Duet (I)

Bowlsey at the Velvet Monkey: Interview & Gallery

The Interview

We Are Bowlsey: The Interview

Acoustic duo Bowlsey is mov­ing fast. They granted Mercury Photo Bureau an inter­view before their sec­ond pub­lic per­for­mance, and, in the inter­ven­ing weeks, became only the sec­ond inter­view sub­jects for REV HiFi before join­ing a con­tin­gent of Oklahoma bands fea­tured at this year’s SXSW. This bears repeat­ing: they went from their first pub­lic per­for­mance to join­ing the Buffalo Lounge SXSW Oklahoma Remix Showcase in less than two months.

Singer-song­writer Clarissa “Cid” Castillo (a.k.a. “Cidward”) and rap­per-song­writer, gui­tarist and ocas­sional organ­ist Taylor “Shraz” Mercier set­tled on the sofa in the mid­dle of the Plaza District’s Velvet Monkey Salon for a frank dis­cus­sion of their past and present and their dreams for the future before being joined by their man­ager, Justin Hogan. [Sidenote: Since this arti­cle posted, Justin has become a full-fledged band­mem­ber. Also join­ing as full­time drum­mer is Donald Eisenberg.] Afterward, they enter­tained the music lovers gath­ered to hear them (while simul­ta­ne­ously con­fus­ing and delight­ing the late night shop­pers com­ing out of the vin­tage fur­nish­ings and cloth­ing store located in the salon’s rear).

Mercury Photo BureauIntroduce your­selves.

Taylor “Shraz” MercierWe are Bowlsey. I’m Taylor, also know as Shraz.

Clarissa “Cid” CastilloAnd I’m Clarissa, also know as Cid.

MPBWhy Cid?

CidWell, he [ges­tur­ing at Shraz] kind of named me that, because me and all my sis­ters have [nick­names inspired by our dif­fer­ent attrib­utes. My nick­name is from Sid Vicious] because of all the rot­ten things I used to do.

MPBHow did you meet each other?

ShrazWell, we just bumped into each other in high school; [we] had never seen each other at the school until […] the end of the year. [We] bumped into each other, couldn’t tear our­selves apart […], but right before — I mean, we’d just met each other, and I was about to go back to Oklahoma [and] stay there for three months, and […] I wasn’t sure I was gonna be com­ing back.

MPBWas high school in Texas?

ShrazHigh school was — first half in Oklahoma, sec­ond half in Texas. [I] started col­lege in Texas, [then] with­drew and came back to Oklahoma, and Cid fol­lowed me here.

MPBTell me about your musi­cal backgrounds.

ShrazThe first inter­est­ing music for me was Trout Fishing in America. […] That was my band, as a kid, and, out­side of that, Colin Raye, Garth Brooks, Jimmy Buffett; just a whole lot of that from my grand­par­ents, ’cause I was raised by them.

MPBYou like song­writ­ers who tell stories.

ShrazThat’s actu­ally very true. That’s interesting.

Smile! — Bowlsey at the Velvet Monkey Salon (2nd pub­lic performance)

MPBThat even­tu­ally led you to being a musician?

ShrazMy grand­mother put me in piano classes when I was in kinder­garten. I had lessons for about seven or eight years […]. After that — that was kind of the first spark I had that I [didn’t] want to keep regur­gi­tat­ing the same things from recitals […]. I had a whole lot more ideas than what [I was] learn­ing in these lit­tle classes […]. So I said, Why don’t I write some of my own things, and I ended up com­ing up with [longer pieces that were] a whole lot more thought pro­vok­ing than any­thing I was play­ing at the time.

That led to gui­tar, led to bass, led to elec­tronic music, led to every­thing else. I did have [a few] gui­tar lessons, [plus] a lit­tle bit with bass, but after that every­thing was self-taught.

MPBDid you research on the inter­net, like watch­ing YouTube tutorials?

