The Owners (Photo courtesy the band)
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade! That’s surely a slogan The Owners can get behind. The powerpop quartet, comprised of four longtime employees of the Black Cat nightclub, formed during the days of pandemic lockdowns, spinning sonic gold out of days when there was nowhere else to go.
The Owners actually include Black Cat owners Dante (drums) and Catherine Ferrando (vocals) along with famous bartenders Laura Harris (bass) and Alec Budd (guitar). The band released their debut full-length release record via Dischord Records and Red Room Records in November.
Parklife DC’s Mickey McCarter called his old friend Al to chat about the band and the new record. The Owners play at record release show at Black Cat on Friday, Dec. 30.
Mickey McCarter: Well, I want to ask you some questions you’ve undoubtedly been asked like a million times before, but I haven’t asked them. But then hopefully maybe even ask you a few questions you haven’t been asked for a Q+A all about The Owners.
Alec Budd: Sure!
MM: So in the line of questions you’ve been asked a million times I’m sure, pandemic lockdowns happened. You guys were at the Black Cat. You decided to form a band. Can you tell me the story?
AB: Well, it was basically the club was closed, but we were all there doing maintenance and upkeep. And we did a massive overhaul of our sound system, like new PA equipment, and we really needed a band in there to test it out and get it working in preparation for actual bands returning to play when we reopened. So, Dante suggested we jam and play some tunes together. We ended up dragging along Laura and Catherine. And we just had so much fun doing it, worked really well organically, that we just kept at it. The band basically just started as an experiment just to work the kinks out of the club’s new sound system.
MM: That’s great. As I recall, you guys had your first live performance with an audience at a Black Cat anniversary show. Is that correct?
AB: I think that’s right. Yeah, that sounds right.
MM: I’m wondering if at that time, when you guys started performing live, if you knew you had something that was going to be an ongoing project or if you were just like, “Oh, we did all this great stuff. Let’s perform some of it and see where it goes.”
AB: We didn’t have a plan. We were just really enjoying doing it. Like I said, it was just really organic. We get along well, and we were having a good time.
MM: Cool. You just put out the first full-length self-titled album, and I can’t think of anything more DC than this album, to be honest with you, in the best way possible.
And you partnered with Dischord and you’ve put out this album. Can you tell me a little bit about, A, how that came about, the making of, and the release of the album and B, specifically Dischord’s involvement specifically?
AB: That’s more Dante’s department. We were just going to do it ourselves, put it out ourselves, but Dante got to talking with Ian MacKaye at Dischord and ended up that they were interested in helping us out because Dante and Ian have, of course, a really old relationship.
MM: Laura, Dante, Catherine, they were all in Dischord bands, weren’t they?
AB: Catherine and I have never been on Dischord, but Dante and Laura both have multiple releases on Dischord in the past. Dante, of course, dating back many, many years.
Stream The Owner’s self-titled debut album on Bandcamp:
MM: The songs sound really damn good. When you guys go out and you perform live, and I’ve seen you at The Cat and I’ve seen you at Fort Reno, and all around town. People really embrace the songs. A, you guys are really strong players, and B, the songs are really freaking catchy and people really like them. Have you received that feedback when you perform live to date?
AB: We have a lot of fun playing live. People see that. And the songs are really accessible. Especially for like DC punk stuff, I think it’s pretty poppy. Yeah, we’re gotten really nice responses from people. At the heart, we just really enjoy playing together and I think that comes across
MM: I’m glad you mentioned the punk pedigree of the music. With the album being out, I’ve listened to some of the songs like the single “Wrecked the World,” and I hear the message. Some of the songs I could name previously were songs about good times, but here also you have a message about social and political issues.
AB: Yeah, I think Catherine puts a lot of thought into that stuff when she writes the lyrics. She’s not one just to sing about partying. She definitely puts a lot of thought into that music. And we’re all from the punk rock roots, so that kind of stuff just creeps in.
MM: How do you develop these songs? What’s the process for The Owners?
AB: The songwriting is really natural and organic. I usually come in with a basic idea and then we all work together. I mean, Dante and Catherine, they work on the lyrics together and we all arrange the songs together at practice. It’s really, really collaborative.
In this band, one of the unique things is that we are two couples. So, Dante and Catherine work on stuff at home, and Laura and I work on stuff at home, and we all come together.
