Illinois singer/songwriter OWEN PYE took time out of his busy touring schedule to talk to Lins Honeyman
With an exhausting touring schedule and a brand new album under his belt, Illinois singer/songwriter Owen Pye has never been busier. Having clocked up an impressive 250 performances in recent times, Owen somehow manages to find time to single-handedly book his own shows, promote himself and even man the merchandise stall after gigs in a bid to connect with anyone anywhere who is willing to listen to his earthy brand of American folk rock. Owen's hard graft has certainly paid off and recent years have seen the songsmith gain an impressive following of over 20,000 fans on music websites such as MySpace whilst his latest release 'The Truth About Man' has received critical acclaim the length and breadth of the US as he plays in venues as diverse as coffee shops, bars, churches and living rooms.
Owen's determined work ethic is nothing new. Whilst still in high school, the up and coming singer wrote, recorded and released his 2006 debut album 'If That's Cool With You' before forming the Sunday School Band to issue a self-titled disc in 2009 under the production auspices of Caedmon's Call's Andrew Osenga. Since then, Owen has witnessed both live appearances and download sales increase and has now signed to the Illinois-based college campus label Blackroom Records to release his latest album.
I catch up with Owen in a break from touring and ask him how 'The Truth About Man' came about. "Blackroom Records approached me a few months prior to me starting the album and they said they wanted to work with me," explains Owen. "It was an awesome relief to know that I could do another record without having to fund it totally myself. When they finally gave me the go ahead, I had a window of a couple of months to write the songs for it."
It seems that working with his new label, which has its recording studio within the grounds of Illinois' Greenville College, has been mutually beneficial. "The recording equipment at the college was really nice and it was basically me and the producer and a couple of musicians in the studio. We also worked with some of the students at Greenville College and, whilst they're still technicians in the making, I think it benefited the album because there's a nice raw feel to it."
One of the album's highlights is a stunning cover of country artist Billy Joe Shaver's "If I Give My Soul" which sees Owen share vocal duties with fellow Illinoisan Kiley Davis. "I knew that song because Johnny Cash sang it and I loved his version," he enthuses. "I felt that the song was so real and it fitted perfectly with the theme of the rest of the album in that your problems don't go away just because you're a Christian. In fact, you're probably more susceptible to issues and problems - it's just you've got a better head on your shoulders to deal with them."
In fact, Owen refuses to shy away from such issues in his songs - perhaps most clearly in his new single "Barriers" which candidly deals with relationship problems - and I wonder what drives Owen to bare his soul in his work. "I wrote a few songs for the new album and the theme of sin in our lives began to emerge," he explains. "We're living in a depraved generation but God is good and we need him in our lives. I just tried to keep that kind of focus on the album."
Continues Owen, "Everyone likes to listen to light-hearted songs once in a while but I think we need to have a balance - especially in Christian music. We need people telling the truth. I think there's a disservice where a lot of Christian music only focuses on the good side of being a believer. There are struggles and those need to be sung about as well."
Amidst the highlights of taking his music on the road, Owen is candid about the fact that the life of a troubadour can have its challenges. Recent video diaries have shown a tired Owen Pye paint a frank picture of some of the struggles of touring but he remains positive about what he sees as an essential part of his trade. "There's no doubt about it - touring is tiring but I think it's a necessary thing," he affirms. "I wouldn't do it if I didn't love it. As Christians, we need to be out there playing, if for no other reason than to network with other believers and to see where the needs are across the country. Hopefully it takes me out the picture more and allows me to see what I can do for other people."
I suggest that there must be times when he feels like hanging up his guitar and taking life easier. "Absolutely," he admits. "You take three bad shows in a row in a week where the show hasn't been publicised and only a few people have turned up and, by that third one, you think that you can't do it anymore, but it's in these times of desperation that God encourages you. It might be someone saying 'hey man, you're still doing a great job' that keeps you going. You have to keep thinking about the shows that were excellent and not the shows that weren't. Who doesn't have a bad day at the office, anyway?"
This perseverance has certainly borne fruit with recent years seeing Owen building up an impressive following on music websites such as MySpace and ReverbNation. "I see the online side of things as being very important in terms of promoting my music," he confirms. "However, you can't just stop there in this day and age. So many artists are online so you have to go to other means - whether it be playing more shows or finding other unique ways of promoting yourself. I'm excited to find out what the next few years hold for music. Gas prices are going up and things are more expensive these days so folks are starting to play in living rooms where it's less costly and people can throw a buck in if they want. I think that's a blast!"
With his musical career very much on the up, it's clear that Owen is not one for standing still. "I would like to write another album and have it recorded by the fall," proffers Owen. "I'm not sure what it's going to be but I've talked about possibly doing some fundraising to fully fund the record. My dream would be to give the album away for free where people can come along to a show and take a CD if they want to. Especially with everyone's money issues right now, I think people would really respond to that."
Owen finishes by offering an insight to his own ethos. "I have to keep in mind that you can either struggle doing something you love to do or make tonnes of money doing something you sort of love to do. I know which way I'd rather do it!"The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.