ShrazNot really; I got enough tips here and there, more like — I was just look­ing for a kind of feel, look­ing for where my lit­tle niche was with my instru­ment; how to feel out my instru­ment, and just find my [musi­cal] groove […]. That’s where I’ve spent the past cou­ple of years; I haven’t really lis­tened much to the radio. [laughs] I’ve just been focus­ing on the actual — like, Where do I lie?

MPBApart from radio, do you lis­ten to much music?

ShrazI haven’t for a while. My father, Patrick Mercier, was some­one who always lis­tened to music; the whole entire — any time you were in the car, any time you were around him, there was always music going. I appre­ci­ate that; I love music, but I just had to take a while — of silence, and, in that, I started writ­ing more and more of my own music. It just put me more into my own thoughts.

We Are Bowlsey (V)
We Are Bowlsey (V) — Bowlsey at the Velvet Monkey Salon (2nd pub­lic performance)

CidMy mom and dad were run­aways when they met each other; my father is abo­rig­ine Australian, and he was a […] punk kid when my mom met him. My mom was in a [Houston] gang — she was a chola. My grand­mother on my dad’s side is full-blooded abo­rig­ine; my [pater­nal] grand­fa­ther is Australian; he took her and kinda “smug­gled” her over to the U.S., and she accli­mated to Louisiana. [My father] was mostly raised in Houston; [he was] a bit of a mud dog [and did] construction.

And, he lis­tened to a lot of rock; a lot of Megadeath, and Ærosmith, and a lot of White Zombie and Rob Zombie. And my mom [lis­tened to] South Park Mexican and Notorious B.I.G., Tupac; a lot of Houston rap­pers, too.

And I started orches­tra [play­ing] viola. I stuck to viola, and I sub­merged myself in orches­tra […] until senior year, when I really started lis­ten­ing to [Shraz’s] music, and we really started talk­ing more. We were engaged by that time.

[…] I used to sing punk music a lot with my friends — it’s so ter­ri­ble; I was in high school —

MPBCould you give me an example?

CidWhen you … hear … stuff that I used to lis­ten to; like Jack Off Jill, Scarling, Mindless Self Indulgence, stuff like that.

MPBYou seem to be ashamed of that. Why?

CidBecause, there’s so much more. I kinda [real­ized that] after [Shraz and I] started talk­ing to each other, and [I was liv­ing at a friend’s house] and [Shraz] ended up just stay­ing with me all the time. And he was lis­ten­ing, and he said, You could do bet­ter; you could do a lot better.

ShrazI always tell you, not that you can do bet­ter; every­thing was there; you were just deliv­er­ing it wrong.

CidYeah; it made sense with the song you’re gonna hear dur­ing the show; it’s called Extracurricular, and it was foul. Even though it’s the same lyrics, the way it’s deliv­ered, the feel­ings that were sent through it weren’t the same.

I gotta say that Shraz made me grow up [musi­cally]; after a while, I started lis­ten­ing a lot to acoustic [music], and I started to under­stand more about vocals and deliv­ery and lyrics.

MPBWhen did you decide to per­form in public?

ShrazTechnically? Last month. [laugh­ter]

Justin Takes Plays Little Kimmie (I)
Justin Takes Plays Little Kimmie (I) — Bowlsey at the Velvet Monkey Salon (2nd pub­lic performance)

MPBWell, how did it happen?

ShrazIt’s just been some­thing we’ve been lead­ing up to. We had our own musi­cal back­grounds, com­pletely sep­a­rate; we didn’t lis­ten to any of the same things grow­ing up; then we became musi­cians, devel­oped our own music, and then [we met] each other. Grew up —

MPBWhen you say, Grew up, how old are you?

ShrazI’m twenty-one.

CidAnd I’m twenty. He met me at fif­teen, and I raised myself. So I was basi­cally just a walk­ing nightmare.

ShrazThere’s been a whole lot of growth between us […].

MPBHow did you meet Justin Hogan?

