Spencer Owen
Photo: Allison Dietze

Since November of last year, Spencer Owen has been working on his Blue Circle LP, the follow up to his 2012 release End Vogue. Today, we’re excited to share the first single from the album, “Deserve You More”. I was already hooked by the “Footloose”-paced rhythm and jangly guitars, but Owen’s almost-out-of-control falsetto in the second verse just floored me with a smile. Listen for yourself, then check out a conversation I had with Spencer about subjects including the album, Death Grips, and Prince, among other things. Owen’s live band, The Spencer Owen Timeshare will perform live Friday at the Hemlock.

TBB: How did this album come to be?

SO: I used to make albums by recording wacky songs all by myself on an 8-track cassette machine. I see now that the resulting products are more useful as a small vault of demos. These demos, or at least a select group of them, can be dusted off and revisited to create new, shinier, better albums. Blue Circle is the second album of a more polished, more confident, post-DIY phase. Of course, it’s closer to DIY than it is to a Peter Gabriel production, but now I have a producer/engineer/mixer collaborator in the form of the brilliant Drew Stoeckel. I still play all the instruments, though, because it’s too much fun.

TBB: How did Drew help you on this album?

SO: Drew was indeed my engineer, mixer and co-producer on End Vogue (from last year, currently available on Bandcamp), and so I had him reprise all of those roles for Blue Circle. He was absolutely essential in every aspect of the production. After doing every part of the production myself during my formative years, I realized I’d much rather leave the technical elements to someone else and worry primarily about the writing, playing and arranging. (Quel opulence!) I dipped my toes in collaborative waters for a couple intervening years, and since starting to work on End Vogue with Drew in 2011, he became my ideal partner for bringing the songs fully to fruition. He takes my notes, and frequently contributes great sonic concepts as well. Comparing Drew’s work on these tracks to my original cassette demos is, to me, like hearing them in 3D.

TBB: I sensed a lot of influence from African rhythms and guitars on the album – what draws you to those sounds?

SO: About 23 years ago, my grandmother’s friend Mira decided to gift me (a little kid who liked music and played piano) with the new tape by Loketo, the Congolese soukous group. To this day, the guitar player on that record, Diblo Dibala, is my favorite guitarist on Earth. As much as I love the aforementioned sonic variety and occasional outright noise and chaos, I’m mainly driven musically by interests in rhythm, counterpoint and sonorous harmony. Dibala’s multi-voiced electric guitar solos are not so far removed from Bach’s Goldberg Canons. And who can deny the beat of the rhumba? Show me!!

Since childhood I’ve spent countless hours/months/years listening to African music of different styles, but primarily I love soukous. It’s my favorite style of music, in fact.

And of course I am a child of GRACELAND, but perhaps as a result of my lifelong interest in the deeper assembly elements of music, as well as that whole Loketo thing, I appreciate it for its collaborators (South African and otherwise) as much as its headliner.

TBB: On Twitter, you said you wished you had been at the Death Grips no-show in Chicago. Could you elaborate on what you admired about what they did?

SO: I don’t consider it a “no-show.” It came to light that they had never planned to appear, and that their rider specified exactly the setting that was executed on stage at the Bottom Lounge. That’s not a “no-show.” That’s just a different show than anyone expected, more an installation piece than a performance, or a performance without live performers. Does that mean that because I choose to place it in that context, I don’t understand the anger of those who attended expecting a noise-rap show featuring one of our most virtuosic drummers? Not at all. I think the anger and disappointment from the audience makes perfect sense. I still love that it happened, and I applaud Death Grips for it. They’re one of the edgier groups being sold in music today, and I see no reason for them not to shake it up if they so desire. Maybe they’ll never play again. Maybe they’ll do another 5,000 stellar performances of their songs. Maybe they’ll switch to an all-noise format. It’s up to them, isn’t it? So many choices, so many motivations. I’ve recently chosen to streamline my aesthetic to a more accessible format, but I still love artists who go out of their way to challenge or just outright alienate people. How great is it that the audience stormed the stage and destroyed the kids’ drum set? In itself, that’s a show.

TBB: Speaking of artists surprising people, what are your thought’s on Prince’s new found social media savvy, with his “Breakfast Can Wait” album cover and tweeting the Jake Fogelnest “hi, i’m prince” photo over and over?

I’m one of those Prince heads, and thus I’m acutely tuned into the anticipation and frustration surrounding his various fan outreach efforts. Yes, I paid the one-time membership fee for Lotusflow3r.com a few years ago. Yes, I received the T-shirt. Yes, the albums sucked that year. No, there was no actual value otherwise delivered, and then the site tanked. So, do I understand what he’s doing right now with Twitter? I sure do, in that it’s a complete mystery as always. A couple years ago he said that thing about computers being bad for you, so of course he’s gone back on his word. You can often count on him for that. There might be a bit of sarcasm in your characterization, but yeah, I’m not sure I’d call it “social media savvy” for him to adopt images from Chappelle’s sketch and Fogelnest’s parodic Twitter persona, since they are in fact the two major comedic media reference points that have involved him in the past decade. (I guess the SNL sketch with Armisen was the third one.)

Prince was basically infallible through 1989. When the ’80s came along, they fit him in every way, like so many platform boots. The special that MTV filmed at the premiere of Purple Rain is an amazing sight to behold. Since then he’s only been a standard fallible artist, full of frustrating quirks, and still very capable of greatness, especially in concert.

Foxtails Brigade, Bells Atlas, The Spencer Owen Timeshare
The Hemlock Tavern
September 13, 2013
9:30pm, $8