Features Interviews Mike Kinsella (Owen)

Interviews: Mike Kinsella (Owen)

Over the past few years the singer/songwriter genre has exploded to the point that everywhere from the mainstream music scene all the way down to the open-mic circuit has become flooded with these one man (or woman) acts. Still the term singer/songwriter is loosely defined, encompassing a lot of different, and mostly terrible, styles. Mike Kinsella, who goes by the pseudonym Owen, is one of the few performers keeping the genre interesting. Scottie recently had a chance to talk to Mike about the new Owen album, At Home with Owen and why he doesn't think he'll play "Never Meant" live.

Scene Point Blank: Your new album, At Home with Owen, was only partly recorded at your mother's house, whereas other releases were done in full at your mother's house. Why did you choose to enter the studio this time around?

Mike Kinsella: I think I wanted to try something new; I hear the songs in my head a certain way and I wanted to see if I could get closer to [that sound] if I went somewhere rather than settling. With the other records I've settled and said, "Well that doesn't sound how I want it sound, but it sounds good enough."

Scene Point Blank: Was the recording process easier when other people are getting guitar and drums sounds rather than you having to go through the rigmarole of doing it yourself?

Mike Kinsella: It was a lot easier and more efficient in that sense, working with engineers who knew how to mic stuff. They also had better equipment like better mics. That whole part of the process went a lot smoother. I guess it was easier in general. I mean it was obviously harder for me to leave the house; it's a lot easier to sit in your underwear and record music, but it was a lot easier when I was there definitely. They have a lot more experience with different mics and different rooms.

Scene Point Blank: This album also seems to have more instrumentation to it than previous releases; almost like there is a full band. What kept you from making a lot of people happy and labeling it as an American Football release?

Mike Kinsella: Well I mean American Football was three of us and each member had something to contribute. This is definitely is an Owen record in the sense that it's sort of how I hear the songs and I can guarantee you they would be interpreted a lot different if it was the other guys from American Football doing [these songs]. With the instrumentation - since I went into a studio for this - I was able to have other people play on it and can get some strings on there, which I always wanted; same thing with piano, being in the studio allowed for more instrumentation to be added.

Scene Point Blank: Are you happy with the way the songs came out?

Mike Kinsella: Yeah, sometimes. As soon as I'm finished I'm usually thinking about the next thing already because I just hear the mistakes and the things I wish I could have done differently. I'm definitely happy because I got really lucky and found friends of friends who play stand up bass and violin really well. I'm really happy with all the string parts.

Scene Point Blank: Sticking with the idea of classical instruments and the instrumentation of the new album, have you ever had any formal training in the instruments you play?

Mike Kinsella: Nothing formal, I've just playing been playing for as long as I can remember. I feel like I have gotten to a point where I've thought of taking some lessons for guitar and/or drums so I can progress. I think I've been at the same point now for a couple of years. Maybe I'm just getting sidetracked with my fantasy football team and need to practice more. There is definitely room to grow.

Scene Point Blank: I was actually just going to ask about that; what are your thoughts the season thus far?

Mike Kinsella: Well I'm a Bears fan and it's been a great season thus far. I have three fantasy teams so I'm kind of overwhelmed each weekend. Next year I definitely have to cut it down to two teams.

Scene Point Blank: How are those doing?

Mike Kinsella: I'm in last place in two leagues and just dropped from first to second place in the third league. I have sort of let the other two slip now because it's getting late in the season and there not much I can do anymore. I'm kind of concentrating on the first place league.

Scene Point Blank: Back to music, the lyrics on this album seem to be less somber but there are still hints of worry. What led to this lyrical shift?

Mike Kinsella: I don't know. I think I'm just in a different place then I was a few years ago. Even since recording, like I Do Perceive, I just feel older and more settled; like I bought a place to live. I don't think I need to spend so much time worrying about girls and stuff. I have a wife so she'd get mad if I spent time worrying about girls.

Scene Point Blank: For the last few tours you have been playing the song "Fucked a Fever," which is also on your Myspace page, but you didn't include it on the album. Why not?

