Owen Ashworth is returning to New Zealand this November to play four shows. He’ll be joined on tour by his brother Gordon and together they will spend a week exploring the country, searching for memories from their childhood and sampling New Zealand’s fine array of seafood.
The last time Ashworth traveled to New Zealand was in 2006, but on that occasion it was a very short visit. This time however, he has a bit more time to enjoy in the country’s culture and he’s genuinely excited about it. “I’m looking forward to a slightly longer stay this time,” he says, “maybe see a few more cities and I have a little time off in Wellington, which will be really nice.”
Talking about New Zealand triggers a sense of nostalgia. Despite his last trip being very brief, Owen has fond memories of his day and a half in Wellington. “One thing I remember about Wellington that was really exciting was that I had abalone, which I guess is also known as Paua, for the first time since I was a kid. When I was really young my dad used to dive for abalone with some friends. We had it a lot when I was young but it’s definitely a scarcity and kind of a delicacy where I’m from. I have memories of having an abalone fritter after probably twenty years, that was probably the last time I had it, so it will be really good to taste that again.”
On his search for the perfect abalone fritter, he will this time pay a visit to New Zealand’s South Island, playing shows in both Christchurch and Dunedin, as well playing shows in Auckland and Wellington. He will be supported at all four shows by his brother Gordon, who performs under the alias Concern. Gordon will play his own set before Owen takes the stage as the headline act, but fans may also get a rare opportunity to see them perform together. Owen admits, “If we can get it together, I’d love to have Gordon play some lap steel on a few songs.”
The brothers have only collaborated briefly in the past, most notably covering versions of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born In The USA’ and ‘Streets of Philadelphia’ — both of which appear on Casiotone For The Painfully Alone’s recent singles and rarities compilation, Advance Base Battery Life. However Owen says, “[Gordon] did play in a full band version of Casiotone soon after Vs Children was released, so he knows most of those songs inside and out by now.”
“I would love to work on more projects with him, and we’ve certainly talked about it plenty of times. We live in different cities though and generally we both keep pretty busy with our own stuff. I’m grateful that we can make the time to tour together.”
The last year has been especially busy; in 2009 he has released two full length albums, Advance Base Battery Life and Vs Children. The first, ABBL, is a compilation of previously released singles as well a few rarities that Owen had kept to himself. The compilation had been planned quite some time ago but it was delayed due to complications in dealing with the ten different record labels that had originally released the songs.
“About half way through the recording of those [singles] I realised that at some point I’d probably want to collect them. I started putting a track listing together in my head and recorded a few songs, I guess with the greater compilation in mind.”
“There are some covers, and yeah, there are some collaborations with other artists. Two songs were recorded with Concern… I recorded a few songs with Katy Davidson from Dear Nora and my friend Nick Krgovich who is in No Kids.”
“I grew up with a lot of country music and soul music and that’s not music I necessarily think of as melodramatic but it’s music that I find totally believable.”
Vs Children is considered the follow-up to Ashworth’s fourth album Etiquette,which in 2006 spiraled Casiotone For The Painfully Alone into the ears of the wider indie music world. Lauded for its deep, emotively sensitive lyrics and simple keyboard melodies, Etiquette gave birth to a new style of emo-pop.
Critics frequently referenced Ashworth’s emotional vulnerability, calling him everything from ‘manic-depressive’ to ‘melodramatic’, sometimes pigeon holing him into a strange corner. But like most artists, he tries not to dwell on it. “I try not to think about it too much, I think paying attention to criticism has quite an influence on the way you make music,” he says.
“I don’t know, I try as much as I can to keep my head down and write the kind of music I think I would want to listen to. And yeah, I think a lot of the stuff that influences me to be described as morbid or emotional or whatever, I don’t know, I grew up with a lot of country music and soul music and that’s not music I necessarily think of as melodramatic but it’s music that I find totally believable. People like Otis Redding, O.V. Wright, Sam Cooke and Al Green. All the fun music doesn’t sound like that, but I feel like that’s the kind of emotional consciousness that I find really inspiring in music.”
“I’ve always liked music that’s really sincere and personal, it feels like there’s some vulnerability in the music. I feel that’s definitely something I strive for.”
Owen admits to feeling a little more positive about Vs Children. Explaining how the new album differs from Etiquette, he says, “I was conscious that I wanted to make a record with a bit more continuity than Etiquette had. Etiquette was kind of all over the place, which was exciting at the time and I really wanted to collaborate with different people and get a lot of different sounds and just sort of explore the idea of what Casiotone For The Painfully Alone could be. But Vs Children is a little bit more focused, I definitely wanted to have a more uniformed sound to the record. I just wanted to make something that felt like an album, I spent a lot of time with the lyrics in particular.”
With his confidence in good step and with Concern at his side, New Zealand fans can expect to hear the majority of Vs Children played live. And as a lovely gesture, Owen has kindly offered to take personal requests, adding “if there’s something special that someone would like to hear they can email me.”
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