From his debut single "Child" to the recent single "Makin' Out" Mark Owen has consistently released singles often more individual, unique and alternative than those artists consider indie or alternative. His last album saw him working with a host of collaborators including Bernard Butler, Ian McCulloch and Arthur Baker and with that experience behind him he decided to go independent writing an album of which half were solo compositions and half were collaborations with his long-term guitarist. We caught up an upbeat Mark Owen to discuss his most optimistic and personal record to date.
Q: "Makin Out", a single which in typical Mark Owen style is totally out of step and out of sync with what's happening musically at the moment, which is a good thing.
A: Do you think so? It it quite a unique sounding record. Especially the verses with the piano line running over the top, it almost has a sense of a bit of a barbershop feel. It opens up a little bit from that for the chorus. Yer know i've listened to that song a lot of times and I also directed the video so at this point you'd think i'd be going absolutely mental with it, but i'm still really enjoying listening to it and it still sounds fresh. A few people have said it's a bit of a grower as a song, but once you've heard it a few times it gets in your head and stays around. I suppose I agree with that because it is different, but it's an uplifting song and it makes me smile. There's a lot of freedom in the song, it makes you feel quite liberated.
I'm really pleased with the whole album to be honest. This is the third track I wrote. I started writing the album in January and I just said i'd write 10 songs in the order they came out. This was track 3 and as soon as I wrote it I thought this was the song to go with. Apart from a lyric for track 10 were pretty much done with the album now and for me it's the best i've written as an album. Maybe what was the problem with the last album was that after the first single "Four Minute Warning" there was nothing in that vein you could go with for a single. With this album I already know the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and maybe 5th single.
Q: When you listen to a Mark Owen track you can tell there's a real love of music. There's a similar thread throughout your whole solo career from "Child" to "Makin Out" where you can immediately tell it's Mark Owen.
A: It's nice of you to say that. It's took a long time to get to this level, seven or eight years (laughs). It's been six songs from "Child" to "Makin Out", but it's took us seven years (laughs). And still to be able to hear a cohesiveness between the two is good over that time. I am a fan of music, that is what I do this for. And I love writing songs and I have my own little style going on.
For the first time now in my whole career I feel like a songwriter, whereas even with the last album I still wasn't sure and thought i'd got there through cheating and sooner or later somebody's going to go "this guys crap". In the past people have said what do you do and i've mumbled sheepishly music, but now I say i'm a songwriter.
Q: You're not alike musically. But if you look at someone like Kylie who came from the pure pop background, went indie for one album, but then had the instinct that she needed a hit again so went back to the pop career. You've never done the easy route, you've stuck true to what you believe in.
A: Yeah, the problem I have is I can't do that. Maybe i'd be having a big career if I could, but I just can't perform those songs. In a way maybe it's stubborn, but i've got to do what I want to do. If I die I want to know that the songs I did I believed in and I was proud of. I don't want to die in the future with 15 albums that sold 40 million, but I didn't really like any of it. For me it's important that I stay true to what I want to do and it's not always the easiest way to do it. There are easier ways of making music. I could call up Cathy Dennis and ask her to write me a number 1 hit, but she'd probably turn round and say I can't do it cos' i'm writing one for Britney (laughs)
I'm glad I have stuck by it and at times the songs haven't come out and haven't worked and i've struggled to write. But when I started writing this album it was my most creative period. In 4 weeks i'd almost written the whole album and the songs were just coming one after another. I really really enjoyed making it and I think you can hear that in the songs, there's a energy to it. And then the fact that we went and recorded the songs out in LA. That was something I really wanted to do. I didn't want to go back down the line of being in a studio i'd been several times before already in England. I didn't want to record a song on a cold winters day that to me was really uplifting. Inside I was like "we have to do this track in LA". And as well I didn't go out there with any baggage. I didn't go out there as the bloke who was in Take That. I was probably one of the hundred artists that would work in the studio that year and I just went in a bloke from England who writes his own songs and is doing his own album.
Q: On the last album you worked with so many names - Bernard Butler, Ian McCulloch, Arthur Baker. Who did you work with on this album?
A: Half the album is just me and the other half has been done with my guitarist Paul. I've tried to keep it a bit more close to home this time. The great thing is about writing with different people, and I've always found this from Nik Heywood to Midge Ure to Ian McCulloch to Bernard Butler, is i've feel like i've learnt a lot from them. On this record i've tried to take all the knowledge from the past few years and use it on one record. At this moment in time i'm confident enough and I feel I understand what the song is really about.
Q: Do you sometimes think that with the whole performance and selling "Mark Owen" side of things it would be easier just to write songs for other people?
A: In all honestly it's something i've never thought about till you asked about it. I'd like to write songs for other people, but at the moment my minds so engrossed in what i'm doing myself that i'd find it quite difficult to give myself wholly to something. I think it would have to be a project that I really believed in and felt they were being true as well. I can't just churn them out. I couldn't just sit in a studio and say this week we're going to write a Busted track or a Kylie track. I'd like them to be with us and work with them.
Q: Last time we spoke you were really into the Darkness. You still keeping an interest in new music?
A: I bought the new Morrissey album and i've been listening to that for the past couple of days. But when I wrote this album I stopped listening to music for a little while, I really cut myself off. I really wanted to have no influence from outside when I wrote this and just hear what was inside rather than the latest drum beat on the new NERD track.
The stuff that i've bought is the stuff that people are listening to anyway. I've bought the new Keane album, Morrissey record, the NERD record. I bought the Funeral For A Friend record as well and I really like his voice, great voice on that.
Q: What do you think of a band like Keane where you're perceived as still "pop" and they're perceived as "indie", but at the end of the day your records as more inventive and alternative material than them
A: I really like the Keane single, but have only heard the album once. I got a bit of a feeling of Travis off it in a way. It sounds really terrible but i'm a bit bored of music at the moment, Keane have nice songs and nice melodies but with my record I just wanted to have a bit of fun with it - sometimes musicians can take themselves a little bit too serious. I just wanted to liven things up a bit with this record...but you know they'll probably say the same thing about me anyway.
Q: How is it this time doing the whole release independently? It must be quite different?
A: Yeah. It is, but its quite exciting to be honest with you. I feel like I learning a different side of stuff at the moment. I think main thing that has come with me doing this is the freedom and also just plain old determination. I don't know what i'm determined for, but I just want to do it this time. It wouldn't do the industry any harm if someone like myself did something independently and succeeds with it.
What were doing now is about the whole package. I also like the artwork, I know it bollocks and you probably don't want to hear it, but the artwork is based around the video I directed and the old style movie posters. There's not the usual picture of me smiling and there's a lot of time been spent on each of the covers.
Q: What are your ambitions for this single and album doing it independently?
A: If we went in the Top Ten i'd be ecstatic. If we weren't in the Top 40 i would be really disappointed. You know how much work and effort people put into it and you want your songs to be heard. It's alright writing songs, but if nobodies hearing them it gets disheartening. If you believe in something and you like something you want it to be heard and the best chance of that is getting it in the charts.
From the writing side of things i'm really really happy. For me as a writer I couldn't ask for any more cos I do feel i'm writing the most creative unique stuff i've ever written. What it will do, you never know. If I could decide and it was me out there i'd go and buy the singles and the album. Were only about half way through the recording side of things so i'm hopefully gonna go back to LA at the end of June and finish off. It's quite a tight turnaround but im hoping to get the album out at the end of august / beginning of September. It would be good to get 2 albums out in a year.
"Makin' Out" is out now
The album is expected later in the year
For more info on releases / gigs etc.
Post your Mark Owen reviews / comments on the Message Board