Towse is many things.
“It’s an old word with origins in the British Isles,” says Ojai-based musician Grace Fellows. “It has a few meanings, but mainly tough or the ridge of a hill.”
It is also Towse, a pop music collective led by Fellows.
“I originally chose the name because of the influence that British Isles folk music has had on me as a musician and because I liked how it feels strong and soft at the same time,” says Fellows. She adds that she was “specifically looking for a name that could work for a group or solo act.”
Which brings us to what it means to be Towse. The answer is deliberately and wonderfully fluid.
“The number of members isn’t always set and people have joined and left without a lot of drama,” says Fellows. “We come together to create the vision of music I have and we make together, and that vision can often change as members influence each other.”
Fellows was inspired to follow this type of model by the “super awesome” wild Up, a Los Angeles chamber music/new music collective.
Towse is sometimes a solo act. But more often than not, Fellows is joined by other musicians, including her brother, Lacy Shifflette, and her boyfriend, Christopher Hall. That’s because, as Fellows explains, “the music generally calls for a bigger sound.” That sound has often been described as “experimental pop” or “freak folk.”
Some might say Towse has a Cal Arts sound, referring to the California Institute of the Arts. “It has a particular quality,” she says. “It’s energetic and rhythmically it changes a lot.”
Fellows graduated from Cal Arts in 2017 when she was just 19. It was a path she didn’t necessarily envision for herself. She was attending Ventura College when her violin professor encouraged her to go on to study music at a four-year college.
“I said, ‘I’m not going to college because there’s no college with a pop music program.’ ” To which her professor responded, “Oh, yes, there is,” and pointed her towards Cal Arts.
“I was so young that it was important to have a place that would let me explore,” she explains. Cal Arts was a perfect fit. There, Fellows studied all kinds of music, from pop and classical to atonal and experimental.
Even before college, music was a big part of her life. Folk and classical music were major influences. “We’d listen to John Prine on car trips,” Fellows remembers. When she was about 2 years old, she would tag along to her older brother’s piano lessons. When Fellows was 3, her parents gave her a toy violin. She started playing the real thing when she was 4 and later joined the Ojai Youth Symphony. Fellows began to write and perform her own songs in middle school.
“I remember that shift when it began to feel personal,” she says. “It was super humbling and overwhelming, in a good way.” Fellows realized that art, especially performing, was what she wanted to do.
Her goal is to keep growing, not just as an artist and performer, but as a person.
“Growth is super important to me. I write a lot about it,” she says. “I’m looking at how I can be a better human being.” She adds that she wants to keep “getting better at being captivating as an artist. I always want to be better at playing my instrument.” Whether it’s Fellows on her own or with a band, she wants every Towse performance to “feel engaging in a way a conversation feels.”
Recently Towse, that is Fellows, Shifflette and Hall, played at Namba Performing Arts Space in Ventura. The band (in its various configurations) also performs regularly at Greater Goods in Ojai, which Fellows calls “the band’s home.” Change, Towse’s new album, can be found on towse.bandcamp.com and the video for “This Is Love” can be seen on YouTube.
Seeing Towse perform in person is the real treat. There is a sweetness and a fearlessness to Towse’s music that pulls you in. Its sound is indeed both soft and strong. Fellows sings the truth with a catchy beat.
That’s what it means to be Towse.
Follow Towse on Instagram @towselikehouse and find the band’s music at towse.bandcamp.com.