Peter Michel used to drum with San Francisco-Seattle shoegaze pop outfit Craft Spells, but two years ago got the itch to write his own songs and call his own shots. After taking a couple of years to write and record in his parents’ home, he’s back as Hibou. Michel named his new project, pronounced “ee-boo,” for the French word for owl. A few years ago, as he was playing his guitar at his parents’ cabin in the woods, an owl walked up and listened to him. The name stuck.
The 22-year-old’s full-length self-titled debut, released in September on Barsuk Records, is not a departure from the reverb-drenched guitar pop of Craft Spells, which he joined while still in high school. Hibou has already opened for acts as diverse as New Orleans bounce queen Big Freedia and El Vy, the collaboration of The National’s Matt Berninger and Menomena’s Brent Knopf. Michel has gigs scheduled with Phantogram and Metric.
Michel and his band were in San Francisco recently to open for El Vy at the Independent, where The Bay Bridged sat down with him for a quick chat about starting over as a solo musician, and what that freedom entails.
The Bay Bridged: Sounds like you had a good thing going with Craft Spells. Why did you want to do your own thing?
I’ve always wanted to write my own music and wasn’t getting the time to do that when I was touring all the time with Craft Spells. It was taking up all my time. We were always going on a different tour. I decided if I was going to write my own music, I needed to cut the ties. I feel like I’m an independent person. I never liked that my entire life was revolving around songs that I didn’t even have any participation in. There wasn’t any leniency, even in the live set. I had one thing to play, and I was there to do one job. I was not using my potential.
TBB: Was this a “hired help” type of feeling?
Yeah, it was that. I don’t mind that, but it was the only thing that I was doing.
TBB: You’ve probably spent a good chunk of time in the Bay Area with Craft Spells (which split time between San Francisco and Seattle). Any specific memories you’d like to share?
I’ve spent a fair amount of time here, yeah. I love Twin Peaks. I went there for the second time today. It’s a beautiful place. If I had to live in another city, San Francisco would be way up there. It’s very similar in attitude . . . and aesthetic.
TBB: What was it like giving up the drums, your primary instrument, for Hibou? You programmed the drum samples on the record, but you don’t drum live anymore.
I would hit certain drums and program them in. It was more of a production thing than a drumming thing. The drums were never my primary instrument. (Frontman) Justin (Vallesteros) originally asked me to play drums as a favor, and I said yes because I could kind of play them. I’ve always been a piano guy or a guitar guy.
TBB: You joined Craft Spells while still in high school, and you continued your education online. What was that like?
I was never a fan of brick and mortar schooling. I couldn’t concentrate. It felt like prison. I needed to work on my own time, and that’s what online schooling allows. Deadlines aren’t as strict. You can work anywhere. I felt trapped in a school building with a lot of kids I didn’t necessarily get along with. Being on the road, and doing school, I learned more. I got to tour, and at the same time, I got to start what I felt was the true high school experience for me.
TBB: With Hibou, you’re your own tour manager. How do you balance the business with the music?
It’s tricky. I’m still learning. I’m doing this
TBB: I heard the image for your full-length album cover has an interesting story. Where’d you find it?
I was browsing on Flickr, which is kind of a dated sentence. That image jumped out at me. The more I looked at it, the more it felt like it was the album in visual form, so I kind of had to have it. I tried to get in contact with the girl who took it for a really long time, and ended up totally being a creeper. I think she’s super young and lives in Asia somewhere. I ended up sending her messages on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr, and emailing her – everything I could think of. Finally she was like, “Fine, just use it!”
TBB: You have opened for El Vy and Big Freedia, and are also set to open for Phantogram and Metric. What has it been like having your audience switched around so much?
There’s not much preparation that goes into it. We play the same show every night no matter who we’re playing to. I have a booker, and he sends me a list of bands who are looking for opening acts. I’ve been saying, submit us for everything. What’s the worst that could happen? I’ve said yes to everything so far, and it’s been interesting. No regrets.
Hibou plans to return to the Bay Area in early 2016.
Follow writer Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter and RomiTheWriter.Tumblr.com.