ShrazAfter we moved to Oklahoma, we were liv­ing with my grand­mother. We got kicked out of there; Cid was work­ing at an apart­ment com­plex at the time, and she […] got us a good deal on an apart­ment. six months later, we were help­ing a friend clean up a house he lived in, and I looked around, and I said, You know, I never really looked at how nice of a house you have; I’ve been here tons of times, but, it’s a nice house! I mean, espe­cially after spend­ing eight hours clean­ing an oven, [I had a lot of time to observe the house].

CidYeah, I was a ren­o­va­tion maid, which means you go into houses […] and you make it look like [nobody’s lived there].

ShrazWe basi­cally did that for this house, and after we dis­cov­ered the house that was actu­ally under [the grime], we asked [our friend] what was the price […]. And it was […] five dol­lars less than [our apart­ment rent]. And we’d be get­ting an extra bedroom […].

[Justin wasn’t liv­ing next door then], but he was there [by the time] we moved in, because he was house- and dog-sit­ting. He’d hear us jam­ming, and he found it really inter­est­ing, and he was like, You really need to show peo­ple this; I know that you think that you’re just goof­ing around, but this is actu­ally worth sharing.

Shraz (VII)
Shraz (VII) — Bowlsey at the Velvet Monkey Salon (2nd pub­lic performance)

CidHe did a [school] project about us. [Sidenote: Justin attends classes at the Academy of Contemporary Music at the University of Central Oklahoma.] [It was] a lit­tle slideshow about us, recorded on his phone, per­form­ing a song [while we were sit­ting] on the couch, and the [other] stu­dents […] loved it. He calls us and says, Hey, you guys want to come to ACM and play for some kids in a class?

ShrazIt was an artist’s devel­op­ment class. [There were about ten stu­dents and the teacher, Dr. Trey Rick].

After we were done play­ing, they cri­tiqued us. Even though I don’t think we had done our best, every­one just kept giv­ing us pos­i­tive, pos­i­tive, pos­i­tive, pos­i­tive; you know, want­ing to see more, even the tini­est lit­tle bits we could give them.

CidYeah, we only played three songs, just gui­tar and voice. We couldn’t even bring Kimmie because it was rain­ing. [Sidenote: Kimmie is the larger of Bowlsey’s two Kimball organs. The smaller organ they brought to the Velvet Monkey is “Little Kimmie.”]

MPBOkay, tell me about the organs.

ShrazThe first one we got was when we were still liv­ing with my grand­mother, and that one wouldn’t even fit in my car; this one [ges­tures at Little Kimmie] does. It’s a Broadway; the first one is a Kimball Paradise. That one is just 3″ wider, [but it has] quite a few more fea­tures. But that 1’s the house organ.

MPBAre you attached to ana­log, or would you be just as happy play­ing a dig­i­tal synth with an organ plugin?

ShrazI couldn’t do that. When you see it there — it’s part of the show. Some peo­ple have lasers; I have an organ.

REV Hi-Fi, Episode 2 — Bowlsey, Big Youth, & Madvillain

MPBWhere does the band name come from?

ShrazBack in Texas, [when­ever we were hang­ing out with friends,] every­one being mis­chie­vous, we got bowlsey. We didn’t get ballsy; we got bowlsey. And it was for all the lit­tle mis­chief, from toastin’ to boastin’. Of all the names I could have thought of, it’s not the one that means the most to me, but it’s the one that described what we were doing best […].

CidIt’s how we explained our agenda for years.

[Justin Hogan arrives at the venue; we exchange greet­ings]

MPBHave you started a record­ing project?

ShrazWe’ve been work­ing on what we were doing for so long, we didn’t have any­thing but that focus; on top of that, we [lacked resources to record, hav­ing] just the micro­phone that comes on your Mac[intosh com­puter]. And so, after run­ning into Hogan and him intro­duc­ing us to every­one in the whole town —

Cid (VII)
Cid (VII) — Bowlsey at the Velvet Monkey Salon (2nd pub­lic performance)

MPBI see you’ve acquired some new equip­ment; is it on loan, or do you own it?

