An interview with Dan Owen: The singer-songwriter opens up about his life-changing route into music
Shrewsbury singer Dan Owen has been impressing audiences with his husky voice, energetic live performances, and busy gigging schedule for years. Before closing his latest tour at London’s Omeara, Owen opened up about the painful story behind latest single Hideaway and how it pushed him into music. He signed to Atlantic Records earlier this year, and we also got the first word on his upcoming debut album.
Hi Dan, thank you so much for spending the time to chat to us. We’re joining you on the last night of your European tour. What moments have stood out on the tour so far?
There have been a few. I think Birmingham was an amazing show actually; it was one where everyone started singing. I’m not a massive fan of when people are really quiet and silent in a gig. I like to chat and laugh and have a good time and get a bit drunk instead – I come from a pub gig background and Birmingham felt just like a Saturday night out. We also played in Paris at a venue similar to here (Omeara) and loads of people turned up, which was a really good feeling.
And have you ever played here at the Omeara before?
No I haven’t, but I’ve noticed that everyone’s doing it!
It’s the place to be!
I’ve been wanting to check it out for a while.
It’s good to have you back here in London. What’s your favourite thing to do in the city?
I’ve just moved down here, officially, about three months ago. I’ve been coming down here for like four years but I live here now. There’s the Bermondsey Beer Mile, that’s quite a good one…
And what’s your secret hideaway in London?
I used to rent this little room in West London when I knew nobody else down here, and it was overlooking a little pub called The Dove. I think everybody knows about it though!
Congrats on your new single Hideaway, and double congrats on being added to the Spotify “Walk Like a Badass” playlist! What’s the most badass tune on your playlist, not including your own?
There’s a band called The Cadillac Three, and they have a song called Bury Me in My Boots. When I was on tour with a band called Kaleo, their tour manager was from Tennessee, and I like a bit of country too. We all listened to The Cadillac Three, downloaded the album on Spotify, and now it’s become our tour anthem!
Let’s talk about Hideaway. What’s it all about, and what’s the inspiration behind it?
It’s come from something I’ve never really written about before. I tried to write about it, but never did. It’s about what pushed me into the music and the reason I did it. I originally wanted to be a carpenter, and go on to make guitars so I started building guitars and playing guitars in pubs as my sister was a singer – we’d do open mics in Shropshire, and I started gigging a bit when I was 16. At the end of that year, I was in a workshop doing my apprenticeship and a piece of wood flicked out of a machine and smacked me in the eye. One eye doesn’t work anymore and it stopped my hand-eye coordination quite a bit – I have double vision a lot of the time too – so I had to rethink what I was doing.
When that was all happening, I didn’t deal with it that well. It was like learning to see again, and it wasn’t nice. I went into this weird routine of locking myself away, or walking my dog, or doing nothing. Hideaway comes from that hiding away. I decided to pick myself up and worked out that if I did something like 150 gigs a year, I could survive. I’d ring people up every day until I did that many gigs, and one thing just led to another.
That’s a really admirable story, and leads me to what I wanted to ask you about next. Your songs are open and emotional, especially songs like Made to Love You, which is brutally honest. What is your songwriting process when taking sensitive stories and translating them into music?
I think it probably comes from the fact that I’m bad at actually talking about things. But when I write a song, it can feel like pages out of a diary. That’s me, talking about it. I never know what comes first, the guitar or the lyrics or the music: whatever happens just happens and you gotta roll with it.
Going back to Hideaway, you recently released your music video for it and it involves a lot of running! How was the filming of it?
That doesn’t actually show you how much I actually ran! I used to run a lot around the hills in Shropshire but you can’t really do that in London. For the video, there was a camera rig attached to a quad bike and I had to sprint after the bike. It was full on sprinting each time… I couldn’t walk for three days after! I’ve not really done music videos before, and I’m not an actor either, so I had to act like how an actor would act for it.
We hear you’ve also been working on the album. How far along are you?
It’s very nearly finished. There’s nothing left to record, it’s just mixing and mastering now, but there’s no date set yet.
Is there anything exclusive you can tell us about the album…?
It’s kind of a step up in terms of more instruments. Next year, I’d quite like to bring a band on. This is the first tour I’ve ever done with two of us up there (keyboard), but maybe next tour we could have drums and guitars… It’d be so different for me because it’s been nine years of playing solo.
And are the songs on the album ones that you have written on your own?
There’s a bit of everything – I’ve written with friends too. Some writing sessions are like counselling! There are songs from the last couple of years, and a bit of blues. When I first started gigging I’d play a lot of old blues music – I got labelled as “Blues Boy Dan”…
Do you like that label?
It was good at the time, but what I play isn’t straight up blues. There’s a lot of bluesy stuff on the album, but not like a Robert Johnson 12-bar blues.
Let’s chat quickly about your live music, which is always incredible. You play the guitar, harmonica and stomp box all at the same time. How do you do it?
I don’t know – the stomp box came from just trying to be louder than everyone else in the pub, and I happened to have a foot free!
Is there an instrument you’d like to tackle next?
I’d love to learn keys. That’s a dream. I’ve tried before but it’s just not happening yet.
What else is next?
Getting this album out. I just want to have it out there. They say you have your whole life to write your first album then you have like a year to write your second one… I never used to record much and I’ve never done an album before so this is it!
And finally, it’s nearly Christmas! What are your Christmas plans?
I’ll go back to Shrewsbury in Shropshire, drink loads, see all the family, hang out on my girlfriend’s farm, go out on the kayak…
Kayaking in the winter?
Enjoy, and we can’t wait to hear more music in the new year!
For further information and future events visit the Dan Owen website here.
Watch the video for Hideaway here: