12: You don’t have to be a mathematician OR an artist (you can do both!) with Tobias the Owl

Tobias the Owl
Singer-Songwriter | Seattle, WA
Website | Facebook | Instagram | Spotify

Elijah (a.k.a. Tobias the Owl) is originally from Morocco though he grew up in Canada and has lived in Seattle since 2015, working as a medical physicist, professor and musician (his secret-identity that he dons when not reading MRIs). He writes songs inspired by physics and his journey as a leukemia survivor. A lot of the songs on his newest album are about The Black Hole Theory War which have us asking questions like “Are We Infinite Beings or Are We Infinitesimal?” When I arrived at his apartment building in downtown Seattle, Tobias was waiting at the door to let me in. He led me through winding hallways of this old building that used to be a hotel. He pointed down one hallway to a dead end, no one in sight, and said his band often practices there. He pointed down another hallway and told me there’s a hidden entrance to the dark tunnels of old underground Seattle; he likes to write songs down there, alone in the dark with nothing but echos and music. As we entered Tobias’ apartment, he moved aside chairs, clearing space for us to walk. Chairs. So many chairs scattered around haphazardly. Why? Albert Einstein famously quipped, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?” and as I explored Tobias’ home I was asking my, “of what is a home full of chairs a sign?” The answer it appears is a host who loves musical chairs. ;) hehe But seriously, Tobias has so many chairs because he has hosted live music events in home. He is deeply engrained into Seattle’s music scene and he makes large efforts to support other musicians, shining a spotlight on intimate acoustic artists, hosting opportunities for them to be heard. Thank you so much Tobias for sharing yourself with us and for being a guest on my podcast. I am so grateful, inspired and excited to share this episode. ❤ Cha
LISTEN / WATCH

BEST QUOTES

“When I started writing music, I always had the question, ‘What do I want to say about the world that’s different, that hasn’t already been said.’” -- Tobias the Owl

“Sometimes you go to dark places when you write songs. It’s partly a catharsis and the other part of that that’s super rewarding about that is that sometimes you write a song and you have a really dark personal lonely feeling emotion that comes out in the that song and then you play it for people and they say ‘that really resonates with me’. Maybe this thing that I’m experiencing which is to me very dark and lonely is really just a commonality of the human experience and so it makes you feel more connected. That ones of the big reasons why I write stuff.” -- Tobia the Owl

“One of the great things about the Seattle music scene...is that musicians really come to support each other…I really think there’s something about Seattle that not just musicians supporting each other but other artists supporting each others, photographers, visual artists, live painters, poets will share artistic moments with musicians in a really special way. ” -- Tobias the Owl

“I wish were taught in primary school that you don’t have to do one or the other. You don’t have to be a mathematician or an artist. You can do both.” -- Tobias the Owl

“Don’t waste time on cleaning your apartment.” -- Tobias the Owl

“The music becomes your social life when you spend so much time on it.” -- Tobias the Owl


LET’S DISCUSS — how do you preserve the music heritage of Seattle?

“Times are tough financially and economically and there’s a lot of gentrification and a lot of people being pushed out and a lot of those people are artists and musicians...How do you keep that mission going and how do you preserve the creative and music heritage of Seattle and enable it to move forward? ” -- Tobias the Owl

Possible solutions preserving the music culture in Seattle:
1) Synergy between Artists
2) Raising Awareness of the Value/Impact of Art/Music Through Podcasts
3) Introducing Music to People at a Young Age so it sticks with them through life
4) Breaking down the walls and bringing music off stage to places it’s not expected (streets, stores, airports, hospitals etc…) so people can experience the world of music.

Tobias the Owl Photographed by Chamonix Films for the Wilde Musicians Podcast Hosted by Cha Wilde - February 2019-3_WEB.jpg

QUESTIONS FROM MUSICIANS

Question from Spence Hood:
“Are you focused more on growing your following locally, globally or online?”

Answer from Tobias the Owl:

“There’s someone somewhere that needs to hear the music...If (they live nextdoor to me) or if they’re somebody just passing through Seattle and I meet them at the airport. Probably, once every couple weeks I’ll receive an email from somebody in Brazil, or Germany or the UK or some other country saying “I’m going through a really hard time and I heard your music and it brought me to a really warm place and I feel better because it’s in my ears.” I always write a song and I think ‘I hope there is someone somewhere who is going to connect with this, whether that’s globally or online or in person or at a show or down the street from me or far away from me or on Spotify or on Pandora, I feel like any connection to the music is equally meaningful.” -- Tobias the Owl

Question from Drea Marilyn:
Why do you make music?

