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Musical recommendation: Owen keeps it real

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Sometimes when we need to step outside of the sporting world, the ever-changing landscape that is the local music scene is there to comfort us. While combing through some archives, I stumbled on this October 2007 interview I did with Mike Kinsella, known to his fans as Owen -- the man responsible for crafting songs that resonate with their simplicity.


Chatting on his phone while driving, Mike Kinsella quickly exclaims, "Oh, man, there's a cop pointing at me. I'm going to fake hang up. I'm putting the phone down but I'm not hanging it up." It's a close call but he escapes the long arm of the law.

Of course, Kinsella just could have given Chicago's Finest his alias: Owen. That's the moniker the 30-year-old has assumed for his solo music project, which is about to embark on a fifth album. The irony is that Kinsella's Owen is as honest as it comes -- stripped down with nerve endings exposed.

While not exactly autobiography, Kinsella says it isn't total fiction.

"If it's about a guy in a bar, I could be that guy at the bar. Or one of my friends could be that guy," he says. "I never liked elaborately detailed love songs about an old married couple. I have to experience it in order to write it."

Kinsella grew up in northwest suburban Buffalo Grove and is a graduate of Wheeling High School. After attending the University of Illinois, he moved to Wicker Park and then into his mother's basement, where he birthed the initial Owen EP using ProTools on his computer.

He is one in a trio of Kinsellas who have ties to several Illinois-based bands, joining brother Tim and cousin Nate. After being a part of numerous bands -- Cap'n Jazz, The One Up Downstairs, American Football, Owls, Maritime, Aloha, and the experimental Joan of Arc -- Kinsella launched his solo journey.

"I enjoy playing in Joan of Arc in a different way than I enjoy Owen," Kinsella says. "In JOA, I ask myself, 'What can I do to [mess] this up?' With Owen, it's the opposite. Whatever the opposite of [messing] something up is."

Maybe that would be making it blend into the natural ambient noise of everyday life. In a good way. His MySpace page claims his music sounds like he "recorded a bunch of songs in my mom's basement at 2 a.m."

"Well, isn't that what it sounds like?" Kinsella asks.

It's hard to argue. While it wouldn't necessarily wake up your sleeping mother, it might make you wonder why more artists don't add by subtracting all the fluff.

Hauntingly applicable lyrics layer down-to-earth guitar parts that never seem to be trying too hard to be earnest. Perhaps the biggest compliment to pay Owen is that you don't know you are listening to a memorable track until it's over and you have to rewind to catch it again.

Kinsella's main implement as Owen is guitar. But his heart is always elsewhere.

"Whatever I'm not playing is what my favorite is," says the multi-instrumentalist. "Right now, that is drums. But if I go on tour and play drums, all I want to do is play guitar."

The same type of restlessness spawned Owen, and Kinsella hopes it will push his solo work further musically. The coming album will be much closer in nature to 2006's "At Home With Owen" than the first three, with more of a focus on arrangements and relying on others for more creative input.

"As I get older, I can't even bring myself to listen to my earlier stuff," Kinsella says. "I'm the same guy, just not as corny."

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Kyle Koster published on January 5, 2009 1:23 AM.

Witching hour links: Jeff Jogadzinski gets threatened, man wins lottery and dies the same day and who let Matt Millen into the studio? was the previous entry in this blog.

Chin up: Cowher to remain at CBS as analyst is the next entry in this blog.

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