Owen, with The World is a Beautiful Place & I am No Longer Afraid to Die and Old Gray
May 3, 7 p.m., $15, The Space, 295 Treadwell St., Bldg. H, Hamden, (203) 288-6400, thespacect.com, manicproductions.org.
Certain musicians are so closely associated with their home cities and the scenes they helped build there it's difficult to think of one without thinking of the other. For example, it's hard to think about Nirvana without Seattle, or Conor Oberst without Omaha. Chicago brings to mind a handful of indie rock bands active over the last couple of decades, with incestuous line-ups and a rotating cast of characters that have contributed much of what has turned into the current indie rock landscape. One of the heaviest of hitters in the Chicago indie scene is Mike Kinsella, who's been a member of several notable bands, like Cap'n Jazz, Joan of Arc and American Football. These days he's rocking the stay-at-home-dad job most of the time, except during the occasional tour, which is what brings him to Hamden this week.
Kinsella has been writing and performing under the Owen label for a bit over a decade. It's a departure from the music and style of the bands he made with his brother Tim, whose music was much less straightforward and often weird. When Mike performed in bands with his brother, he served as drummer while Tim took on guitar and vocals. Mike stepped into a more typical frontman role during his time with American Football, and with Owen he's free to play guitar and whatever other instruments he chooses.
The next Owen record, L'Ami du Peuple, is coming out early this summer, and it features by far the most diverse array of instruments and sounds on any Owen record to date. Kinsella typically records his Owen albums while holed away in a room with the album's songs nearly all planned out. This time around, he ventured into the studio over a few months with producer Neil Straugh actively involved in the process. Kinsella, who corresponded with the Advocate via e-mail recently, says he didn't write this record with this process in mind, but he did embrace it. "I did decided to just let the songs take shape naturally instead of trying to make them all 'fit' onto an album together," he says, adding that there are a couple "rockers" in the mix. The new songs still contain Kinsella's air of calm resignation, conveyed through tender vocals and delicate acoustic guitar work. Some songs have a touch of rhythmic irregularity, although less so than his previous Owen work. While L'Ami du Peuple is certainly the loudest Kinsella has presented as an Owen album, his style and delivery are unmistakable.
Despite his involvement in fewer projects than in his younger days, Kinsella says he's "creatively satisfied" with Owen and playing drums in Owls (with brother Tim) and Their/They're/There, a new project with Matthew Frank of Loose Lips Sink Ships and Evan Weiss (Into It. Over It.). "I'm actually more busy than I've been in years," he says, although his roles in the other two bands are much less involved. With the bands' different styles and creative dynamics, Kinsella is able to separate his ideas into Owen and not-Owen. "My role in the other bands is purely drummer/crabby-'cause-I-don't-like-band-practice guy," he says. Most of the writing he's doing nowadays is for Owen anyhow.
Touring has become a bit of a strange experience now that Kinsella and his wife have two kids. Not only does he dislike being away from home and his family for chunks of time, the household needs him to function while his wife is at work teaching. The touring lifestyle is also about as far as you can get from full-time parent of young kids, as well. "It's emotionally draining being away from the kids and simultaneously living this bizarro lifestyle — up late, 'performing,' drinking, socializing, small-talking," he says.
L'Ami du Peuple will be available July 2 on Polyvinyl Records. In the meantime, Kinsella looks to keep plenty busy with his family, current projects, and perhaps finally starting that shoegaze band he's always talking about. "I've been planning on starting a shoegaze band for 18 years and I finally think I'm ready to buy some pedals and write some songs for it," he says. He's been "recently re-inspired," even going so far as to already have someone in mind to sing for the project. Anything he does next will be good for us, though.