Answer from Tobias the Owl:
“When I make music, it’s a very isolated experience sometimes writing a song. It’s usually late at night for me and I’m usually by myself alone here or downstairs or somewhere in this building and I’m usually feeling kind of lonely and kind of isolated and maybe even a little dark. I feel like feelings that I have during those moments are not the best feelings and they feel isolating but when you put a song out and then somebody else connects with it, you realize that there’s something that you’re feeling something that’s universal. It’s not just you, it’s the universe and it’s part of being human. That has been such a rewarding feeling to know that here’s a song that came from a really dark place and maybe those dark places are not as isolated and dark and lonely as I think and they’re just things that every human feels and that’s a nice feeling to have.” -- Tobias the Owl


TOBIAS THE OWL ASKS OTHER MUSICIANS:

“What can we do to support the arts given financial realities that are becoming increasingly austere?”
OR
“How can music and the arts be reconciled with a world that sometimes values profits over love?”

Tobias the Owl Photographed by Chamonix Films for the Wilde Musicians Podcast Hosted by Cha Wilde - February 2019-6_WEB.jpg

When you were growing up, what do you imagine doing as an adult?
“I really super wanted to be a theoretical physicist and mathematician... I wanted to be wading through numbers….I always liked looking at the human form. I used to draw comic books as a kid. I was always super into this insight that if I studied the human body enough, the human form enough, I would be able to unwrap the secrets of the universe.” -- Tobias the Owl



FOLLOW TOBIAS THE OWL
Website | Facebook | Instagram | Spotify

Screenshot at Apr 03 12-09-32.png

TRANSCRIPT

DOWNLOAD Transcript PDF

0-10 MINUTES

A Safe Harbour for Wayward Souls (Tobias the Owl’s New Album)
Ben Harper
Laura Vieres

Elijah is originally from Morocco, grew up in Canada and has lived in Seattle since 2015, working as a medical physicist, professor and musician. He writes songs inspired by physics, the Black Hole Wars and his journey as a leukemia survivor. Many of his songs are written in the dark tunnels of old underground Seattle under his apartment building.

Hootie and the Blow Fish
Pauvlo Solovar

Tobias the Owl is a name inspired by a poem by Pauvlo Solovar about how owls see the world.

“When I started writing music, I always had the question, ‘What do I want to say about the world that’s different, that hasn’t already been said.’” — Tobias the Owl

“Sometimes you go to dark places when you write songs. It’s partly a catharsis and the other part of that that’s super rewarding about that is that sometimes you write a song and you have a really dark personal lonely feeling emotion that comes out in the that song and then you play it for people and they say ‘that really resonates with me’. Maybe this thing that I’m experiencing which is to me very dark and lonely is really just a commonality of the human experience and so it makes you feel more connected. That ones of the big reasons why I write stuff.” — Tobia the Owl

Hayley Johnsen
Gigs4You

Tobias plays at the airport. He says it’s a beautiful place to connect people with music because often when people are traveling they are going through an emotional moment in their lives. Once a shift, someone comes up to him with tears in their eyes. “People have really emotional moments in their journeys when they’re going through an airport and the fact they can connect with something when they’re having that very personal moment is really beautiful.” -- Tobias the Owl

Tobias was inspired by hip-hop collaborations when creating his new album. Featuring other artists makes “music feel like a communal journey.”

Andrews Joslyn
Razor Clam

10-20 MINUTES

When performing in a bookshop in Captiol Hill, Tobias once had two women approach him, one woman realized his music was about Christianity and the second woman realized his music was about atheism. He realized through music we find intersections.

Tobias has approx. 18 band mates across the country in NYC and LA. He met musicians when he was out performing by himself and they started connecting and working together. You can have a different line up for each Tobias the Owl show depending on who’s in town.

Spence Hood

“One of the great things about the Seattle music scene...is that musicians really come to support each other…I really think there’s something about Seattle that not just musicians supporting each other but other artists supporting each others, photographers, visual artists, live painters, poets will share artistic moments with musicians in a really special way. ” — Tobias the Owl

Tractor Tavern
Philip Johnson (Seattle Music Photographer)

Tobias also writes reviews and regularly goes to other shows to support the art community in Seattle.

New York is a very connected city. People will stop you on the street and ask you where you’re going if you’re carrying a guitar. A woman once met him on the street and followed him to a show.

