Today’s Feature – February 1-2: Owen Temple

February 2, 2008 at 3:13 pm (Today's Feature)


Without question, Owen Temple knows what he’s doing. The country singer/songwriter out of Austin, Texas isn’t some untested upstart trying to make it big with a few tunes he wrote on a Saturday night with some buddies. This artist comes from the “dusty back roads of heartache and hope,” winning awards such as the prestigious B.W. Stevenson Songwriting Contest, as well as landing as a New Folk Finalist at the world-renowned Kerrville Folk Festival. Temple doesn’t exactly need awards to prove his worth however – there’s a reason Music Box describes his songwriting as “intelligent, world-wise lyrics that set him apart from his mainstream country compatriots.”

You see, Temple originally discovered music in the corner bars of Austin as a way of paying for his bachelor’s degree, and continued playing after taking on the normal 9-5 grind as a financial analyst. He even kept on his guitar after beginning classes for a graduate degree in psychology. It was then that Temple gave in – the demand for his work was too great not to focus each working day as a musician. And as you can tell, the guy is smart enough to know when something is going to work.

While the road to his new album, “Two Thousand Miles” has been a fascinating one, Temple has found this stop to be a quite satisfying… and the record reflects just that. The melodies on the collection smack of windows down sunny days; plain ol’ good times with good friends. Temple will tell you that “these songs didn’t have an agenda behind them, or a general shape of the kind of album I wanted to make.” Simply put, these tunes are honest. “Two Thousand Miles” just came out, so look it up. I guarantee it’s what you’re looking to blast out of your car stereo this summer. Now, get into the XXQ’s.

XXQs: Owen Temple

Pen’s Eye View: How and when did you first get involved in music?

Owen Temple: I took a few guitar lessons when I was in high school, after hearing Jerry Jeff Walker records and deciding that playing the guitar sounded like a good time. It was.

As far as performing involvement goes, when I moved to Austin to go to college, I found out about a bar called O. Henry’s Back Forty in downtown Austin, near 5th Street and Nechez (where the Austin Hilton is now). It was called O. Henry’s Back Forty because it was just behind the Austin home where O. Henry lived and wrote when he lived in Austin. It was place where old men smoked, drank, and played dominoes from about noon until about 4pm. Then congressmen would come down from about 4pm til 6pm. Finally it turned over to college kids from 9pm to 2am. They had a jukebox, a shuffleboard table, a pool table.

A guy I knew played guitar and sang at O. Henry’s on Wednesday nights, singing covers by Jerry Jeff, Willie Nelson, and Waylon Jennings. All of a sudden it was the place to be on Wednesday nights. I realized that I knew those songs he was playing, and one Wednesday night, he asked me to sit in and play a few songs.

It worked out and after a couple of weeks of occasionally sitting in, the bar owner Lois asked me if I wanted to play on Tuesday nights. I accepted with her offer (to play for 40 bucks and all the Natural Light I could drink). I played covers and the few original songs I had put together at that point, and pretty soon, Wednesday nights AND Tuesday nights there were the happening nights at the Back Forty.

An singer-songwriter friend of mine came in one Tuesday, talked about how he had just recorded a record with Lloyd Maines. I played my original songs while he was in the bar, and he said I should call Lloyd and see about making a record. He gave me his number, I called Lloyd, and he asked me to send him a tape- just me singing the songs and playing the guitar into a tape recorder.

He called back and said, “I like the songs, let’s make a record.”

PEV: Was there a certain point in your life when you told yourself that music was going to be a career rather than a hobby?

OT: After Tuesday nights started working out, I got booked for every burgers party or crawfish boil that happened over the next few months and years, to the point I was able to pay my way through school playing music. That was a wake up call.

But I’ve always had other interests, and so I never imagined music would be the only thing I did for a living. I got jobs after college in banking, and then went to grad school in psychology, before I realized music was not just a thing I did, but THE thing I did. And I decided to spend every working day on it from that point on.

PEV: Kerrville-born, and now living in Dallas, what kind of music were you listening to? Do you remember the first album you ever purchased?

OT: I was growing up when MTV was so the first tape I ever bought was Van Halen (The 1984 album). I remember thinking that album cover (of an angel smoking a cigarette) was the most controversial thing I had ever seen.

Later on, memorable albums (cassette tapes) were Jerry Jeff Walker’s Viva Terlingua and Steve Earle’s Guitar Town.

PEV: Tell us about the first time you performed live. Did you think, then that you would be where you are now?

OT: See question 1. I remember drinking a couple of beers in a very deliberate way when my buddy at Back Forty asked me to play a song during his next set. I remember it going over well (I played Pancho and Lefty), and thinking, wow this is working out.

PEV: What were those earlier days like for you? When you were working hard to just get your name out there and turn some heads?

OT: There was a local booking agency that booked music for most of the college parties that happened around UT called Popular Talent. If I could get on their list of artists, I knew the number of bookings would really start to take off. So when friends of mine would want to book me for a cookout party or something, I’d ask them to call Popular Talent first, and tell them to say they wanted Owen Temple. Not long after that I got a call from an agent at Popular Talent offering to book me some shows, and from then on, every weekend I had a gig.

Then when the first record came out, I dropped them off as consignment product at Waterloos Records and the Tower Records on the main drag by campus, and it was one of the five bestselling local titles at Tower for about a year. They kept calling and asking me to drop off more CDs. I was amazed. So I started to plan to make another record.

PEV: You quit your 9-5 job as a financial analyst to pursue a life of music. Describe to us what that was like and how hard (or not) that decision was. How was your last day in the office?

OT: When I had the 9 to 5 at a bank in Houston, I would keep getting booking calls (many that I would have to turn down). I was writing a bunch of songs too, maybe as a compensatory thing. I got a call to open for Guy Clark at Garden in the Heights, and then got a call to play after the Houston Astros game at the ballpark. I couldn’t have done the shows if I continued the 9 to 5.

I knew that banking wasn’t my thing long term, but it seemed the music thing would get me by until I knew what was. So I went and talked to my boss about my decision to leave, and he wished me well. Two weeks later, I took the elevator down 73 floors for the last time and wrote a song called “Move Around Money” that evening.

PEV: What can people expect from a live Owen Temple performance?

OT: Tunes from each of the records (happily I’m not embarrassed of any of them – even the older ones) and a few covers, maybe a song by Townes or Guy Clark. We also have a rotating cast of few Stones, Chuck Berry, Dylan, and Bruce Springsteen songs we do too. A tight four to five piece band, sometimes keys and accordion as the fifth piece, sometimes fiddle as the fifth piece.

PEV: Tell us about “Two Thousand Miles”.

OT: Twelve songs written mostly while I was living in Wisconsin that I recorded with music friends during a trip down to Austin. I had a good time writing these songs, and I think it makes for a good time listening to them. In other words, I wasn’t deep in a depression when I came up with them, and I think the songs reflect the generally good times I was having.

PEV: How is “Two Thousand Miles” different than your previous works, like “Right Here and Now” as well as different from other music out today?

OT: I think, similar to my first record, it writing and recording it was mostly about enjoying writing the music and lyrics. With other records, I’ve felt I had something to prove, or needed to be a bit more serious to be taken seriously. Those records turned out fine, and were what they needed to be during that time in my development as a songwriter. These songs didn’t have an agenda behind them, or a general shape of the kind of album I wanted to make. I selected these because I though they were just the best songs I had written in the eight months before the recording session. (I had written 35 songs for this project, so luckily I had a lot to choose from).

Compared to other music out there, I can probably just try to describe what it is did on these songs. I suppose I will say that I think these songs manage to be catchy without being trivial as far as lyrical content. I mean, they are about serious things like ending relationships, the pain of mismatches in love, but I think they basically make conclusions that are realistic and optimistic.

