Leaving The Couch: The story of Löwin and Otis the Destroyer

Originally published on March 13, 2015

“I feel like there (was) this whole new wave of fairly newer bands or bands that (were) rebranding themselves,” said Sara Houser.

Although, she did noticed that 2014 was the Year of the Horse in Chinese Zodiac, which meant change was coming. So it wasn’t a surprise that there seemed to be a shift in the Austin music scene as some bands changed their name, the line-up or just plainly moved on.

She was no exception.

Houser revealed her newest band, Löwin, months after she left her former band, The Couch, in late 2013. Some were surprised to hear the news, but the band knew it was coming.

Houser initially joined The Couch three years ago as an auxiliary player, providing background vocals and accompaniment on keys and guitar, but as she started taking on more lead vocals, she and lead singer/guitar Taylor Wilkins discovered they had a good writing partnership.

“It was like song demo tennis,” said Houser. “I don’t think I’ve ever worked with someone that inspired me to write constantly.”

With both of them turning out songs so furiously though, the band began to notice a division within their song list, whether it was songs written and/or sung by Taylor or songs written and/or sung by Houser. This became evident in the last album The Couch released, a self-titled in 2012.

“It started to feel like two bands, and we both were having to compromise on songs,” said Houser.

Wilkins realized it most when their publicist tried to promote the album. Writers would question if they were listening to the same band because of how different the songs sounded.

“There are really cool aspects of having people say that about your project, but from a success standpoint, it makes sense to be a band that has a little bit more focus,” said Wilkins.

Meaning, he wanted a brand of rock-and-roll that wasn’t two bands wrapped in one. Adding the fact that he was in a relationship with Houser, he felt it was becoming too much.

“I also realized she had a lot of great songs and I had what I thought was a lot great songs. We didn’t have enough room,” said Wilkins.

Houser thinks they both started craving more control and separate musical identities that contributed to the split.

“I will say us being in a relationship together was a catalyst for us deciding to split ways as a band, but I think it would have happened even if Taylor and I hadn’t been dating,” said Houser.

“The Couch was already a band for five years when she joined it, so it was a Frankenstein by the end of it anyway,” said Wilkins. “That’s why it needed to be put down.”

When it came time to share the decision with drummer Jud Johnson and bassist Nick Joswick, they met over beer as Wilkins and Houser shared the news that Houser was leaving the band. They were caught off guard. It hadn’t been a year since Joswick joined The Couch when this happened. He recorded the last Couch album at 5th Street Studios, where he works, and was asked to leave the soundboard to audition for the band.

“I was slightly shocked at first, because I loved The Couch and I loved what we were doing so I thought it was a good fit,” said Jowick.

Johnson was sad he wasn’t going to play Houser’s songs anymore.

“I loved doing that, but I completely understand for the forming of an unit. Maintaining a band like that, you can’t,” said Johnson.

The Couch becomes Otis the Destroyer

With Houser out of the picture, the remaining guys continued playing shows as a three-piece. Since Johnson and Wilkins had initially formed the Couch as a three-piece when they became college roommates in 2007, they were used to that dynamic. But for Joswick, it was strange and eye-opening. He hadn’t been in a three-piece band before.

“It helped me grow as a player,” said Joswick. “I think Otis (the Destroyer) realized the sound that we wanted once we decided to change and do our own thing.”

Moving away from The Couch wasn’t an easy transition. During The Couch’s tenure, the band briefly played under the pseudonym Devil in the Drink as a way to clean the slate. The name didn’t last long.

“That was a failed experiment,” said Wilkins. “We played a lot of really good shows as Devil in the Drink, but it was such a terrible band name change that it was like, even at this point, it’s laughable.”

Wilkins and especially Johnson had hesitations about starting a band from scratch.

“It’s daunting to have to start over again, but at the same time, the band was going through so many different changes,” said Johnson.

“It wasn’t an easy sell, and neither was the name Otis the Destroyer, but it was kinda like the name that we all felt the best about and I figured it can’t be any worse than The Couch,” said Wilkins.

The band name derives from Wilkins’ dog, who Wilkins named after a nickname given to his dad.

Before the band debut, Wilkins told James Taylor what his new band would be called. Taylor, who co-owns and co-manages Holy Mountain music venue, was also booking shows for The Couch at the time. Recalling that moment, he’s pretty sure he hated it, but not as much as he hated Devil in the Drink.

“I’m not a huge fan of the name, but now they own it,” said Taylor. “Now they’re such a good band that the name is just stupid. Like it doesn’t matter, you know? They reached that threshold.”

Houser forms Löwin

Meanwhile, Houser was gathering bandmates for her new project. She immediately knew she wanted to work with drummer Chris DeGeorge.

“I knew he had the chops but we also have pretty similar tastes in music, which makes writing really fun,” said Houser.

She reached out to bassist Nate Ribner who also plays in one of her favorite local bands, Young Tongue.