“There’s an ethos of silence in public spaces that is unique to Seattle…(Other cities are more into collective experience. In New York City everyone is talking on the subway.) ” — Tobias the Owl

A lot of the songs on the new album are about The Black Hole Theory War.
“It was a decade long debate that raged between Steven Hawking and Leonard Subskin about what happens when something falls into a black hole; is it gone forever, is it lost, is there some imprint of it... What they uncovered in their debate is a law of the universe so fundamental that it had been previously overlooked by every proceeding physicist. It’s now known as the Zeroth Law of Thermodynamics. Zero because it’s considered so foundational. The first and second laws are considered fundamental and this is considered even more fundamental and that law is the Law of Conservation of Information. It turns out that information in the universe becomes more chaotic overtime and they discovered that by studying the extreme of a black hole but it’s really truth of the entire universe. So that’s a very powerful idea because that means that everything we do and say, the entire narrative of who we are, is forever indelibly and inextricably written into the fabric of reality in a very profound and fundamental way and that’s a true statement from the standpoint of physics. It’s interesting because it’s such a profound scientific idea yet it has such wide ranging philosophical implications too. So how do you take those scientific insights and apply them into our lives and think that we are maybe permanent beings in a way we don’t appreciate….So that was an idea from science that I tried to weave into the songs. Once you resonate with (the concept that) everything we’re saying is permanent it really becomes something motivates a lot of ideas for music.” — Tobias the Owl

“Are We Infinite Beings or Are We Infinitesimal?”

Sereny Vasamugens Infinity SEries

Tobias keeps his music and medical identities separate.

“A few times people have found out my secret identity...a lot of doctors and a lot of scientists really have an artistic side of their personalities and I think they feel like they’re potentiated to share that more because of my dualistic interests.” — Tobias the Owl

20-30 MINUTES

We have the idea that science and art are separate but Tobias believes and experiences how the walls between them are actually very permeable; witnessing how artists and scientists share creativity and interest in weird unusual things.

“I wish were taught in primary school that you don’t have to do one or the other. You don’t have to be a mathematician or an artist. You can do both.” -- Tobias the Owl

Spence Hood -- Pantryman

Some of Tobias’ Activities:
Seattle Acoustic Festival

Board of Directors for Folklife
Write Album Reviews
Review Manuscripts for a Medical Journal

“I feel energized at times and exhausted at time but I think that’s another commonality of being human. This world pulls you in a lot of directions and I know people who do everything that I do and they’re also a parent and also a partner and I’m always amazed that we can make the time for things that we really love and the things that are important. I’m super passionate about my medical career, I’m super passionate about being an editor and a reviewer for a medical journal and I’m equally passionate about writing reviews for people’s music and I’m equally passionate about creating my own music. I try to make time for everything because it means so much to me….There’s only so many hours in a day but I think everyone packs in more than what they think they’re capable of when love what they are doing.” — Tobias the Owl

“Don’t waste time on cleaning your apartment.” — Tobias the Owl

“The music becomes your social life when you spend so much time on it.” -- Tobias the Owl

Attention for Safe Harbor for Wayward Echos (Tobias the Owl’s new album):
International Acoustic Music Awards
Billboard Magazine’s Top Folk Albums

“(Tobias the Owl’s new album is) as much beauty as you can fit in the human sonic experience.” — Ben Harper

Tobias was diagnosed with leukemia, told he was going to die from it and he recovered and rejoined the world. The new album is about this journey. He wrote a lot of his personal journey into the album.

“I heard your songs and some of them are insights into how time is precious.” — Tobias the Owl

“I’ve always had songs in my head and the first time I shared songs was shortly after I was diagnosed with leukemia and I played a show because it was right before I was going to get chemotherapy and it was kind of a bucket list things. It was the first show that I played.” — Tobias the Owl

Jonah Tolchin
Heop Records ??
John J. McCauley
Deer Tick

30-40 MINUTES

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

“I’ve always had songs in my head and maybe a lot of my life I’ve been imbued and entrenched in the false dichotomy of ‘no I’m not a musicians’; going through medical school, (we were) doctors, we put on our white coats, we practice medicine and that’s who we are. I guess I felt entrenched in that for a lot of my life so I never really took the music very seriously.” — Tobias the Owl

“I’ll always be super grateful to (Seattle) because it’s such a supportive place to create music and I don’t know if I would have had this musical career if I were anywhere else in the world.” — Tobias the Owl