Mike Kinsella: I kind of had it worked out, but I couldn't get a version I liked so it sits as a demo. I have the skeleton of it, but I'm still not sure how to fill it out. It will probably get fleshed out for the next record. But by that time it might just get lost as I write new stuff I'm excited about.

Scene Point Blank: On the topic of a next album, some of the songs on At Home with Owen give the hint that you're getting tired of doing Owen. Are you going to keep with it?

Mike Kinsella: I mean I still pick up my guitar everyday and play and write songs so I can't really quit my band if it's just me. Touring as Owen is sort of not a release every night to just get up there and play my guitar. I used to play drums in punk bands and every show was some sort of release for and the people there. A lot of time with Owen the crowd is just kind of quiet, hopefully, and it's just not as immediate with the satisfaction. Hopefully I'll start some sort of band with other people that a little more up beat for touring sake. I mean I'll always be doing Owen but maybe not as much touring or it wouldn't be so much of a focus and I can be in another band too.

Scene Point Blank: The last time you played Connecticut you said that when you hear the songs in your head, you hear a girl singing them, specifically the singer from My Bloody Valentine. Keeping that in mind, a lot of the songs are sung in the second person perspective; are you writing these songs to yourself or do you have a specific listener in mind?

Mike Kinsella: I guess sometimes, but each song is a little different. Some of the lyrics come about when I'm at the bar and I come home drunk and write something down. Sometimes I come home and write something down and I'm super sober and really aware of myself. They all come from different perspectives. The hard part is writing one cohesive song that has a feeling. I do wish I were girl I guess.

Scene Point Blank: When played live the songs have different arrangements, which are your favorite to play in that setting?

Mike Kinsella: You know I can't remember the actual names of the songs. There is a song I call "Instincts," it's called "Playing Possum for a Peek"; I like that one live because it kind of narrative. Some of them I can get by with just one guitar and vocals; there's enough going on. With others the drums move them, or there are solos that I fell are kind of necessary but I cannot pull them off. There is a few that that I have been playing on every tour for the last three years because they just kind of lend themselves to a live setting.

Scene Point Blank: Any that you refuse to play or just have no desire to ever play again?

Mike Kinsella: Not really, I'm not against playing any songs. The older songs I have less to do with; I relate less to something I was singing six or seven years ago, so I don't really have a desire to play them. I'm definitely more interested in the newer stuff. If I know how to play it and someone wants to hear it then I'm not against playing any song. Everybody always wants to hear "Never Meant" and if I honestly think I could pull it off by myself but I think what makes that song really good is the guitars twinkling together and the drums pushing it.

Scene Point Blank: With the previous albums the artwork has been pretty basic, but this one is a lot different? To put it simply, what the fuck is going on?

Mike Kinsella: It's corpse me, that's the dead me.

Scene Point Blank: Any reason or significance behind that?

Mike Kinsella: No, not really. All the obvious and all the abstract all rolled in to one. I don't know. I'd rather put a dead version of me than a live version of me.

Scene Point Blank: You chose to do a Velvet Underground cover on this album, which is a lot different from your songwriting style. Why did you opt for that instead of something like a Red House Painters song, which is a lot closer to your songwriting style?

Mike Kinsella: I always liked the song and I think the process of learning it taught me how to write in a different style. Sometimes when I'm writing I forget that I can just repeat a chorus. "Femme Fatale" is just a simple song and that's what attracted me. I could pull the simplest song and do a pretty straight version of it. I guess I was attracted to its simplicity rather than something more complex and similar to my style. I like that it was different. I think that I learned something by having to dissect it.

Scene Point Blank: Any last words?

Mike Kinsella: Umm, no. Not really.


Interview by Scottie B.

Graphics by Matt.

Read Scene Point Blank's review of At Home with Owen

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Words by Scottie on Oct. 16, 2010, 11:05 a.m.

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Posted by Scottie on Oct. 16, 2010, 11:05 a.m.

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