Owen is a solo project from multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Mike Kinsella, an important figure on the Chicago indie rock scene who is known for his work with the groups Cap'n Jazz, Joan of Arc, Owls, and American Football. Unlike most of his prior projects, where he only played drums, or American Football, where he collaborated with other musicians and songwriters, Owen gave him a showcase for an unfiltered version of his creative vision, performing music that was spare and hauntingly melodic despite the often downbeat nature of his lyrics. Steeped in indie folk influences and lo-fi philosophies, Owen made a distinctive debut with his first self-titled album in 2001, and his home-brewed production was shown to his advantage on 2002's No Good for No One Now. Owen showed a greater lyrical maturity and more ambitious use of the studio on 2009's New Leaves, while 2013's L'Ami du Peuple was regarded as a creative and conceptual high point for the project.
While Mike Kinsella had played drums in several bands of note with his brother, vocalist, guitarist, and writer Tim Kinsella, the short-lived yet influential emo group American Football was where Mike first had a platform for his own ideas as a songwriter. While the group was enthusiastically embraced by critics and fans, they initially played for only three years, from 1997 to 2000, before quietly breaking up. Needing a venue for his burgeoning skills as a songwriter, Kinsella created Owen as a low-key solo project, extending American Football's sound into quieter and more thoughtful territory.
After having opened up for Rainer Maria on tour, Kinsella returned home from the road with an album's worth of material. With tales of lost love and heartbreak, and utilizing his home studio and an acoustic guitar, he started recording songs that would become his 2001 eponymous Owen debut on Polyvinyl Records. Well-received by critics and fans alike, the younger Kinsella returned with his sophomore release for Polyvinyl in 2002, entitled No Good for No One Now, a collection of seven songs that combined the intricate beauty of his debut with more stinging indictments of broken hearts and souls. Two EPs followed in mid-2004, the aptly titled The EP and a split with the Rutabega, Near and Far, Vol. 1, before the third Owen full-length, I Do Perceive, appeared that November. At Home with Owen surfaced two years later, and dates with Copeland and the Appleseed Cast were played in support.
In 2009, Owen reflected on marriage and family with New Leaves, and introduced strings to his musical mix for Ghost Town two years later. The seventh proper Owen album, L'Ami du Peuple, was released in 2013, with Kinsella exploring fatherhood, aging, loss, and beauty in his own now well-defined style. 2014, the year that saw American Football reunite for enthusiastically received live shows, brought Other People's Songs, a collection of acoustic covers of songs by Lungfish, Against Me, Smoking Popes, and other unlikely candidates for mellow revision. For his first album made outside of metropolitan Chicago, Kinsella headed to April Base Studios in Eau Claire, Wisconsin to record 2016's The King of Whys with Bon Iver's S. Carey, who produced and played on the record. Carey and engineer Zach Hanson once again joined forces with Kinsella in Eau Claire to record the tenth Owen album, 2020's The Avalanche. ~ Kurt Morris & Mark Deming