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Craig Owens Reflects On Chiodos And More On ‘Volume 1’

Craig Owens Summer 2023
[Photo by: Rob Haberman]

In a captivating interview just ahead of his new album drop, Craig Owens takes readers and listeners on an immersive journey into the creation of his latest, Volume 1. With a career spanning over 20 years and connections to his iconic projects such as Chiodos, Isles & Glaciers, and D.R.U.G.S., Owens unveils the detailed process of selecting and reimagining 10 tracks from his illustrious discography. As he delves into the album’s concept and the emotional journey of revisiting his music, Owens shares the meticulous thought process behind each song choice and how the reimagined renditions breathe new life into his familiar tunes.

Exploring the intricate balance between staying true to the original essence and injecting fresh perspectives, Owens discusses the evolution of his vocals and how the stripped-back approach of the album beautifully showcases his prowess. From the heartfelt lyrics to the artistic reinterpretations, the interview offers insight into Owens’ growth as an artist and the significance of releasing a collection that encapsulates his musical evolution.

Throughout the interview, Owens elaborates on his intentions of unifying his fan base across various projects, creating an inclusive sonic journey for both new and longtime listeners. As he reflects on the album’s emotional impact and its potential to connect with audiences on a profound level, Owens provides a window into the transformative power of music and his personal growth as an artist. Read our in-depth interview and listen to Volume 1 below.

One of the things I love about this album is that it really showcases your extremely notable career and all of the projects that you’ve been connected to and worked on over the last 20-plus years. We’ve got Chiodos, Isles & Glaciers, D.R.U.G.S. Can you walk me through the process of selecting the tracks that you decided to reimagine for the album and also what the process was like of getting permission to do those songs for this album? 

Yeah, so regarding permission, anybody can cover pretty much any song. So it doesn’t really take very much. I’m still paying royalties to myself and the other band members, but anybody can record whatever song. So it wasn’t that difficult at all. 

But choosing the songs was difficult. The album is mostly a collection of songs that I’ve been playing in this way, in living rooms and dive bars, for over 20 years. So I’ve had some of these re-imaginings for quite a while. It felt really cathartic to just put on and record finally, like now they’re there, they’re out. People can know what to expect when they see me perform solo.

I didn’t want to favor one project more than the other. And I wasn’t even able to fit all of my projects onto the first volume. I had to call it Volume 1 because there’s going to have to be more. In terms of which songs, I wanted to round it out. I wanted it to be a collection that resonated with everybody without just cherry-picking the hits. I wanted to make sure that they were songs that meant a lot to me and that I had a real vision for. 

Your career is extremely storied, and it feels crazy to say 20 years because it feels like All’s Well That Ends Well dropped yesterday. But when you were heading into the studio, what were you feeling when you were getting the chance to revisit these songs and not just revisit them in the sense of playing them live, but revisiting these pivotal songs of your career in a recording process? 

It was exciting. I did the record with Steve Evetts in New Jersey, and I was such a big fan of Steve that that was at the forefront of my mind in regard to the recording side. And he was so helpful and just awesome.

But I went through a lot of emotion revisiting these songs. A lot of this has to do with the relationship that people have to these songs, but I was going through a lot of emotion because I have my own personal connection to the song, but also trying to honor the connection that everyone else has to the songs as well. So I tried to reimagine them while still keeping in mind the skeleton and the bones. That way, it didn’t feel too foreign or too different for everyone. So it was this nice little balance or tightrope walk that I had to do. But I’m grateful for it because it kind of helps me focus on the vision and execute it properly.

As you mentioned, there’s going to have to be a Volume 2 because you weren’t able to fit everything and all of the tracks that you wanted to from your whole career and all of the projects that you worked on. But I think you’ve done a really great job of capturing a lot of your career on this first volume. And it feels very intentional. It feels like there was a lot of purpose behind everything you selected. How were you able to narrow it down? How did you say, “Okay, it’s going to be these ten”? 

It was really like it was difficult, to be honest. A lot of it had to do with which songs work in the reimagined form, which narrows it down a little bit. It shaves 20% of my catalog off. So that helped narrow it down. And then I just reference what I’d done previously and what I already had pretty much prepared if I had to go to the studio tomorrow. From there, I wanted it to be an even balance of projects that way, it wasn’t leaning too heavily toward one or the other. And, of course, I wanted to introduce at least one new song to remind people that I’m still making music, and it’s not all just throwback stuff. So it was a delicate balance.

