Owen, the solo project of American Football frontman Mike Kinsella, heads to London this winter.
In support of his new album, ‘The King of Whys’, he plays St. Pancras Old Church on 21 and 25 November, and The Forge on 23 and 24 November.
“I think this record is totally romantic,” Kinsella says. “I told my wife, she wasn’t convinced. I said that this is how I get it all out of me. It leaves me more content to deal with reality.”
Produced by S. Carey over 18 days last winter, the album continues the intimacy and immediacy Kinsella is able to create with the solo singer/songwriter persona and his lo-fi, largely acoustic, recordings.
“I can say whatever I want as Owen,” reveals the musician who, over the past two decades has founded Chicago bands like Cap’n Jazz, Joan of Arc, and Owls. “I can express all the aspects of my personality – I can be crude or funny or sad or mean or whatever. It’s my personal thing.”
This time, though, Owen’s sound has been fleshed out with the help of Carey, a frequent collaborator of Bon Iver, Sufjan Stevens, and Mason Jennings. Kinsella – on guitar, vocals, bass, drums, and bells – and Carey – on keyboards, vocals, drums, and bells – are joined by the likes of violist Michael Noyce, pedal steel guitarist/keyboard player Ben Lester, and bassist Jeremy Botcher.
“They’re all really good friends,” says Kinsella of the guest musicians. “They work together all the time, they have their own language, and then there’s me, going: ‘Here’s my songs.’ It felt like junior high, like I was the kid starting a new school in the middle of the year.”
But being the newcomer, “a totally weird experience for a grown man”, helped push the musician in a new direction.
“I joined my brother’s band in seventh grade,” he says, “and then kept playing in my brother’s bands for the next 15, 20 years. Even American Football, that was with an old high school buddy so it was still very comfortable. Taking me out of my comfort zone definitely led to something different.”
So ‘The King of Whys’ touches on themes like addiction, loss, and redemption.
“It’s dark on the surface but those are real feelings,” Kinsella admits. “For a while I was pretty self conscious about my songwriting. There are Internet memes about how sad I am. I just feel there are enough love songs playing at grocery stores – I can write about darker stuff.”