Former UIUC student Mike Kinsella has been a part of the Chicago music scene since his teen years, playing instruments in groups such as Cap’n Jazz, Joan of Arc and CU’s own American Football. On Monday, Oct. 15, Kinsella will be playing at the Courtyard Café as Owen, his solo project. Intelligent and intimate, the efforts of Owen over the past few years worked to reshape Kinsella’s musical persona into a somewhat stripped-down version of previous collaborations, focused more on classical, ambient sounds paired with gentle, beautiful lyrics. 2006’s At Home with Owen is a perfect example of this; it is a deeply expressive record underscored by skilled, quiet instrumentation. In anticipation of his upcoming show, buzz interviewed the gracious, well-spoken Kinsella about Owen, his plans and other musical ventures.
buzz: Firstly, how was your summer? Any good shows, any good stories?
Mike Kinsella: It was actually very eventful. I went to Europe with Bob Nanna (Braid guitarist), his wife and my wife. It was kind of like a double date with our girls and our guitars. It’s the second time we’ve gone in three summers; it’s turning into a sort of tradition. There were too many shows to remember, lots of great shows, getting into fights at awkward shows. It was amazing meeting great people everywhere. The people in Spain took great care of us.
buzz: How have your prior musical experiences shaped the personal sound of your solo act, Owen?
Mike: I guess I take something away from each band I played in and add in my own musical taste. A lot of fans were disappointed because Owen is quiet and slow. They’re used to three guys banging on drums for a full band show . when it’s just me, I’m a lot more quiet.
buzz: How do you think your sound as Owen has evolved since the project began?
Mike: It hasn’t changed that much. The songs, I’ve trimmed the fat off them; at the beginning there were a lot more ambient and classical sounds because that’s what was interesting to me. Now they’re a little more straightforward – straightforward, corny love songs.
buzz: Tell us about the experience of recording At Home with Owen.
Mike: I actually went to proper studios, which was way more enjoyable than the last couple of records where I pretty much did everything on my own. Going into different studios with different artists brought new life to the songs. They still sound like Owen but with different details and influences.
buzz: What can be expected from an Owen live show?
Mike: A lot of me rambling! I used to get nervous and tune my guitar a lot on stage . now I can talk when I do it, find a new way to get the [audience] interested in lyrics and content. The content is pretty blunt – not the nicest words, maybe some four-letter words . it’s stripped down, casual and intimate. Hopefully, I make up in intimacy and character compared to the volume of your typical full band show. People notice more what’s happening. It’s about actually doing something . the feeling that this show, this moment, it’s actually happening.
buzz: What are you listening to right now?
Mike: I made a mix tape recently of Dinosaur Jr., their latest came out this summer. I try to shy away from any hype, so I don’t really listen to anything that’s getting a whole lot of coverage. I listen to Dinosaur Jr., Depeche Mode, My Bloody Valentine . the classics, I guess.
buzz: What’s next for Mike Kinsella?
Mike: Hopefully starting to record a new album. So there will be a new Owen album out next spring or fall! The band I’m in with my wife, Shirts and Skins, I want to try to record a full-length album – it’s a little more poppy, more keyboards – and go on tour.