I feel like chose the right songs. I ran it by maybe four of my trusted people that I always bounce ideas off of. And everyone agreed on which ones translated the best and which ones we should do for the record. It went by pretty quickly, and I was surprised. I thought it would actually be more difficult to choose which songs. I think the tracklisting pretty much as wrote itself, to be honest.

Are there any tracks that you can disclose that you’re hoping will make the final cut for volume two? 

Yeah, I’d like to see “The Only Thing You Talk About.” On the last tour that we just wrapped, we did an amazing version of that song that made me feel very confident in it. And it hadn’t even been considered for one. So that would be a great addition. I really like “Lexington,” I think that would translate really well. And other than that, I’m pretty much open to any suggestions, and I don’t have plans to do it for a few years. So there’ll be new music out that I can reference for the second volume. 

I did two songs on Volume 1 that were from the D.R.U.G.S. record [Destroy Rebuild] that dropped last year. So the catalog will have expanded by the time Volume 2 hits. But regarding specifics, those are the two that really stand out. Another one that I would really like to do is “I Didn’t Say I Was Powerful, I Said I Was a Wizard.” Another Chiodos song for Volume 2 as well. 

Speaking of some of the tracks that could potentially make it into a Volume 2 a couple of years down the road here. Some of the language on the tracks, I’m sure, feels a little outdated, like the use of the word “whore.” When you go into these reimaginings, do you want to stay true to the original songwriting and performance, or are you trying to give any updates to what culture looks like now? 

I think it’s always important to reexamine yourself and grow and apply those growths as you move forward. Specifically, I haven’t really said it live in a very long time, I just let the crowd do it. And it always felt a little off to say it, to be completely frank. But I think any sort of self-growth or self-awareness is super important as an artist and as a human being. So that’s something I pride myself on doing, whether it be musically or ethically, like we’re talking about here. I always will consider that and put it in the forefront of my mind when making decisions like that, like lyrical changes and adjustments. 

So one of my favorite parts of this album and it has always been one of my favorite parts of you as a musician is that your vocal abilities are so intense. Just beautiful in general. And I think that this album being stripped back really exemplifies that power that you have in your voice. When you started the recording process, did you go into this knowing that all of these songs were going to be stripped back and that they were going to be more raw versions of the originals? 

Yes. The intent was 100% that. So when Steve and I started conceptualizing how we wanted to go about getting this down and getting this recorded, we both came to the conclusion that this album is about the vocals. It’s about the vocal take, and that needs to be at the forefront of everything and everything else is a nice little nuance behind it. So that was definitely the most important part of the recording process of doing the record was the vocal takes. And it was about two weeks. I think we recorded it starting January 2 in New Jersey. Right when we showed up, it was, “How soon can we start taking vocals? Because we need to give my voice time so I can recover and be strong consistently throughout the record.”

But Steve did a great job at getting certain takes out of me and certain emotions out of me. He had done some of my favorite records like Saves The Day and Dillinger and The Wonder Years, all of these great bands. I knew what I wanted to get out of Steve and he knew what he wanted to get out of me. And we just worked together, and he really pushed me to get those vocal takes, which were the most important part of the record, I think.

When did the idea originally come to you to do an album like this? 

Last summer, I played a show with Dashboard Confessional, and Chris [Carrabba] sent me this amazing message. It was so inspiring, and he’s such a good guy. It kind of gave me the confidence to follow through with what it is that I wanted to do. And then I pitched to the label that like, “Hey, what if we just do like a live reporting of one of my shows?” They came back, and they said, “How about we do an actual album?” It took a minute for me to agree to it, but then I finally said yes. And before I knew it, I was in New Jersey recording it with Steve.

You have some really amazing musicians on the album. You’ve got your friend from The Wonder Years, your friend from Fairweather. How did this happen? 

Basically, Michael Kennedy from The Wonder Years had worked with Steve a ton, and Michael and I had actually not met before. When we met, we just hit it off, and that was awesome. The other two guys [Matthew Gaudiano (piano) and Peter Tsouras (guitar)] were old friends of mine that have played solo shows with me. I just recognized their talent and their flare and their panache. I want to make sure that some of those moments came through on the record. I’m very grateful.