MM: Do you guys still use the Black Cat itself as your rehearsal space? When you come together is it the Black Cat where you get together?
AB: Yep. Yeah.
MM: That’s pretty cool.
AB: Best practice space in town.
MM: You guys are spoiled.
AB: We’re definitely spoiled, I would say. It’s been really nice. Sometimes if it’s slow at the club, we set up on the stage, but other times we set off to the side on the floor. It’s pretty fun.
MM: The record release show specifically, can you tell me a little bit about the thought going into that? Was it always something where you were like, “Yeah, we’re going to put out the album and then we’re going to do an official show?” Was that always the plan? Because you’ve got a great little lineup on December 30 where it looks like you said, “Hey, let’s have a party and invite our friends.” And so you’ve got this bill of DC bands.
AB: We definitely wanted to do a record release show, but we couldn’t figure out if we wanted to just do a little thing in the Red Room. And we started talking about what bands we would want to play with and there was just a ton of them, so we just decided to play with all of our friends. Unfortunately, Kid Congo had to cancel, but it’s like a real family up there. It’s all great friends and, of course, Laura’s in two of the bands [she also performs in Ecstatic International], so she’s doing double duty. We just wanted to make a big event, especially because there’s rarely a good rock and roll show on New Year’s Eve. And we always have to work New Year’s Eve anyway, so we kind of wanted to have our own New Year’s party, too.
Watch The Owners perform live for a Black Cat anniversary livestream on YouTube:
MM: Have you played anywhere outside DC yet? And if so, what was that like? And if not, what are the prospects of that? Because you guys are so much the heart of the Black Cat, isn’t it hard to take you out of the Cat? Touring seems like, it’s like, “Geez, what does the Black Cat do if this band goes on tour?”
AB: That’s a good point. But yeah, we’ve played see in Baltimore, and we played in New York. In January, we’re going out to play in the Midwest for a few shows because the Cat is closed for a couple of weeks right after New Year’s. But yeah, it definitely does make it difficult for us to travel. We have to coordinate with Black Cat because we’ve got such a small staff these days. So, it is difficult, but we’ve been able to work it out so far.
MM: Would you guys like to do more stuff on the road?
AB: We’re not going to do any extensive touring, but we’re trying to work it out. Dante and Catherine have children, and Laura and I have these birds, so it’s really difficult for us to travel. But we’re going to try.
MM: I’d like to ask you a bit about your personal experiences because everything I’ve asked so far has been about the band, right? You’re a powerful guitar player! How long have you been playing. Can we get a capsule history of your work in bands?
AB: Oh man, I’ve been playing for about 35 years probably. I’ve been playing for a long time — since I was a teenager. I’ve been in bands since I was a teenager, so I’m no spring chicken. It’s not my first rodeo!
MM: I saw you in The Shirks. Have you been in other bands?
AB: I’ve been in so many bands, but, I guess, The Shirks and a band called The Problematics in the early nineties are the bands that people know me from in my nerdy white garage world. But yeah, I’ve been in just tons of bands over the years.
MM: What were The Problematics all about, if I may ask?
AB: It was a band I was in right before I moved to DC, and it was a real trashy garage punk band that put out a few records and toured a bit up when I was in my early twenties.
MM: And then The Shirks, a DC rock and roll punk band? Did The Shirks officially break up?
MM: I thought it was still out there somewhere.
AB: I think we’re going to play this year actually. A label is putting out a retrospective, like a singles collection LP, that’s coming out this year. And so I think we’re going to do some shows around that release.
MM: Oh, that’s cool.
AB: Yeah. The other guitar player was abroad for a few years teaching school. But he’s back now, so I think we’ll be playing again. I’m hoping so.
MM: How is playing in The Owners different than your past bands?
AB: Oh, well, a band is always such a curious niche of personalities. It’s always so different, any band that you’re in really. And you can be really volatile, depending on the chemistry of the personalities involved. But The Owners has been really easy just because we just all are easygoing people. It’s really relaxed and fun and pleasant.
MM: Do you think The Owners have shared influences? Are there things that you guys listen to that you’re like, “Yeah, we want to be those guys?” Perhaps you’ve all known each other for so long, you just know that there’s common stuff that inspires you.
