Laura Stevenson, Dresses
9081 Santa Monica Blvd
Los Angeles, CA, 90069
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In the past decade, Chicago's Mike Kinsella has played a variety of instruments in a handful of bands including Cap'n Jazz, Joan of Arc, The One Up Downstairs, American Football, Owls, Maritime, and Aloha. Owen is his solo project.
The impetus for Owen was a direct result of the demise of American Football. Up to that point, having been associated with a number of bands, Mike sought a project where he could have complete creative control over all aspects including songwriting, recording, album artwork, and overall artistic direction.
When it came time to record his solo album, Mike approached Polyvinyl with the idea to take the money that normally would be spent on a recording studio and instead spend it on software so he could record the album on his own. He ended up heading to his mother's house in Chicago and turned his old bedroom into a recording studio. Wishing to avoid the connotations associated with solo singer-songwriters, Mike began recording under the pseudonym, 'Owen.'
Owen's debut, Owen was a stark departure from previous Mike Kinsella projects. There no longer existed a need to play odd time signatures just for the sake of being different or writing parts that were technically challenging purely for the sake of being technically challenging. What remained was an artist finding his way through his home studio for the first time while recording all instrumentation on his own.
For 2002's No Good For No One Now, Owen's second full-length, a similar arrangement of purchasing recording equipment instead of studio time was agreed upon. This time the money went towards the purchase of microphones. No Good For No One Now was more realized than the first album owing in part to the experience of self-recording Owen. The most notable distinction between the two albums was Mike's increased use of lyrical, literary devices: each song told a story.
In 2004, in collaboration with Cale Parks (of Aloha), Bob Hoffnar, Jen Tabor, and Paul Koob, Mike began recording again. What resulted was (the ep). The joint effort marked a turning point of sorts for Owen. Rumors began to swirl that a live band would be taken on the road for the first time but these rumors never materialized as Mike again rejoined Joan of Arc and became a touring member of both Maritime and Aloha.
(the ep) had been written as a companion piece to a scheduled full-length. In summer 2004, Mike again began recording and collaborating, this time with cousin Nate Kinsella ( Make Believe, Joan of Arc) who lent assistance both on instrumentation and engineering. The results of these efforts were I do perceive., Owen's third full-length.
On At Home With Owen, Mike figuratively leaves the at-home bedroom that has characterized so much of Owen's past musical output. His step away from bedroom recording allowed for an alternative approach to the songs recorded on At Home With Owen. "I've always hated how two dimensional the other Owen albums have sounded, and I think this one's finally got a third dimension," says Kinsella. The new approach to recording involved a fraction of pre-recording at Mike's mom's house, followed by sessions at Semaphore Studios with cousin Nate Kinsella (Joan of Arc, Make Believe) and finally at Engine Studios with Brian Deck (Iron & Wine, Red Red Meat). This newfound transient approach to recording allows the music of Owen to reach a new depth; one that sways between organic overtures and fervent, lush ballads.
Laura Stevenson is finally learning not to worry. After more than a year of national and worldwide touring following the release of her critically acclaimed album Wheel, both headlining, and alongside such varied acts as Against Me!, The Go-Go’s, Kevin Devine, Tim Kasher of Cursive, and The Gaslight Anthem, the songwriter made the move from her between-tour home base of Brooklyn, to upstate New York’s Hudson River Valley. There, she rented a nineteenth- century Victorian, a former brothel in a cement-mining town-turned hippie-enclave, and converted the attic into a makeshift studio. It was in this space that she and her band went to work arranging and demoing the eleven songs she had written that would make up Cocksure, Stevenson’s fourth album. The record features musicians Mike Campbell, Alex Billig and Peter Naddeo, who in various incarnations have performed with her for over seven years, as well as newcomer Samantha Niss, a long-time Hudson Valley resident and the veritable go-to drummer of the region.
Where 2013’s Wheel was full of lingering uncertainty, harkening to Stevenson’s folk and country leanings, Cocksure is a straightforward, to the point, emboldened rock and roll album. Although some existential dread still peaks through the cracks, Stevenson treats themes as heavy-hearted as sudden and tragic death, self-imposed exile in small windowless rooms, and that back-of-your- mind anxiety that the road you’re on may not be the right one, as their own signs of life; a life that is brightly colored by those realities.
With influences ranging from The Lemonheads, Liz Phair, and The Replacements, to early Weezer and the Smoking Popes, Cocksure maintains Stevenson’s unique vulnerability, and steadfast devotion to a solid and honest melody. In the writing process, she challenged herself to be true to whatever was going to come out of her, with many of the tracks featuring melodies that were purely stream of consciousness. “I felt like over-working it would suck some of the spirit out of the songs… this record needed that spontaneity. Spending so much time editing and second guessing yourself takes all the life out of it.”
This sense of spontaneity was maintained in the way Cocksure was recorded. In May of 2015, Stevenson and her band traveled city-bound to Room 17, a studio located in her old neighborhood of Bushwick, Brooklyn. “It’s this very positive and amazing space, and Joe Rogers, the engineer, was so enthusiastic about what we were doing. Everyone was comfortable enough to just really play and not get caught up in anything else.” All the main instrumentation on Cocksure was performed live, no clicks/no punches, under the watchful eyes of Rogers and producer Jeff Rosenstock, Stevenson’s long-time friend and collaborator. “Jeff was the perfect person for the job. All of his Bomb The Music Industry! and solo recordings have this energy to them, they’re like living things. I wanted to capture some of the magic he has.” The album was later mixed and mastered by Jack Shirley (Joyce Manor, Deafheaven, Tony Molina) at Atomic Garden Studios in Palo Alto, CA.
Self-assurance is a new hat for Stevenson, and on Cocksure she confronts her usual tendencies toward self-deprecation head-on. “It’s freeing to stop being so hard on yourself, and to quiet down all of the outside noise,” she says. “Once you’re able to do that, you can actually write what you should be writing.”
Laura Stevenson will release Cocksure on October 30, 2015, via Don Giovanni Records.