just want to hear some songs again". So that's the reasoning
behind his making songs with melodies, structures, instruments and lyrics? "I don't enjoy writ-
ing lyrics to be honest, because I find them really difficult. I tend to think of something quite specific and end up being quite vague about it.
I just like writing songs. I don't think I was ever very good at the making abstract electronica, because I'd always just try to make it into a song
in the end". Mike has quite a different task on his mind at the moment though: getting the band together.
"It's going be a four piece" he says. "It won't completely replicate how the songs sound on the recordings. You can't really get anywhere
without gigging and it makes it more fun". He laughs and apologises for not being very forthcoming. "I thought I had things to say" he claims. Doug snorts. "You should have seen him
last night!" Mike smiles and shushes him. A man of few words, but wait until he brings his drum
kit up...
Interview by Rob Wright
- Sandman magazine (Leeds)

"5/5 E.P Review"

From the first time I switched this record on, I felt an instant comparison between Mechanical Owl and contempary Jakokoyak could be made. Jakokoyak may not be heard of in our parts, but is massive in Wales which is where Mechanical Owl originate - though they have been based in Leeds for a while now. For some unknown reason I decided to listen to this CD in reverse track order thanks to the magic of computer media players. In fact I could say it sounds like Wim Butler of Arcade Fire venturing into The Flaming Lips.

This EP creates soundscapes that are polyphonic and relaxing with an infusion of synths and acoustic drums and guitars letting a landscape of imagery flow freely into your mind. 'Our Loss Is Their Gain' is a masterpiece letting all our troubles be washed over in a feel good manner. 'Make it Last' opens with cool riffs and sounds like a Charlatans moment, yet feels totally original at the same time, making it for me the EP highlight. There is a definitive sound and something unique to Mike Payne, as he created this whole EP himself, doing the production and writing, and this EP is nothing short of genius.
Mike Payne has managed to do in an EP what as a musician I have always aspired to do, creating electro-impressionistic ideas wrapped in a comfortable familiarity in guitars and drums with the odd fancy effect. A wonderful EP that deserves praise. -

"Missing Wales: Mechanical Owl's Snowdonia EP"

I'm not sure how I first stumbled across Mechanical Owl - it may have been an e-newsletter of some sort, but all that really matters is that something led me to Mechanical Owl's slightly off-kilter folk-electro-rock and it was like stumbling through the trees in Snowdonia National Park and discovering a hidden waterfall in the mountainside. Mechanical Owl is the solo project of Mike Payne, who recently moved back from Leeds to his hometown of Mold in Northern Wales, and who also participates in the bands Mrs. Dice Feet and Crayon. Payne's self-produced, self-distributed six-track Snowdonia EP is a lovely combination of the pastoral and the technological as electronic buzzes and ambience bolster plucked guitar strings. And Payne manages to weave music that captures and distills the magic and majesty of the Welsh landscape, often sounding like The Radio Dept. at their wispiest.

The first track of the EP, Brittle II, begins with an insistent guitar riff and then Payne's dreamy vocals kick off with evocative lyrics like "Rain rivers flow through your kitchen cupboard." Title track, Snowdonia, uses with the sounds of plucked strings, somehow sounding like Asian influences while still maintaining a driving rock melody. If I close my eyes, I can see the Welsh countryside in its hyperreal green glory. Row Your Boat spins around like dust in a sunbeam, sounding like an Air song, and it's my favourite track off the EP. Somehow, with its lackadaisical three-four rhythm, it also reminds me of the hypnotism of Heaven is Inside You by I Monster. Make It Last is a more rock-propelled tune with thrumming guitars and smashed cymbals, and the refrains of "ooh la la's" makes it all that more anthemic. Our Loss Their Gain takes light organ strains and skipping drums and Payne's vocals can get unwieldy in a Frightened Rabbit sort of way, emulating the cascade and spray of Welsh waterfalls between the misty hills. Gravel Grain is a slower affair with gentle electronic pulses, and Payne's plaintive plea of "I hope that it does not start to rain again" melds with the music into a hovering fluidity like mist hanging in the air. There is also a bonus track, which is a reprise of Make It Last, replacing rock bombast with thicker, slower sounds.

If you like what you hear as much as I do, you can purchase the Snowdonia EP at Mechanical Owl's MySpace. And if you live in the UK, Mechanical Owl is playing a few dates this summer, including ones in Manchester, Leeds and at the Good Times Festival in Wrexham. Even though I'm probably not technically allowed to feel hiraeth, the homesickness specific to the Welsh, the way Mechanical Owl makes me miss Wales feels pretty close. However, at the same time, the Snowdonia EP is like stretching the vista of Welsh mountains and valleys through my mind from headphone to headphone.


"BBC Wales Music"

Using guitars, accordions, ukuleles and keyboards, Mold's Mechanical Owl are creating new sounds and winning lots of acclaim.
following the release of their six track EP, 'Snowdonia', BBC Radio Wales' Adam Walton and BBC Radio 1's Bethan Elfyn are playing the sounds of Mechanical Owl, aka Mike Payne (vocals, guitar); Ian Davies (guitar); David Parr (bass); Greg Michel (drums); and Maff Stenning (synths/laptop).
Mike's live band are now well established locally; you can find them playing gigs in Wrexham at Central Station and even Belle Vue park during its summer programme of live music, as well as the Mold-based monthly arts and culture event, Absurd, and this weekend (25-26 July) at the region's newest music festival, Y Ffin.
Mechanical Owl have also been gigging further afield such as Leeds and Manchester and widening their fan base which is strongest around their roots - Mold, Deeside, Chester and Wrexham.
Watch this space! - BBC


R.S.P.C.A EP (2006)





Mechanical Owl started as the lonely solo project of Mike Payne, making home recordings in North Wales and playing solo shows with a laptop and various instruments around Leeds and Manchester. Mechanical Owl has now grown into a band of 4 musicians playing experimental music with melody, structure and personal and poetic lyrics, creating pop songs influenced by Why?, Diane Cluck, four tet, Sigur Ros and 90s grunge.
With a strong D.I.Y ethos, the band are currently recording a self produced album in locations around North Wales. They will be releasing the album themselves in different forms in early 2010, including recycled media with handmade artwork and packaging. With a belief that you should make where you live better before running to a bigger scene, and with a fledgling music scene developing in their home town of Mold, North Wales, the band are creating a music and art collective called "the beard collector." They hope to bring together and expose local artists and musicians, as well as showcasing the music they love from around the UK at their monthly nights in local pubs and clubs.
Championed by DJ's Bethan Elfyn, Steve Lamacq and Adam Walton, the band have recorded live sessions and played shows for Radio One and radio Wales, hoping to make their mark in 2010.