Being in a band is a lot like a marriage – it takes work. But for heartfelt indie folk trio Owls & Lions, the most original wedding band in the tri-state area, marriage is the work.
Jersey boy Jay Della Valle had a rock band when he met girl-next-door midwesterner Nicole DeLoi at a wedding. Jay – a versatile entertainer who scored and starred as a Springsteen-esque rocker in the 2014 indie film “Mount Joy” – was the DJ. Nicole was the violinist, performing as a gift to the bride. In a twist of fate that would change both their lives, Jay decided his rock band needed a violinist. “I asked her, ‘Have you ever played in a rock band?’ She said, ‘No’... She checked it out, she liked it, and next thing you know, she was in my rock band,” Jay says. At the time she met Jay, Nicole was content playing in the local symphony. “We just have a special, unusual chemistry,” she says. “When you feel like you have something special, then it changes your goals.”
Fortunately, for hundreds of married couples and their friends, the rock band ran out of track in the way most artistic unions heavier on dreams than paying gigs tend to do. But Jay, who says he and Nicole harmonize “instinctually, like a flock of birds,” needed another plan in order for him to continue performing with his partner-in-rhyme. In 2011, that plan became Owls & Lions – an indie folk duo that would use Jay’s wedding connections to book wedding gigs. It was a good idea, but Jay had no idea how good. “We went from original rock band just trying to get 30 people in the door, to all of sudden, we just steered into this lucrative wedding thing,” Jay says.
Jay credits the band’s rapid success – the first week, Owls & Lions put 27 dates on the calendar – to the fact that there simply aren’t any other bands on the wedding circuit passionately playing upbeat original music that is built around the magic of a man and a woman’s shared vocals, performed authentically in a style reminiscent of some of today’s most popular folk-revival acts. “If you like bands like the Lumineers, The Civil Wars, or even Lady Antebellum, there’s nothing else like that done well,” Jay says. “We perform this material with a level of conviction that one seldomly expects in a band they experience at a wedding. We make it personal. We genuinely want to give people an experience they won't forget.” (And let’s not forget that Owls & Lions can also bust out the many covers and requests necessary to keep a wedding party going from ceremony to cocktail hour, and on through the reception.)
The band grew and grew, to the point where Owls & Lions needed an extra set of hands to help run its show. Kevin Walters was hired as an engineer and DJ, but after about a year behind the scenes, he joined as an integral member of the band on drums. “I just kinda sat in one day, and Jay realized we can up the ante a little bit,” he said. Adding Kevin, first playing the cajon (which worked with Jay and Nicole’s roaming-around-the-party style), then the drum kit, changed everything. “His style of playing drums and percussion, and general patience for two constantly bickering animals, makes for a sturdy backbeat that picks the songs off the ground,” Jay says.
Owls & Lions performs at weddings, private parties, festivals, and charity events (often bringing performances and ukuleles to hospitalized children on behalf of the non-profit Ukulele Kids Club), but until recently, the band never released any of its own music. “Of all the people who love us after we play, and all the people who support us, the fact is we didn’t have anything on iTunes or Spotify. So there was really no way for people to experience us at their own leisure, or draw up our music anywhere… which was something that was really gnawing at us for a while,” Jay says. Owls & Lions hooked up with New York-based producer Hanan Rubinstein (a guitarist in Alicia Keys’ band), and it wasn’t long before he was producing the band’s (soon to be released in early 2019) debut EP. “Having been in the studio together, and working on this EP, I feel like we grew so much as a band and as a unit,” Nicole says.
The first single from the sessions, “Perpetual Bliss,” is a bouncy duette of a love story, punctuated by hand claps and the warmth of a string arrangement. The song – an acoustic version of which first appeared in “Mount Joy” – was written about finding that special person that compliments you in all the right ways, and wanting that feeling of love and appreciation to last forever. It sounds like it could easily have been written for two people walking down the aisle, but also, for members of a band who, after years, have built a rewarding career and kept it afloat – on their own terms. “Generally we’re best friends, and generally like doing what we do together,” Jay says. “And we kinda feel like that dream, some people feel like it kinda lulls out. But it just was never okay with us that we stop working for it.”