“He has a really unique tone/style and was into the demos we sent him,” said Houser.

Adam Mason, from Slomo Drags, was initially the second guitarist, but he had to back out due to time commitments. Kyle Durst happened to work at Houser’s day job at Guero’s Taco Bar when she was searching to replace Mason. He went to a show. She sent him some demos and it all just kind of clicked.

 Lowin performs at Cheer Up Charlie’s on New Year’s Eve 2014.

Lowin performs at Cheer Up Charlie’s on New Year’s Eve 2014.

With her band members in place, Houser decided on the band name Löwin, German for the word lioness. She felt the essence of a lioness— the mother that kills— was a good fit for the band.

“I love the lioness image/mindset because to me it’s the perfect balance of masculinity and femininity,” said Houser. “You can be the hunter and do the dirty work and then still come home and nurture.”

Houser added that on a personal note, she needed an image to inspire her.

“I was scared as all hell to front a band again and put myself out there,” said Houser. “I wanted to be confident in my songwriting and my ability to lead so I kind of adopted this alter ego/spirit animal mentality to help me.”

The bands debut

Otis the Destroyer debuted during Free Week at Holy Mountain in 2014, and added guitarist Anthony Rucci, who knew Houser when they attended Berklee College of Music in Boston. Rucci said he was initially intimidated to join an established band, but he got over it.

“They made me feel super comfortable and it was real easy to jump in with them,” said Rucci. “They just made me feel welcomed and at home. It’s been fucking awesome ever since.”

 Otis the Destroyer performs at Empire Control Room & Garage at Ditch the Fest 2014.

Otis the Destroyer performs at Empire Control Room & Garage at Ditch the Fest 2014.

The band quickly jumped into the studio to record an EP called Dark Arts that was released in May 2014. A month before the release, they had a Sunday night residency at Empire Control Room & Garage. Otis the Destroyer celebrated one year in January, coincidentally playing a show during Free Week at Holy Mountain and spent most of that year touring around the country. They opened for Bob Mould in September.

“I think it’s pretty good we survived this whole thing,” said Wilkins. “It’s kinda quite miraculous.”

Löwin’s first show was an unofficial show at Guero’s at South by Southwest Music Festival in 2014. Houser said it was terrifying to play in front of her co-workers, but when she played as part of Otis the Destroyer’s Sunday night residency, she went into it really confident and excited. It felt good and weird for her to play in Löwin without her Couch bandmates though.

“I wouldn’t liken it to being on a date with a new boyfriend and seeing an ex-boyfriend, but it’s kinda that feeling,” said Houser.

She added that she does get the most nervous at shows when she can see the guys in the crowd, especially Joswick and Johnson.

“I just really respect all of them musically and in some weird way want to make them proud,” said Houser.

According to all three guys, proud is what she made them.

“Going from seeing her in the studio to meeting her in the studio to then playing in a band with her, then seeing her doing her thing, it was awesome,” said Joswick.

“I was like a proud uncle or something, watching your brother’s kid run for an 80-yard touchdown… and you’re allowed to be a little louder than everyone else,” said Johnson.

Löwin has also gained attention in its own right, and has been written in several publications. They’ve already managed to play shows with bigger Austin bands.

“I feel very lucky to have people in this town that believe in Löwin and want to help get our name out there,” said Houser.

The future

Otis the Destroyer recently wrapped up a 12-day tour that included too much snow and a Daytrotter session. They are currently working on their full-length album at 5th Street Studios. Stewart Sykes is producing the album this time, so Joswick gets to take a break and just be a bassist. He and Wilkins were completely hands-on when the band recorded the Dark Arts EP.

“I love what we did,” said Joswick. “I love the product that we came out with but it was just getting way too close to everything. We know every single note of every single instrument of every single song in that record.”

Although, Joswick is working with Houser again for Löwin’s first EP, Royal Jelly, which is set to release on April 7. Houser said she knew she wanted to work with him because he’s one of her best friends and “an awesome engineer.”

“He knows his gear and makes the studio process very fluid,” said Houser. “I’ve worked with him before so I’m comfortable bouncing ideas I have off him. I hate being nervous in the studio and 5th Street has a very welcoming atmosphere.”

With SXSW around the corner, both bands have shows lined up around downtown Austin. Löwin is playing nearly every day with shows on March 14 at Red 7, March 15 at Hotel Vegas, March 17 at Guero’s Taco Bar and Maggie Mae’s, March 19 and 20 at Darwin’s Pub. Otis the Destroyer is playing a show on March 17 at Empire Control Room & Garage along with Shakey Graves and Gary Clark, Jr. and has an official showcase with Toro Booking on March 21 at The Javalina. And there’s a good chance you’ll see the Otis the Destroyer guys at a Löwin show or Houser at an Otis the Destroyer show.

“Band breakups are never easy and there are days I really miss what I had with those guys but ultimately we’ve all ended up in a better place because of it,” said Houser.