Giselle Woo and Palm Springs-area night owls ready for Coachella

When local band Giselle Woo and the Night Owls were included in the Coachella 2020 lineup, its members had only been together for a year. The group’s only recordings were an EP of old songs featuring former members.

During a recent interview with The Desert Sun, Woo said the cancellations were a “blessing in disguise” because the band wasn’t ready. The band has since tightened up their rock and Latin sound and recorded an album of new material with Frank Michel, owner of The Sound Hub in Cathedral City.

“There’s been a lot of pain in those two years and we’ve been like, ‘What’s going on? How’s it going?’ But I feel ready now,” Woo said.

Giselle Woo and the Night Owls will perform at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival on Fridays for both weekends.  Bassist Marco Murrieta, left, singer Giselle Woo, guitarist Christian Col'n and drummer JosŽ Ceja are pictured in Cathedral City, California on April 1, 2022.

Giselle Woo and the Night Owls will perform at Coachella on April 15 and 22.

Drummer Jose Ceja said the band weren’t sure if they could play at Coachella, but the pandemic has brought the band closer as friends and musicians.

“Being part of the album, the trauma (of the pandemic) and that feeling of ‘are we still going to be invited to Coachella?’ – we all shared that together and it helped us move forward,” Ceja said.

One song Woo is known for in the local music scene is “Coachella Gold,” a hard-rocking bluesy track about the allure of the Coachella Valley with the lyrics “I’ve packed my bags and I’m ready to go, to the east and on slow moving (Interstate) 10.” The 2019 EP track “Gemini” was also included in the credits of local director Christian Sesma’s 2020 film “Paydirt.”

Giselle Woo of Giselle Woo and the Night Owls performs in Chella, Indio, CA on April 17, 2019

Woo and the Night Owls won the 2018 Tachevah Music Showcase sponsored by The Desert Sun, which was the last performance from the previous lineup which included Peterson and backup bassist Bryanna Evaro.

“It was tough because the ball was still rolling,” said guitarist Christian Colin. “We lost that band and we had all that momentum. We kicked off (the current band) and played Joshua Tree Music Festival for 90 minutes.”

keep up the momentum

The band continued their momentum and played Chella Festival 2019 at Fullenwider Auditorium at the National Date Festival and Riverside County Fairgrounds in Indio with legendary band Tijuana Norteño, Los Tucanes de Tijuana, disco artist Cola Boyy and Chilean singer Mon Laferte.

In December, the band performed at the 2021 Tamale Indio International Festival in Indio, giving the members a taste of what to expect at Coachella.

“They wouldn’t let us wear our own gear and the stagehands took our gear asking where it went on stage,” Woo said. “They rode in golf carts, helped us load up, drove us to the site and it was a great experience. Everyone who worked there is the same people who work at Coachella.”

Giselle Woo and the Night Owls will perform at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival on Fridays for both weekends.  Bassist Marco Murrieta, left, vocalist Giselle Woo, guitarist Christian Colín and drummer José Ceja are pictured in Cathedral City, California on April 1, 2022.

The band entered Michel’s studio in February and finished the album within a month. They credit Michel’s enthusiasm and professionalism throughout the process for getting it done quickly. There was no time to be picky and the group had to make decisions on the fly.

“We went blind and had nothing planned, and I think we had an arrangement of a song that was different about three days before we recorded,” bassist Marco Murrieta said. “We were sitting there saying ‘This just doesn’t work!’ But then we said, ‘Oh wait, it’s working, let’s go.'”

Colin said he and his bandmates made the decision to cut some of their longest songs from 8-10 minutes down to 5 minutes or less.

“We cut the fat and were like, ‘What would you like to listen to on an album?’ Would you like to listen to a three minute outro or whatever has to be there?” said Colin. “Even though we were mixing, we were cutting stuff.”

The band said Michel also recorded the band on tape using older equipment instead of digital and used a recording machine described by Colin as “the size of a refrigerator”. But the record will sound like a combination of Latin and classic rock with a bit of reggae thrown into the mix.

To buckle the buckle

Several local musicians such as Machin’ frontman David Macias and drummer Rob Peterson have played in the Night Owls over the years. Woo said many have moved on or are trying to “find their own path.”

“I feel the goal and the desire to achieve it has changed with these (current) gentlemen,” Woo said. “We all want the same thing. With previous lineups, some of these members have gone on to their personal leadership roles that they couldn’t have (at the time) because I’m the vocalist. There’s had a lot of conflict about it. , but everyone [who] went through continued their call and they are great. We’re still good friends who support each other and we play on the same lineups.”

Giselle Woo and Night Owls bassist Marco Murrieta perform with the band at the Coachella Valley Brewing Company in Thousand Palms, California on February 19, 2022.

Before Colin joined the band in 2016, he played in a local band called The Basaracts with vocalist Tony Duran, Murrieta and Ceja. Murrieta described the band as “a rock band with jazz applications”. The Basaracts played several concerts in their garden with punk bands and the atmosphere was not that of a traditional hall.

“The best thing is you start playing, there’s nobody in front of you because nobody cares,” Murrieta said. “They’re all drinking or smoking something and then one person walks up holding their beer with this stunned look on their face like ‘That’s pretty good’. Then you see another person walk up and then before you know it, everyone is in front of you and the cops are on your left and coming to break it.”

The group had to adapt to different styles of music, including cumbia, a genre of Colombian music and dance, and Mexican music. Murrieta said Woo’s parents, who are also musicians (Raul and Lupita Woo), helped him grasp the basslines and traditional rhythms of Cumbia and Mexican music.

“(Woo’s mom) said, ‘When you play cumbia, you gotta play it like that’ and she took the bass from me and played it. I just remember sitting there like “Oh, I know what you’re doing”” Murrieta said. “Then his father said, ‘When you play Mexican music, you have to play it like that.’ It’s really broadened not just my vocabulary, but my musicality as a whole. Being around them who’ve done it longer than me and gracing me with the skills they have, they’ve broadened my horizons.

Giselle Woo and the Night Owls will perform at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival on Fridays for both weekends.  Drummer JosŽ Ceja, left, vocalist Giselle Woo, guitarist Christian Col'n and bassist Marco Murrieta are pictured in Cathedral City, California on April 1, 2022.

Local bands such as YIP YOPS, The Flusters, Brightener and Kayves have performed at Coachella in recent years, but these bands were invited to perform and announced a week before the festivals. In 2019, local band Ocho Ojos were included in the initial lineup and on the poster, and Woo was in 2020 and earlier this year.

From 2015 to 2019, Woo also served as KCOD’s station manager CoachellaFM while attending College of the Desert and covered Coachella as a reporter. Doing the festival was always on her mind.

“It’s amazing to be (played) on this site now,” Woo said. “Just the layout, it feels like home. We know the best times to get there and we avoid traffic jams. It feels good to be on the other side, it’s exciting.”

Ceja said he’s dreamed of performing at the festival as a local musician for more than a decade and it’s “surreal” to see them on the lineup poster.

“I can say 100% without a doubt that being on this stage with who we are and how we are as a band, I wouldn’t want to (do it) with anyone else,” Ceja said. “I thank God every day and say, ‘Thank you for letting me be a part of this, but even more thank you for allowing us to come together and share this experience together on this stage.’

For his performance at Coachella, Woo said the band would add Janine Rivera as a live member for both weekends, and her parents would dance onstage to a song on the second weekend.

“I want them to see what it’s like to be on a stage like that, because maybe they dreamed of doing that before they had kids,” Woo said.

Brian Blueskye covers arts and entertainment for the Desert Sun. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @bblueskye.

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