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Mike Kinsella sits on a stool, intensely tuning his guitar and the studio seems a bit empty with just the lone, focused figure placed in the center. Kinsella (whose solo project is named Owen) has been in the music scene since age twelve in various capacities, but is still very serious about his music. Cordial and enthusiastic while he gets ready to play, Kinsella’s fingers slide easily over the guitar in a well-worn pattern and his eyes close as he begins to sing in a familiar, simple voice.
The first song he sings is called “An Animal” off his latest album, Ghost Town which dropped on November 8th. With his signature complex, soft melodies and blunt, straightforward lyrics, “An Animal” boxes itself quickly into Owen’s typical sound. Ghost Town is Kinsella’s sixth album under Owen and one strewn with bare, pared down lyrics reminiscent of Kinsella’s favorite writer, Raymond Carver. “I am a huge fan of sentences that you just strip away anything clever and just say what you want to say,” he says. His lyrics also focus directly on the changes in his personal life. “It’s about babies and being stuck home instead of out drinking like I used to be.” Kinsella says, alluding to the fact that he has just had a baby girl and can no longer live like he did when part of bands like Cap’n Jazz, American Football, and Joan of Arc.
On how his music has evolved over the years, Kinsella says, “The first three records are about meeting girls or trying to meet girls, you know. In my twenties. And then there are a couple about getting married and that change. And then this one, there’s some songs about having kids and the stresses of that and the pleasures of that.” Kinsella definitely embraces his new fatherhood, despite its lack of heavy drinking. The next song he plays, also off of Ghost Town is about called “O, Evelyn” and written for his daughter. Kinsella’s dive into new emotional territory for his lyrics is mirrored in the way he created his newest album. He haphazardly recorded multiple instrumental pieces to be layered and create more intricate sound on the album. He wrote his lyrics sporadically and directly and says, “I like this process instead of the slow, thoughtful process. Next time I’ll definitely just dive right in.”
His third and final song called “One of these Days,” is from his fourth solo album At Home with Owen. There is silence in the studio and we all listen; the beautifully endearing, plaintive catch in his voice is rough, yet pleasing. After his in-studio session is finished, I ask him how touring has been since the big changes in his personal life and the release of the new album. “I enjoy it more than ever. It used to be my means, the way I made money and maybe I had aspirations of being popular or something. Now…this is my way to sort of get out of the house once a month. So I just appreciate it. People come up to me and say, I like your record. I’m like, you heard that record? Seems like I really only do it part-time so when people like it or it gets attention, I appreciate it more than I used to.” Owen will be touring in promotion of Ghost Town through early February, hitting the west coast and the UK.