I recently had a chance to sit down with Melanie Steinway and Matt Rossi from local band, Tyto Alba (“Tyto Alba” is the Latin name for the Barn Owl), to get to know what they are all about. This rock band has only been together for about a year, but it’s doing some impressive things—playing Underground Music Showcase, releasing their EP “Oh Tame One” and simultaneously carving a unique niche into the local Denver scene. Other members, Ryan Self and Jeremy Van Zandt, were not present, but I absolutely loved what Melanie and Matt had to say nonetheless. Check out their take on the UMS experience, support for the local music scene and more below.

Tyto Alba converses around the table, brainstorming their next big step towards musical success. (from left to right: Jeremy Van Zandt, Matt Rossi, Melanie Steinway, Ryan Self) Photo Courtesy of Ian Glass

Q: Could you guys give a little introduction to Tyto Alba, what’s your style, what are you guys about?

Melanie: What are we all about, man?

Matt: Animals. That’s probably the theme. But I would say the way the music came about is we have conflicting styles that work really well together. Melanie came from a folk background, Ryan came from an alternative background and me and Jeremy came from a lot of emo and punk. The way the music started to form was out of that clash—this solemn, dark sound that got mixed with the aggressive tones that Jeremy and I put out.

Melanie: So kind of like delicacy meets drive.

Matt: I think that’s what makes it different. I always kind of hated the term indie rock, because that’s like what everyone else calls us.

Melanie: The last person we interviewed with said that when he listened to our music he was reminded of the desert and he was like “you should call yourself desert rock.”

Matt: I think we’re going to coin it. [It’s] very mirage-y sounding, ‘cause it’s true—when people asked me when we play, it’s indie rock, but it’s not at all. It’s got this delicacy to it, but it’s invigorating, and kind of pushes the energy at the crowd a lot more than other indie rock does. It’s got this nice motion, it’s got this wavy sound.

Melanie: Wavy rock. Sand dune rock.

Matt: It’s artsy, like art music.

Melanie: Yeah, I like that. It is very artistic.


Q: Why did you name the band Tyto Alba?

Melanie: It’s the coolest scientific name out there, and Barn Owls are incredibly beautiful creatures.

Matt: I think it’s a good embodiment of the sound. If you think about it, we go for this kind of building dynamic texture and I think of  a Barn Owl gracefully gliding in for a kill, it’s never like this big thumping rhinoceros thumping in and charging.

Melanie: Graceful and deadly.

Matt: That’s kind of where the songs come in. There’s a lot of build but it’s a quiet build, then like the big climax comes out of nowhere. We like it that way, and I think a Barn Owl is a good embodiment of that kind of sound. We do really love playing with dynamics and texture, and I think that’s what Barn Owls do.

Melanie: I’m a sucker for birds, man. I do like them. A lot of our image and our sound and everything that I’ve talked about is the duality; it’s duality that I think about in my visual art as well, whether it’s life or death, humanity versus nature, feminine versus masculine,  ‘cause that’s definitely a dynamic in the band; delicacy versus power. I think those are things incorporated into a Barn Owl. They’re beautiful and delicate and kind of feminine in a sense, but then they’re these silent killers.

Matt: Plus we gotta be hip enough to incorporate the Latin language. We can’t just be “Barn Owl,” or we’d be another folk band.


Q: How does art influence your music?

Melanie: Incredibly for me; there are two sides to the same coin. Most of my artwork mentions nature and animals. My lyrical content does sometimes, but it’s sometimes more about the feeling you’re getting from the music. I draw influence from This Will Destroy You and Sigur Ros, when you close your eyes and they make you feel like you’re somewhere really untamed. Whether it’s the environment of Iceland or the rolling desert, somewhere that’s almost inhospitable. It’s playing with the duality of human nature versus animal nature. Untamed versus tamed. And where do we find that balance?


Q: How has the local music scene helped you, and do you have any favorite local bands?

Matt: I would say the music scene has helped a lot. We find there’s a handful of fans that are non-music-players that come to shows, but it’s mostly other musicians and other bands that you’ve played with.

Melanie: Raven and the Writing Desk in an influence.

Matt: Always Male Blonding, because they’re some good friends of ours. Noah [from Male Blonding]mixed our album, and recorded it and tracked it himself. He did school for music production and we really trust him.

Melanie: Shady Elders.

Matt: Yeah, and Flaural. I got to know them really well, this band just started and they’re taking off.

Melanie: During Underground Music Showcase, actually, I stumbled across this band in Eslinger called The Still Tide, and they’re local. They blew my mind. Kind of like Raven and the Writing Desk, kind of dark, kind of rocky.

Tyto Alba’s Melanie Steinway does her thing on stage. Photo courtesy of Andrew Evan John

Q: Let’s talk about UMS.

Matt: I played UMS last year, with Howl, and I played this year with Tyto. It was amazing. I can’t think of another show I’ve played that I’ve been as proud for this UMS. We were a little worried, it was the first day, a Thursday, we didn’t know what the turn-out was going to be. A lot of people don’t show up to the first and last day. It’s pretty hard to fill 3 Kings.

Melanie: We were, quote, “the show of the hour.”

Matt: Yeah, we’re the “show of the hour” I guess, which was great. We had 115 people there, which was huge for us. We’ve had maybe 80 tops to our shows [in the past].

Melanie: And this was our first UMS [as Tyto]. I mean, we’ve never done this before.

Matt: And having that many people at 3 Kings was like, wow, and all the feedback we got on Twitter from people that contacted us afterwards.

Melanie: OpenAir gave us a shoutout.

Matt: Twist and Shout gave us one too.

Melanie: It was incredible. We were definitely a little skeptical playing the first slot. I was relieved to get it done right off the bat and kind of hang out the rest of the weekend, and this was the first time we played at 3 Kings or UMS, so it was surprising to see that many people there. Our set went really well. Feedback went really well.

Matt: It’s our favorite weekend of the year.

Melanie: Life after UMS is depressing for like, two days.


Q: Do you guys have any new music or shows coming up?

Matt: Yeah we do on both fronts.

Melanie: In August we’re taking off because a lot of band mates are going on trips and stuff like that. In September we’ve got a couple of smaller shows lined up, and in September or October we’ve got a session lined up in Coupe Studios, which is a really awesome recording studio in Boulder. I’d like to finish two, shiny professional singles there, maybe we could put them on a..

Matt: 7-inch. That’s the plan. We want to release a 7-inch, just the two songs, maybe three if we want to spend some more of the band fund.

Melanie: Still working out what’s coming up.

Matt: But yeah, we’ve got two really good songs called Lupine Soul and Read Between the Lines. Read Between the Lines we debuted at UMS and it went really well, which was awesome. Lupine Soul is the new single we’ve been playing. We played it at Radio 1190 up in Boulder. That’s kind of our other single.

Melanie: And I’ve collected a lot of footage for Lupine Soul. I’ve had a lot of experience when I was in school doing video work in Final Cut, so I want to do a video. I’ve gone to the Butterfly Pavilion and filmed a bunch of butterflies, I took my camera to New York and filmed at a bunch of aquariums and zoos, and so kind of taking natural life footage and playing with that. It’s going to be a little bit psychedelic, maybe even black and white, but that’s not super close yet.


Tyto Alba. Photo courtesy of Aubrie Layton Van Zandt

Tyto Alba is a pretty intriguing group. To check out a live show, head over August 23 at Dryer Plug Studios (it’s an all ages show, and it’s only 5 dollars).