There is a certain moment in a band’s trajectory when you can actually observe the music evolving. Denver four-piece Tyto Alba is experiencing just such a moment: a young band spreading its wings in sound and spirit before an audience’s eyes.
Perhaps movement as a way of being comes naturally to this band, which was formed in 2014. The current lineup includes Melanie Steinway, Matt Rossi, Jeremy Van Zandt and Daniel DiMarchi. Steinway, a Boulder native who studied visual art at the Rhode Island School of Design, returned to Colorado after a stint in New York City and formed the short-lived folk-rock band Howl Moonshine Howl in 2013. Her musical interests were already expanding when she befriended Rossi, a then-recent transplant from Washington by way of Portland. One night they attended a show at the Marquis Theater featuring post-rock band This Will Destroy You, and the sound resonated with both musicians.
“I feel like my musical influences come from folk and post-rock,” Steinway says. “That cinematic music references nature in an abstract way. You listen to Sigur Rós and it harkens to the untamed terrains of Iceland.”
Tyto Alba combines the aesthetic of acoustic music with Steinway’s electric guitar and fingerpicking technique, resulting in a sound that is part indie pop and part dream pop, a mix of warm, melodic atmospherics with organic textures.
In the summer of 2014, Tyto Alba was made up of Steinway, Rossi, original bassist Ryan Self and Van Zandt, Rossi’s bandmate from Denver-based Umbrella Weather and the still-extant Party Like Thieves. At the time, Van Zandt primarily played guitar, but he started drumming for Tyto Alba because he wanted to push himself into playing a different kind of music.
The four-piece quickly jelled, and in March the members headed to Austin, where they played a few sets during South by Southwest. They followed those performances with the release of their debut EP, Oh Tame One, in April. The title of the EP — a reference to a song by Lawrence, Kansas, indie-rock band Your Friend — had at one time been considered for the name of the band itself.
The name that was ultimately chosen is the scientific name for the barn owl. Its significance has less to do with barn owls than it does with Steinway’s prevailing love of nature, which informs much of her songwriting.
“Owls are elegant and mysterious, but they’re also predators,” she notes.
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“I think we write music in such a way that [for example] Melanie will say she wants a simple part that sounds like birds,” says Van Zandt.
The name also reflects Steinway’s background as a visual artist. “Thinking as a designer, the name is four letters and four letters,” she says, explaining the words’ pleasing graphic symmetry.
Steinway wove nature imagery into her designs for the Oh Tame One cover, and she’s done the same for the band’s T-shirts. She also created the music video for the single “Lupine Soul,” which makes use of aquatic scenes rather than Colorado imagery, which might be more expected.
“The whole video is personal and circulates around themes of nature versus society, and how that parallels one individual trying to relate to other individuals, and the chasm of disconnect between one world and another and trying to bridge those,” explains Steinway.
“Lupine Soul” will be released on January 30 via download on Tyto Alba’s Soundcloud page (where you can also download the band’s previous single, “Between the Lines”). The video will be released on YouTube the same day.
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The new singles feature Self playing bass, though he recently left the band to focus on his career and family. Daniel DiMarchi, a former member of Yovth, stepped in to fill his place, playing with Tyto Alba at its recent show at the Downtown Artery in Fort Collins. DiMarchi’s interest in electronic music already seems to be influencing the band’s direction.
“[Daniel] wants us to sound like Portishead,” muses Steinway.
After releasing the new video and single, Tyto Alba plans to make another trip to SXSW. Once the bandmembers can enter the studio, they want to lay down music written with DiMarchi and put out a ten-inch record. And then? Extended tour dates outside of Colorado. In between, the upcoming show at Syntax Physic Opera is Denver’s chance to catch a local band as it was and glimpse what it is about to become.
9 p.m. Saturday, January 30, Syntax Physic Opera, 554 South Broadway, $7, 720-456-7041.