When it comes to touring as part of a 10-piece band, “there are a lot of biggest challenges,” says Nightowls singer and leader Ryan Harkrider with a laugh.
Then again, he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“We travel all together, and we have a sound guy as well, so that’s 11 people on the road,” he says. “We have a 31-foot RV, which is built for about five people. We cram a lot of people and a lot of gear into that RV and our trailer. It’s a big ship to sail.
“All of us are very dedicated to what we’re going and believe in what we’re doing,” he adds, “and when that’s the case, [touring] becomes not as hard.”
Harkrider’s Austin, Texas-based soul band, which formed about five years ago, has included as many as 12 members. The current Nightowls lineup is 11, and with the exception of backing singer Ellie Carroll, the full group regularly appears onstage.
“We live in a moment in music with technology that makes it easy to trim down,” Harkrider says. “You can use backing tracks — record anything you want and play it back live. I refuse to do that. We’re a performance band. We pride ourselves on our live shows, and I refuse to break down the band for financial reasons. That does nobody any good. I won’t water down what we’re doing.”
The Nightowls were on tour last fall in Tennessee when they inquired about recording in Memphis at Royal Studios, best known as the facility where Al Green recorded his career-defining material with producer Willie Mitchell. Recent recordings there include the Grammy-winning “Uptown Funk!” by Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars.
With “Uptown Funk!” co-engineer Boo Mitchell (the late Willie Mitchell’s son) behind the board at Royal, The Nightowls spent two days last December recording the bulk of the band’s recently released five-song EP, the appropriately titled Royal Sessions, the follow-up to 2015’s Fame Sessions.
Tracking at Royal was done in pieces, Harkrider says. The rhythm section went first, with guitar and keyboard overdubs after that. Then came the horns, followed by the vocals.
“You try to find positive things among the craziness,” says Harkrider, who estimates the sessions at Royal ranged between 12 and 16 hours each day. “As long as you have someone like me who is willing to be there for every moment, then it works.”
What really worked for him was the ending on “Right Around the Corner,” a song Harkrider says is about the band members being on the road and away from their families.
“There’s this really fun gang vocal, with a call and response to my lead vocal,” he says. “We set up a room mic in the middle of the studio, and we got Boo to come out with the entire band to clap hands, sing, yell and laugh. There are some beautiful moments on the end of that song … you can’t plan those things.”
— By Chris M. Junior
The Nightowls on tour (schedule subject to change):
• Oct. 4: Beachland Ballroom — Cleveland
• Oct. 5: Tellus 360 — Lancaster, Pennsylvania
• Oct. 6: Pianos — New York
• Oct. 7: Union Hall — Brooklyn, N.Y.
• Oct. 8: Westcott Theater — Syracuse, N.Y.
• Oct. 10: Local 506 — Chapel Hill, North Carolina
• Oct. 11: The 5 Spot — Nashville, Tennessee
• Oct. 12: Smith’s Olde Bar — Atlanta
• Oct. 14: The Maison — New Orleans
• Oct. 21: Phoenix Saloon — New Braunfels, Texas
• Oct. 28: 3Ten ACL Live — Austin, Texas