Cid[gues­tures at Justin] — He’s moved in —

MPBYou’re not the dog sit­ter anymore.

CidI took him in!

ShrazHe’s offi­cially a tenant.

CidYup; we took him in and he brought all his record­ing stuff with him and said, We’re gonna go to work!

ShrazSo, we’re just try­ing to [record] all the stuff that we have; we have every­thing down, but we just need to get it recorded […]. We have all the instru­men­tal [tracks; we just need to record the vocals and other layers].

MPBHow many fin­ished songs have you written?

ShrazFinished? Between seven and ten.

MPBAre there some unfin­ished ones that might end up on a release

CidOh, yeah. You gotta under­stand, me and Taylor had tons of stuff [writ­ten] before we met each other […]. I’m still pick­ing up old notes and then com­ing up to Taylor, who’ll have these great lit­tle dit­ties on his gui­tar, and com­ing in and say­ing, Wait! I have some­thing! and cre­at­ing […] songs out of the blue.

Justin HoganWhat’s cool is, I could hit just one note on the key­board, and [snaps fin­gers] [Cid] starts singing. I can hit one note on the key­board, and we get a whole song out of it! It’s pretty amazing […].

ShrazThroughout my life […], I’ve always played [music] alone. I’ve never had any­one to play with. All my friends were musi­cians, but every­time I asked, Hey, guys! You wanna play? [they’d answer] Naah; we’re play­ing with these guys.

Little Kimmie
Little Kimmie — Bowlsey at the Velvet Monkey Salon (2nd pub­lic performance)


Shraz— and no one ever jammed with me. So, when I finally [met] Hogan, he […] took the time to lis­ten, [to help me] focus, [to] calm down a lit­tle bit, and then [he] jammed with me […].

MPBIt’s time to play “redeem a song.” What’s a musi­cal guilty plea­sure of yours, and what qual­i­ties make it worthwhile?

CidOhhh, noooo! I’ve gotta think for a lit­tle bit. Alright; this is ter­ri­ble. This song, the only way that this song can mean any­thing to you, is if you are at your all time low­est […]. It’s Riddla on da Roof, by [rap­per] South Park Mexican. It’s one of those things that you may think is just silly; the lyrics are ter­ri­ble, it’s just a repet­i­tive song; but then you start think­ing about this per­son who, he doesn’t have very much — he thinks he’s liv­ing a life, yet he’s liv­ing [that] life in one town; it’s the best thing that he’s ever gonna get, and to him it’s fan­tas­tic and he’s gonna die lov­ing it — but in your head, you’re just stuck here in this rut in your­self, and it makes you sad, too.

ShrazWhen it comes to [music I like], I will tell every­one about it. But, I could say some­thing that I do find admirable, that isn’t some­thing that every­one [else] does. [It’s] by M.F. Doom, the vil­lain him­self, for his DANGERDOOM [Sidenote: DANGERDOOM is a musi­cal col­lab­o­ra­tion between DJ/​producer Danger Mouse and rapper/​producer MF Doom.] project, and he does one called Vats of Urine,

CidI knew you were gonna say that!

ShrazAnd the whole, entire rap is about p*ss. But, if you weren’t told the title […] — he just says “urine” at the begin­ning — you would just bob your head and get lost in it, lost in the music, and his flow is so crisp and clean that you for­get […] that he’s talk­ing about peeing.

MPBIs there any­thing else you’d like to say?

ShrazThis is a brand thing for both of us, and there’s a lot to come, because we haven’t brought in the full aspect of what do, yet […].

CidWe’d like to remind peo­ple that this has been only over the course of a month.

MPBYour heads must be spinning. 


Gallery: Bowlsey at the Velvet Monkey

About Chris J. Zähller

International Man of Mystery. Cocktail Nerd. Occasionally designs websites. Sometimes snaps a picture or two.

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