AB: It’s pretty unspoken. We all like ’70s punk rock and ’60s music. There are some bands that we obviously all really like, such as The Damned and the Buzzcocks, stuff like that, but it’s pretty unspoken between us. I keep coming back to word “organic.” We’ve just all known each other for so long and just share these sensibilities. We’ve grown up together in a manner of speaking. I’ve been working for Dante for a very long time.
MM: This is going to sound a little pretentious, but I’m being sincere when I say this. When I think of you guys and your sound and it is power pop, right? I can hear the power pop reaching all the way back to the Beatles and into modern bands like Weezer. I think there is this unifying thread in the sound that you can trace all the way back there. Again, I realize I sound a bit pretentious, but you guys definitely sound like a bridge over these eras from the roots of power pop through today.
AB: Oh thanks, man. We definitely like that sound — like The Beatles and The Who, stuff like that — and Cheap Trick, 2020, The Shoes, Raspberries, all that stuff. But Beatles is a big favorite. I would say the whole band agrees on that one.
MM: Do you have guitar heroes personally? From when you were a young man starting to play ’til now, do you have guitar inspirations?
AB: All of the renowned punk guys were heroes. Johnny Thunder and Steve Jones from The Pistols were really huge for me. Brian James from The Damned, definitely. Those punk icons are my faves.
MM: Something that’s always surprising when I see you live is that you’re also a really effective vocalist. Did you ever set out to sing? Or is it more like you get recruited to sing because we need a male voice?
AB: I ended up singing by default way back when. I never wanted to be a singer, and I just ended up doing it because somebody had to at one point in one of my bands. And I ended up really enjoying it. I’ve been the lead singer in a couple of my bands.
MM: Now, Catherine as a vocalist. I had never seen her sing before The Owners and wow. What a voice.
AB: Yeah. Yeah.
MM: Do you have any memories of first hearing her?
AB: I’d only ever heard her sing in small projects over the years doing torch songs and loungier kind of stuff. She obviously had a great voice, so it was such a cool surprise when we got together. It was such a cool surprise to hear her rock. A whole other side of her personality came out. It was really wonderful. She’s was a great performer.
MM: Here’s somebody you’ve known for a long time and then you guys get together in this band and it’s this whole new thing where you see this side of her you hadn’t seen before.
AB: Yeah, yeah. Same with Laura too. Laura had never played bass before this band.
MM: I’m surprised to hear that! I would never have guessed.
AB: She’s a drummer. So we needed a bass player and the guy that was originally going to play bass didn’t show up, so Laura said she would do it and just learned on the job. Obviously, she’s a really talented musician. She can play a little guitar and whatnot, but she had never done it in a band or in any sort of active capacity before.
MM: You guys had never performed together. Although this is your significant other and the person you’re sharing your life with, it brings out a whole new side of her as well that you guys perform together?
AB: Yeah. Yeah.
MM: That’s got to be enriching. That’s got to be fulfilling. That’s got to be fun?
AB: It’s really wonderful. I’ve always wanted to play with Laura, so it’s a treat either way, but as a couple, yeah, it’s a really interesting extension of the relationship. Enriching is a good way to put it.
MM: Of course, I have to ask you about Dante, and playing with a man who’s a DC legend. People really want to see Dante play the drums. What’s it like to play with him?
AB: It’s great. He and I talked about playing over the years here and there because we knew we had musical taste in common. But he hasn’t done a band for years other than his sporadic Gray Matter reunions. I was flattered when he asked me to jam in The Owners. And I was pleasantly surprised that he really still has his chops and still wrote music. He’s a really talented guy, and he’s really great at arranging songs. He has a really good ear. He’s really a unique drummer in the way that he hears music.
MM: He is so compelling. I’d seen him in Gray Matter before. When I saw you guys at Comet Ping Pong, I went in on purpose specifically to watch Dante. His energy is infectious. He’s skills are amazing. He really brings it to life.
AB: He’s great to watch, such high energy. I just really couldn’t believe it when we started playing. I was like, “Man, how long has it been since you’ve been in a band?” He still really just goes all out.
AB: And we’re like grandma rock. None of us are young. He’s in his mid-50s, and he can still play that. It’s really physical.
MM: We are looking forward to seeing the four of you play on December 30 at Black Cat!
AB: See you there!
The Owners play a record release show at Black Cat on Friday, Dec. 30.
W/ Des Demonas, The Ar-Kaics, Ecstatic International
Friday, Dec. 30
Doors @ 7:30pm