“How do people keep writing music when they’re getting forced out of the city because they can’t pay rent?” — Tobias the Owl

“The Seattle music scene has tremendous potential and just such a historic richness. We take it for granted that Seattle is such a music city and we haven’t maybe done enough to protect the future of that.” — Tobias the Owl

“Times are tough financially and economically and there’s a lot of gentrification and a lot of people being pushed out and a lot of those people are artists and musicians...How do you keep that mission going and how do you preserve the creative and music heritage of Seattle and enable it to move forward? ” — Tobias the Owl

The Great Work of Your Life (Book)
Robert Frost

Cha shares her experience of the struggle between creating art and earning money, changing careers from portrait photography and yoga teaching to creating music and hosting a podcast.

“I’ve always felt like music and medicine don’t pull me in different directions, they’re really part of the same journey.” — Tobias the Owl

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert (Book)

40-50 MINUTES

“Get money out of the equation. Medicine (and fields) would be so much better if we didn’t have money in the equation….One of the things I feel very conflicted about as a doctor is that we are making our money on the backs of people who are suffering. What I do in medicine is a little bit more pure because I’m reading images but a lot of Western medicine is extremely polluted and the United States has a problem about this really uniquelly, way worse th an any other country where at every step of providing care for a patience, somebody is turning on the spicket and trying to squeeze out some money. That’s really tragic to me. I wish the art of medicine were more pure and not as polluted by concerns of profit.” — Tobias the Owl

“One of the ways this musical community will survive and thrive is by the synergies with other people….People putting their energy into the music community in ways that they’re passionate about are a small part of addressing the problem of artists being squeeze out of Seattle.” — Tobias the Owl

Devan Sinha
Philip Johnson (Seattle Music Photographer)
Seattle Acoustic Festival

“I created the Seattle Acoustic Festival as a way of providing attention to musicians who are a little more intimate that have a more personal connection to the audience that sometimes get overlooked by the big rock festivals.” — Tobias the Owl

Cap Hill Block Party
Bumbershoot

“There’s something really broken about our society when we say we don’t care about music and we care about what the rent values are and what the property values are and how much income does that generate.” — Tobias the Owl

“Seattle is becoming the city that is emblematic of financial inequalities and we’re allowing our world to be ruled by profit and not by things we actually believe in.” — Tobias the Owl

The Harmony Project (non-profit in LA)
Introducing music to children in underprivileged areas carries them beautifully into adulthood.
8: Can Music Help You Learn -- Rise Podcast
YouthCare
Gigs4You

Possible solutions preserving the music culture in Seattle:
1) Synergy between Artists
2) Raising Awareness of the Value/Impact of Art/Music Through Podcasts
3) Introducing Music to People at a Young Age so it sticks with them through life
4) Breaking down the walls and bringing music off stage to places it’s not expected (streets, stores, airports, hospitals etc…) so people can experience the world of music.

“We think of musical performance as being very compartmentalized like venues and bars and maybe that’s another wall we need to take down to get music into more spaces.” -- Tobias the Owl
Guitars for Veterans

“How do you put music in places where people are?” — Tobias the Owl
Verdadee Credit Union
“You wouldn’t think that a bank would be a place that you want to share music but it was really really wonderful.” — Tobias the Owl

“Music saves people’s lives everyday and more lives could be saved if they (people) were aware of (the big world of music; outside the top 40) and that would increase the importance of the music so maybe it would be prioritized more.” — Cha Wilde

Fjall Raven (A clothing store where Tobias played once and it was once of his favorite shows).
The Port of Seattle Pays for the Airport Music
Veterans Hospital Seattle
Sofar Sounds Seattle

“(Sofar Sounds has been so successful because) people want to connect with music. Even if people don’t want to go to a bar, they still want to connect with music.” — Tobias the Owl

Tractor Tavern

50-60 MINUTES

“Music still needs to be valued so I try to do very few shows that are voluntary or you’re not getting paid for it and we don’t do any shows that are for exposure. We do a lot of benefit shows because it’s a rewarding way to give back. It’s a different sort of profit; a personal, spiritual, and moral enrichment of playing for a cause that you really believe in. We always insist that music should be paid for.” -- Tobias the Owl

Starbucks
Jonah Tolchin

The man who curates the music that plays at Starbucks comes to the Seattle Acoustic Festivals to scout talent.

Leading up to the Seattle Acoustic Festival, Tobias “gets a little nutty” with the planning.
This year the festival will be pushed to October to avoid smoke from summer wildfire smoke.