One of the things that I think is so interesting about this album and makes it so unique, besides the fact that you’ve taken so many amazing tracks from your entire discography to put on one album. I feel like that’s just not something a lot of artists have the ability to do because you are one of the most active musicians. But one of the things that I love is that you have an original, unreleased track, “It’s Easy,” featured on this album amongst the reimaginings of your earlier work. Was that something that you had planned from the beginning or was that something that just happened naturally while you were going through the process of getting ready to record? 

I think the second one. As we were getting ready for the record, we were looking at some of the songs that I had kind of tucked away. And it was a song that didn’t really make the last D.R.U.G.S. record because it didn’t fit the vibe. It just means so much to me that I needed to get it out sooner rather than later. So it was kind of a no-brainer when we were looking at the tracklisting. I wanted to put something new on it just because I want to show people I am continuing to make music, and I still write music. So I just really wanted that track to have a home. And it was homeless for a minute. It turns out it was just waiting to be put on Volume 1.

I think it is one of the standouts amongst Volume 1. It is also really interesting, the placement of the track, though. “It’s Easy” is featured in the middle back half of the album. I think most artists probably would have featured it as the final track. And given that it’s never been heard before, why did you decide to place it where it is? How did that process of placing the tracks go? 

So the actual tracklisting itself was kind of done by committee. As I said, I have a few trusted people that I send all of my music to that have been with me from the beginning. Steve was involved in this and the labels, Equal Vision and Velocity. We were all just throwing out our versions of what the tracklisting should be. And for some reason, listening from beginning to end, it just felt like the most natural.

So much of this is the people that have supported me for so long. This is kind of a gift to them. I want them to have this because these songs have grown and the recordings haven’t necessarily grown, you know? So I really wanted to do this for the fans. We knew that “It’s Easy” wasn’t going to be a single so putting it in-between was more like a way for people to discover it without it being overly pushed onto them.

The album is so much softer than some of your work, and it really does allow your vocals to shine. It feels like a very natural progression of how your life has evolved and changed over the last 20-plus years of your career. When I think back on some of your earliest work, I think about a lot of pent-up anger, frustration, aggression, misunderstanding of the world, or feeling misunderstood by the world. What was it that inspired “It’s Easy”?

This isn’t something that I haven’t talked about, but that song was written about the end of my last relationship and basically about trying to be guarded, but I’m trying to communicate. It’s a little hard. Basically, I had just gotten out of a very long-term relationship, and the pandemic hit, and I found myself pacing around my house trying to just understand if it would ever get any better.

I’m so grateful for that song because it allowed me to get that energy out of my life and put it into a song, get it out of myself. And so much of what I do is catharsis. So I’m very, very grateful that that song decided to present itself in my subconscious so I could get it out emotionally. It was basically just the heaviest split I’ve probably had. And I was sleeping on the couch in my own house, and I was living there by myself, but I couldn’t bring myself to go to bed because I was too depressed. And honestly, that song helped me get out of a really, really bad spot that I was in emotionally and mentally. I’m very, very grateful for it.

The last thing I wanted to ask you about was the fans and the fan reception. Obviously, you’ve had a chance to go on the road for years and adjust your setlists to include some of these songs performing as a solo artist. But what are you hoping the fans will take away from this collection? And ultimately, more importantly, I think the new track?

I’m excited because there’s been this new shift in my fan bases, and they are not the same fan bases. D.R.U.G.S. does not have the same fan base as Chiodos, and neither of them has the same fanbase as my other projects or me as a solo artist. My biggest goal is to put an umbrella over all of them. That way fans understand that these aren’t separate lives and that they do go together and that it’s okay to listen to all of these projects together. What I’m really excited about is I want Chiodos fans to hear D.R.U.G.S. songs that they never knew. I want people that never knew I was in Chiodos to find the songs that they’ll love. And I hope that this is a gateway into those projects for new and old listeners.

Is there anything else you want to add before I let you get back to it? 

I just want to say thank you to you, and thank you to everybody reading this and anybody that supported me. Thank you to Equal Vision Records and Velocity Records for believing in me, Dave Shapiro, and everybody. And also a big thank you to the other musicians that just stepped up and performed on certain parts of this album for me. Michael Kennedy from The Wonder Years played drums. My friend Peter from a band called Fairweather played some guitar, and my friend, Matthew Gaudiano, played a little bit of piano on it. So shout out to them!

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