Owen – the acclaimed solo musical guise of singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Mike Kinsella – has made an astonishing leap forward with The King of Whys, the first work in his two-decade-plus career to be made entirely outside of the greater Chicagoland area. Produced by S. Carey over 18 days last winter at April Base Studios in Eau Claire, WI, the album is Owen’s most inspired and evocative thus far, interpolating a group dynamic into what has long been an intensely intimate sound. Songs like “The Desperate Act” and “Sleep Is A Myth” remain spare but with a distinctly outward shift in scope, their open-armed sonic range a perfect foil to Kinsella’s evocative explorations of marriage, melancholia, and modern middle age. Fraught with hurt and wry humor, The King of Whys is a portrait of a restless artist grappling with doubt and ghosts of the past but searching for meaning through candor, creativity, and an ardent need for emotional release.
“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.”
For more than two decades, Kinsella has been a central figure in Chicago’s indie rock universe, serving multiple roles in a string of bands whose influence continues to resonate across a span of genres and musical approaches. A founding member – with his brother Tim – of Cap’n Jazz, Joan of Arc, and Owls, Kinsella’s own vision first manifested via American Football’s cathartic rock, but for most of the years since 2002, through Owen’s raw homespun offerings. Adopting the solo singer/songwriter persona freed Kinsella from a lifetime working in collectives, giving him complete control over every aspect of his creativity.
“I can say whatever I want as Owen,” he says. “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.”
Owen’s lo-fi, largely acoustic bedroom recordings have evolved over eight albums and myriad EPs into a more orchestrated approach reflective of Kinsella’s growing strength as a songwriter. A series of recent efforts inspired him to further broaden Owen’s reach from American Football’s well-received 2014 return to simply getting behind the kit in Chicago indie rock trio Their/They’re/There – his first stint as a mere drummer in over a decade.
Still eager to push Owen’s hermetic parameters, Kinsella enlisted producer S. Carey – frequent collaborator of Bon Iver, Sufjan Stevens, Mason Jennings and acclaimed solo artist in his own right – to helm his next album, the two like-minded artists having first met as Carey supported a handful of dates on American Football’s 2014 reunion tour.
February 9 St. Stephen’s Church. London