Feel the feeling

Denver emo band A Place For Owls turns up the sincerity on debut LP

Credit: Eric Wencel

The term “emo” has lived many lives since its origins in the evolving D.C. hardcore scene of the late 1980s. Three decades later, the once-maligned moniker — more a general vibe than a discrete set of musical practices — is used to describe a broad swath of heart-on-the-sleeve artists, from goth-adjacent arena rockers like My Chemical Romance to alt-radio hitmakers Jimmy Eat World and the late Long Island mumble rapper Lil Peep. 

Denver quintet A Place For Owls pulls their sound from a strain of emo born in the American midwest near the turn of the century: think twinkling guitars with anthemic crescendos, marked by a wistful sense of ennui and a measured dose of DIY punk basement-show energy. This so-called “second wave” of the misunderstood genre has enjoyed something of a comeback over the last decade, and the Front Range outfit led by vocalist and guitarist Ben Sooy is among the latest to dive back into the pool.

“There’s a lot of gatekeeping in terms of what is emo and what isn’t. But any music that asks deep questions and makes you feel big feelings, that’s emo to me,” Sooy says. “We’re less concerned about the ‘waves’ and who we’re trying to sound like. It feels a little bit more natural to just kind of create a synthesis within the broad category of guitar music.”

Broom of Destruction Records

Those big feelings run all over the band’s self-titled A Place For Owls LP, released Aug. 30 via Broom of Destruction Records. The polite and poignant 11-song offering finds Sooy and his bandmates turning over questions of belonging, connection and mortality with an open-hearted sincerity that he says has opened up with age. 

“I’m now in my mid-30s. It’s like, ‘Well, I’m practically 40. That means I’m practically 50. That means I’m practically dead,’” Sooy says. “I just want to be as earnest and pure as I was when I was 17 years old.” 

This youthful earnestness extends beyond the uncertain questions posed by lead single “Do I Feel At Home Here,” the vulnerable slow burn of “Deliberate Practice” or the life-affirming gang vocals of the uptempo emo masterclass “Dissolver.” It’s baked into the band’s internal relationships, too.  

“The running joke is that band practice tends to be about an hour or two of work and then another two to three hours of group therapy,” says drummer Jesse Cowan. “It really is a testament to the depth of the friendships that exist within our band. That makes the songwriting easier, and it makes the shows more fun.”

The band is open about their own struggles with mental health, and that openness feeds into the music and cathartic live performances. For keyboardist, guitarist and vocalist Nick Webber, it all adds up to a choice to cut a more difficult but rewarding path through the tougher times in life — with the hope that the decision will be contagious. 

“In those darker moments, cynicism is easy. It doesn’t actually take work to look at things and say, ‘Well, everything sucks,’” Webber says. “What’s a lot harder is actually fighting back and choosing gratitude, and trying to cling to the things that are actually life-giving, and encourage people and give them a sense of community.”

To that end, Sooy and his emo group-therapy bandmates hope A Place For Owls can carve a place for connection. “We’re trying to show people that this is a real thing you’re feeling. We’re feeling it too,” he says. “So let’s feel it together, and maybe it won’t suck quite so bad.” 

ON THE BILL: A Place For Owls with Troubled Minds, Father Help Me and Strung Short. 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 12, D3 Arts, 3612 Morrison Road, Denver. Tickets here.

BONUS: Nothing sounds good

Each week, A Place For Owls puts together an emo-ish playlist called APFO Weekly. Here are five highlights from the latest offering by vocalist and guitarist Ben Sooy.

“Hyacinth” by Caracara
Philadelphia’s Caracara put out our favorite record of 2022. They mix emo, post-rock, and ‘90s radio rock to make some of the most compelling and resonate music I’ve ever heard.

“Sixteen” by Flight Mode
Oslo Norway’s Flight Mode writes melodic and lyric-forward songs that remind me a lot of beloved bands like the Weakerthans or early Death Cab For Cutie. 

“New Queen” by Expert Timing
New Queen by Orlando’s Expert Timing sounds a lot like peak No Doubt or Sixpence None The Richer — truly great guitar music.

“Nightly Garbage Run” by Birthday Dad
Birthday Dad writes songs about loneliness, struggles with substance abuse, and being addicted to your phone. And somehow he does it while making songs that sound fun. 

“Shadowland” by A Boy & His Kite
They say never meet your heroes, but Boulder County’s own A Boy & His Kite (aka Dave Wilton) has proved himself to be one of the kindest and most brilliant musicians I’ve ever met. We’re both stoked to see our favorite band Sunny Day Real Estate play Denver on Dec. 4!

Listen to the full playlist here.