It’s very difficult “extremely taxing” to narrow down the artists who get to perform at the Seattle Acoustic Festival. So many people making good music so it’s a hard choice. Tobias chose to reward people who are very present in the music community; people who is always out supporting other musicians at their shows.

Crystal and Quiet
Deify
Sandi Fernandez
Smokey Brights
Rain City Collective publishes Tobias’ reviews.
Parke Avenue
Ben Harper
Northwest Music Scene
Kim Rule for NPR

Tobias enjoys writing music reviews for other artists because he gets to enjoy new music for free, provide artists with feedback and encouragement they are hungry to hear, and promote the amazing music that is being constantly produced in this city.

“The perfect soundtrack for winter.” --- Kim Rule reviewing Tobias’ new album.

60-70 MINUTES

Question from Spence Hood:
“Are you focused more on growing your following locally, globally or online?”

Answer from Tobias the Owl:
“There’s someone somewhere that needs to hear the music...If (they live nextdoor to me) or if they’re somebody just passing through Seattle and I meet them at the airport. Probably, once every couple weeks I’ll receive an email from somebody in Brazil, or Germany or the UK or some other country saying “I’m going through a really hard time and I heard your music and it brought me to a really warm place and I feel better because it’s in my ears.” I always write a song and I think ‘I hope there is someone somewhere who is going to connect with this, whether that’s globally or online or in person or at a show or down the street from me or far away from me or on Spotify or on Pandora, I feel like any connection to the music is equally meaningful.” — Tobias the Owl

Question from Drea Marilyn:
Why do you make music?

Answer from Tobias the Owl:
“When I make music, it’s a very isolated experience sometimes writing a song. It’s usually late at night for me and I’m usually by myself alone here or downstairs or somewhere in this building and I’m usually feeling kind of lonely and kind of isolated and maybe even a little dark. I feel like feelings that I have during those moments are not the best feelings and they feel isolating but when you put a song out and then somebody else connects with it, you realize that there’s something that you’re feeling something that’s universal. It’s not just you, it’s the universe and it’s part of being human. That has been such a rewarding feeling to know that here’s a song that came from a really dark place and maybe those dark places are not as isolated and dark and lonely as I think and they’re just things that every human feels and that’s a nice feeling to have.” — Tobias the Owl

Cha shares her experience of playing piano and tuning into a realm where all the lonely meditating people are in that moment.

“On our album the insight is, are we finite beings or are we infinite? One of the dimensions of that question is ‘To what extent is reality what you can measure with a meter stick and to what extent is reality something that transcends anything that we’ve learned  to accurately measure to this point.’ There are dimensions of reality, there are realms of consciousness that are probably more resonate than we understand and I feel like there are a lot of times when I have moments that I feel like these emotions are maybe coming from someone else somewhere and it’s just humanity experiencing them together. I hope we can use music as a way of sublimating our emotions not just individually but also societially. The world is very fractured right now. We’ve broken our relationships with others and we’ve broken our relationship with nature and that’s left us with some negative feelings and some negative spaces that we’re in. Maybe the catharsis that I feel when I write a song is part of the catharsis that humanity needs to feel.” — Tobias the Owl

When you were growing up, what do you imagine doing as an adult?
“I really super wanted to be a theoretical physicist and mathematician... I wanted to be wading through numbers….I always liked looking at the human form. I used to draw comic books as a kid. I was always super into this insight that if I studied the human body enough, the human form enough, I would be able to unwrap the secrets of the universe.” — Tobia the Owl

70-80 MINUTES

What To Do Now:
1) Connect to the Music
of Tobia the Owl A Safe Harbour for Wayward Souls
2) Support the Music & Arts (Go to a Show, Buy an Album, Bring Your Talents to the Community)

“I guarantee that there is someone within a couple miles of you that is making music that is fantastic and maybe the music that you need to discover is the person looking in the mirror. If you feel the passion to create art don’t let the narrow definition of the word ‘art’ define what your journey is going to be.” — Tobias the Owl

QUESTION FOR OTHER MUSICIANS

“What can we do to support the arts given financial realities that are becoming increasingly austere?”
OR
“How can music and the arts be reconciled with a world that sometimes values profits over love?”

Emily McVicker
Heather Edgley

Tobias the Owl Photographed by Chamonix Films for the Wilde Musicians Podcast Hosted by Cha Wilde - February 2019_WEB.jpg
PodcastChaComment