Interview with Nick Owen
Words by: Tom Munday
Image credit: Nicked off Facebook
My phone interview with local musician Nick Owen started about as pathetically as humanly possible. Of course, anyone reading this – whether they know me, or Owen, or both of us – knows the embarrassment, without a doubt, was not on his part.
With the last text message before our chat, I managed to suck my phone credit dry. Thanks to a barely-charged home phone device, I called up and had to ask Owen to call my mobile to record our conversation. Owen, being one of Western Australian music’s most engaging and affluent personalities, isn’t afraid to help out and have a good laugh.
Owen and I have a small-world connection illustrating just how close-knit the city of Perth really is. My sister, Sarah, and he have known each other since the age of 1. Owen, now 26, is climbing up the WA music industry ranks. His journey began in 2007, busking with fellow musician Karri Harper Meredith. The duo won Fremantle over, further livening up the business district and E-Shed Markets.
Just two years later, the Brow Horn Orchestra (now known as The Brow), picking up Alex Vaughn aka Quills aka Emcee Rezide and guitarist Rhian Todhunter along the way, won the National Campus Band Competition state final in 2009, getting the chance to perform in the national finals at the Gold Coast. Owen, however, says the thrill of touring helped boost the group’s undying enthusiasm.
“We were all having fun and enjoying it back then, but it hadn’t really become a professional thing, you know, like we were growing out of being a uni party band and it was all a bit silly.” Owen says.
“We came back from that trip, after being able to fly with the music, and had that revelation that this could be a really awesome thing to do.”
The Brow, now featuring Benjamin Fear and Josh Ellis, has grown into a unique and expansive staple of Perth’s insatiable, never-give-up music scene. Taking on multiple band members, the group’s mix of electronic, hip-hop, pop and soul sound delivers something new with each new track and performance. Despite this, Owen’s philosophy rests with continually remolding the vision.
“Since going to a few music conferences, I’ve learned to make it a bit simpler because you can scare people off if you throw too many genres at them [laughs].” He says.
“I think the industry types like their labels and often, when you don’t really have a label and you’re borrowing from so many different and awesome genres, it kind of scares them off a bit.”
The band’s list of accomplishments run longer than any set-list, solo, or encore known to mankind. Since their humble but hyper-stylish beginnings, the group has released two EPS (Can’t Afford This Way of Life and Two Fires), played prestigious live events including Southbound, Groovin’ The Moo and Big Day Out, won multiple WAM and Perth Dance Music Awards, and received major Triple J acclaim. According to Owen, playing in front of Public Enemy at Chevron Festival Gardens put everything into perspective.
“Public Enemy for one was pretty special, that was of those surreal moments when Chuck D actually watched our set and chatted with us afterwards and played our tunes on his radio show in New York a few times.” He says.
“That’s definitely up there because Chuck D is, you know, Chuck D!”.
The Brow’s favourable political, social, and cultural messages make up just one of the many elements drawing people in. One of Owen and Meredith’s first tracks, Down the Rabbit Hole, covering their thoughts on John Hoard and George W. Bush’s involvement in the War on Terror, spurred them on into writing and performing about the bigger issues. Owen believes art and entertainment are essential in communicating with younger generations on a grand scale.
“The trouble is there is so much disinformation, in looking left and right there being too many distractions” He says.
“Nowadays, it’s often hard for people to focus and realize what’s going on and, although we’re a good-time party band, we do have some of those stronger messages because there are a lot of things right now which are really scary.
“A lot of people that I tend to talk with and debate politics with don’t really dive in and understand what they’re voting for and that for me is the scariest thing in this landscape are so disenfranchised by politics. They might vote for someone for change but not really understand what that vote means and it’s such a powerful thing, your vote.”
On top of everything, Owen is the Creative Director at freelance audio-visual company Matchbox Media and DJs as NDORSE in Perth’s many bustling pubs and clubs. Taking over this year’s Fringe World festival, his 24-hr work cycle pushes him through multiple venues whenever required. Of course, as with any job, you get many good and bad patrons. One of Owen’s more recent Facebook posts, about one woman who spent all night demanding he play Beyonce’s Drunk in Love, seems out of this world. In spite of minor negatives, Owen says the workaholic musician lifestyle keeps him searching for new ideas.
“I think DJing really helps with writing because you’re really exposed to a lot of music as a DJ.” He says.
“I play a lot of venue so I’ve got a lot of poppy, adjustable music as well and, for me, it’s the challenge of taking something people know and love in the commercial realm and then apply a bit of my own identity to it like using acapellas from pop songs over more interesting beats.
“I call it the ‘Cheese and Wine Effect’, in trying to educate people while keeping them in their comfort zones. I think the benefit of understanding how pop music works is quite handy with your own music because you really understand how the architecture of these songs is put together.”
This year is set to be a monumental and revelatory one for the happy-go-lucky musician. The Brow, currently working on their next much-anticipated album, will be dropping two tracks within the next few months. With he and the band’s reputation reaching new heights, Owen is set to become one of WA’s most successful and engaging artists. With NDORSE and The Brow playing in Perth’s best hot-spots, Owen knows how to pull his punches. Next interview, given Owen’s busy schedule, I must try to be more prepared. Let’s hope so, at least.