Interview: Owen

(this interview originally appeared in issue #27 of Modern Fix Magazine in 2003).


– interview by tom maxwell


Hey kid, how do you know your life is okay? could you live with yourself, without the world watching you and television to rule your life? If the world were to end today would you have lived a good life? Would your children love you if they knew who you really are? There is no doubt in my mind that Michael Kinsella would be just fine and he is not afraid to prove it to you. Mike has got to be one of the most calm and collected musicians I have ever had the pleasure of listening to and making a part of my life. As for the new Owen album, it is along the lines of the first Owen album and the ever epic American Football album (of which there was truly only one). For those who have already been fortunate enough to have a formal introduction to Owen, this album is much more direct and is the sure progression from the first. In case you were wondering, Mike sits around with his acoustic guitar and writes very thematic emotional music for people who really know what emotional music stands for. As I told Mike, “These are the things I live for, albums like yours.” The power of listening a gentle soul is overwhelming and challenging because it makes you feel. Kid you not, Mike’s voice is so riddled with emotion that first I want to cry and then I can’t stop smiling. If you don’t like yourself then you won’t like Owen. As for me, I fall asleep in about five minutes.

You’ve been around music now for a very long time. When was the first time you played an instrument and which instrument was it?
Mike K: I took piano lessons for a few months when I was in third grade, but I wasn’t too good at it, so I quit. Then I started picking up Tim’s guitar when I was in about seventh grade and taught myself Metallica songs.

How old were you when Cap’n Jazz got started?
I think I was fourteen when we first started playing together as Cap’n Jazz.

Who have been the artists that have most inspired you as a musician?
There are so many. David Davurin (Sundays), Morrissey and Johnny Marr, Kevin Shields (My Bloody Valentine), Mark Kozelik (Red House Painters), Tim and Sam and Vic (Cap’n Jazz, Joan of Arc, Owls), etc.

The new record… how do you think it turned out and how would you describe it to someone you just met who has never heard Owen or American Football?
I think I successfully fixed most of the things I didn’t like about the first Owen record, but in the process i may have overlooked or messed up some different areas. That’s the fun part, though, to keep writing and recording new stuff and do a better job in both respects. I’m really bad at describing music. I guess I’d say it’s sort of slow and melodic with somewhat intricate guitars and somewhat interesting arrangements. Hopefully, at least.

I have your split disc with Rutabaga that has the reworked ‘American Football’ song. Although Owen definitely feels  like more of a solo project, would you consider Owen an extension or continuation of American Football?
It’s really a different thing altogether. American Football, to me, was sort of an instrumental band, with the songs being arranged according to the music and then I threw vocals on at the end. With Owen, the songs are written often times around the words or vocal melodies. It’s just a pretty different approach, and I think the final product is pretty different as a result.

Are you as deep of a person as your records lead on? I mean, how serious do you take yourself and your life in general?
Haha. No, I’m not always in a bad mood or down about girls or anything. It’s just that’s what seems to inspire me to sit down with my guitar. If I’m out having a good time with some friends, I’ve no interest to go home and write. But if I’m sitting at home and it’s two in the morning and I’ve got nothing to do and I’m bummed about it… then that’s when I’ll pick up my guitar.

How much outside help did you get for the new Owen album?
Caitlyn (from Rainer Maria) came over and sang a few back up lines. I don’t let her sing too much because her voice is so good that it makes mine look really bad. So i keep her contributions to a minimum in hopes of nobody noticing this…

The first Owen album worked heavily with themes in terms of the chord progressions and the vocals. I thought it was a very reflective album and that you tried to “open up” yourself for the world to see. Does your second album follow in suit?
Yeah, I suppose. I think “No Good For No One Now” is a lot more straight forward, both thematically and arrangement-wise. There aren’t as many repeated themes or parts throughout the album, and I don’t think the lyrics are as passive.


You’ve been involved with a number of diverse bands including, but not limited to American Gootball, Joan of Arc, Cap’n Jazz, Ghosts and Vodka and the Owls. Has it been hard to balance your time between all these bands?
No, not really. I’ve played in these bands over the course of about ten years, so there was never really too much going on at once. Although I’m going to tour with Joan of Arc in the spring while still trying to be productive with Owen, so we’ll see if my answer will change after that.

I’ve read quite frequently that although your older brother Tim is a very good singer, that you have the better voice. I know it doesn’t matter, but what do you think about this?
Haha. no, I really don’t spend much time comparing the two. But I think that we both are trying to do different things with not only our voices, but music in general. While we do appreciate a lot of the same musical characteristics (odd time signatures, interesting arrangements…) our goals as far as the final product goes differ quite a bit.

Just judging by your albums, you would not be someone who supports war. How do you feel about the possible war with the middle east?
Scared. As does everyone else, right?

How much longer do you think humans will survive on earth?
I think that “humans” will be around for a long time (maybe not *all* of us…), but I think that our way of life (generally speaking, over the last however many hundreds of years or so) will get super fucked up very soon.

What is your favorite time of the day?
I really like rolling over about seven in the morning and knowing I have a few more hours to sleep. yeah, I guess those few morning hours of sleep are my favorite.