PEV: Have you learned something from the time “Right Here and Now” came out to where you hope “Two Thousand Miles” will take you?

OT: Just to not expect any one record to make or break your career. I expect it to be a very gradual process, gaining a bigger audience a day at a time. A good time to assess how a career is shaping up is ten records deep, which means you just have to keep your head down, making the best music you can and playing it people. So I will say that I have learned to be a marathon runner instead of a sprinter in the music business. Just keep on keeping on. Enjoy the little victories, but don’t slow down. Stay focused on enjoying the process of writing and playing music rather than overemphasizing immediate results.

PEV: Who is currently in your CD player right now?

OT: My friend Adam Carroll’s new and unreleased record. Its great – quirky, colorful, and catchy.

PEV: What up and coming artist do you think we should all be listening to now?

OT: How about Adam Carroll? He’s from Tyler, Texas, and he has a delivery style like John Prine or Bob Dylan, but the vision is all his own. Sketches of characters he was seen in his travels and from the strange blends of folks from East Texas. His previous three studio records are great, and this forthcoming fourth studio record should be out this spring or summer. Gordy Quist, one of the songwriters in the Band of Heathens, is another one of my favorite artist friends.

PEV: In all your travels, which city do you think offers the best appreciation for music?

OT: Austin.

PEV: How is life on the road for you? Best and worst parts?

OT: Merle Haggard said singer-songwriters are really professional travelers, more than anything, that’s what you get paid for, and the music part is something you get to do for a few hours after the work is done. So I think it’s good to see the traveling as the job, and to keep making the music free of financial incentives.

It’s like an experiment I remember reading about when I was in a program in research psychology.

At a preschool, one of the most popular activities was drawing pictures, of course, and kids would always gather around a little table coloring pictures. Then an experimenter started giving gold stars for every picture the kids gave him. The kids kept coloring. Then the experimenter quit giving out gold stars for the pictures and pretty soon the kids quit coloring. All of a sudden, they were like, forget this if we’re not even getting gold stars for it, and moved on to the blocks. Where they built towers for free.

Meannwhile, in another classroom, where the experimenters never gave out gold stars for coloring, the kids were still huddled around the table, coloring pictures.

PEV: If you could collaborate with one artist, who would it be and why?

OT: I’d like to write songs with Guy Clark. He’s a craftsman and he’s been so productive over his career. He and his work embodies the philosophy of staying true to your art and craft, and to hell with what’s on the radio. He has brought characters and situations to life beautifully with his songs- each one of his albums is like a collection of short stories. I would love to collaborate with him on a song.

PEV: When you are not traveling or performing, what can we find you doing in your spare time?

OT: Spending time with my family (wife Mary Miles and four year old son Bond), reading music autobiography (most recently, Woody Guthrie, Chuck Berry, Merle Haggard), writing songs with musician friends, and planning the upcoming traveling and performing.

PEV: What’s one thing, people would be surprised to hear about you?

OT: After working or writing a song, I like to sing and play what I’ve got while facing a wall sound so the sounds bounce back at me. Somehow it’s a good way to listen to what I’m singing and playing, rather than to focus on singing and playing.

PEV: When you sit down two write music, what kind of environment do you surround yourself in?

OT: Somewhere with a good wall I can aim my songs at (see question 17). Need coffee on hand, a notebook, a good pen. Usually good to try something while I’m traveling and I’ve got time to kill. Hotel rooms work well. My dining room makes a pretty good writing studio when everybody’s in the rest of the house is asleep.

PEV: What one word, best describes Owen Temple?

OT: Traveler.

PEV: So, what is next for Owen Temple?

OT: Continue writing songs for another record, play in towns and cities I have and haven’t played in before, meeting likeminded fans of music.

For more information on Owen Temple, check out www.OwenTemple


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