Better on vinyl

Take Over Playlist: Christopher Owens – the SF songwriter on the tracks that shaped ‘A New Testament’
Music | 25 September 2014
This article is part of Playlists – Tunes to live by and also part of Takeovers

Above: Sons of the Pioneers

In anticipation of his second solo album release next week, we’ve invited singer-songwriter and Girls founder Christopher Owens to take over HERO online. Over the coming days, watch out for exclusive content and insights into the San Francisco based musician’s influences, experiences and obsessions…

Though Christopher Owens spent much of his childhood travelling Asia and Europe with the Children of God Christian cult, it’s ultimately the grassroots strains of American music which have an ongoing impact on his songwriting. After leaving the sect as a teen and following his sister to Amarillo, Texas, Owens was taken under the wing of American oil baron and art benefactor (think Cadillac Ranch) Stanley Marsh III, his time here where he says he drew most of his country music knowledge from. Of course, here’s also where Owens first saw Willie Nelson play live.

From these twangs to the influence of gospel and the simple progressions of early pop rock, Owens’ biggest influences are all in the playlist he’s put together for us here.

“At the end of the day I think the album ended up sounding very different from these influences, because the people that played it took a different path,” Owens explains. “But these are some songs that I really like and have liked for a long time and were definitely in my subconscious while working on the album.”

These currents run deep – press play and dive in.

Buenos Noches from a Lonely Room by Dwight Yoakam
“There are lines in this song that have influenced my writing heavily. It’s just a beautiful song. Now I think people think of Dwight Yoakam as an older artist but realistically he was doing a lot in the 90s and he’s still singing and making music. When you think of how old a lot of country music is he’s still closer to what I’m doing than a lot of people. I looked at him as a reference in terms of how you play traditional country sounds these days. He’s really one of the newest people who still has that classic country appeal, even people like Tim McGraw are very modern in comparison to him.”

I’ve Got A Tiger By The Tail by Buck Owens
“Buck Owens is an artist I really like. Firstly, I can lie to people and say he’s my grandpa. Which is fun. He’s one of Dwight Yoakam’s idols. He’s from Bakersfield, California, so there’s a California approach to country music which is a very genuine form of Country and Western music. I think generally people think Texas, the Southern States… But the guitar was brought to us by the Spanish, which means there’s a big influence in California. Country music there has a very Spanish influence. I mean, all the names of Californian cities are Spanish! Besides Bakersfield… [laughs]

A lot of people have been saying there’s an upbeat and happy sound on this record and he’s one of the country musicians I can think of that has that sound. You know, his band was called Buck Owens & His Buckaroos… Cheesy smiles and that. He has this guitarist who comes in and does these solos halfway through the song and really makes it interesting to listen to. That’s also something that influenced me, to have those great little guitar moments.”

A Satisfied Mind by Mahalia Jackson
“I just love her voice. She’s one of the oldest artists who have been recording having come directly from a church. All the songs are one take, you know? It’s great because you can listen to this being sung by Roy Rogers or something and then listen to her sing it and even you didn’t know what they were talking about, you could still see the difference between what a spiritual singer does and what a country singer does with something like this. I definitely used the fact that I liked that sound on this album.”

Your Heart Turned Left (And I Was On The Right) by George Jones
“One of the great classic for me is this George Jones song. That to me is where the magic in country is; playing with simplicity, the simplicity in the wordplay. You know, Morrissey has great wordplay but something ass simple as this feels accessible for me and for people in general. That’s what makes country music so special.”

Separate Ways by Elvis
“There’s definitely a side to this album that’s a little bit more old fashioned. The songs are really short and simple, like Elvis’ music.”

Everyday by Buddy Holly
“There are songs like Key To My Heart and Nobody’s Business, they’re like oldies, you know? Real rock ’n’ roll. Like Buddy Holly’s song, ‘Every Day It’s Getting Closer’. Super simple, upbeat, that’s it.”

Tumbling Tumble Weeds by Sons of the Pioneers
“There’s a great group called Sons of the Pioneers who not only use pedal steel but they showcase every country sound there is, really. They’re just the best. And they’re really old. It’s interesting that when they were playing they thought they were playing ‘old’ music, you know? Even their name! They would work in Hollywood in movies, like, referencing something really old but some of the earliest recordings, when people listen to them now they think, ‘Oh, I’m listening to the first great band in whatever genre’ but it really isn’t true. The music was around for a hundred years before it was recorded. That’s kind of mind blowing when you think about it. You try to imagine all these cowboys and ranch hands at the end of their days sitting around the fire playing fiddles and guitars and harmonicas and singing in a group. The fact that we can’t hear that is what makes it so amazing. When you listen to Sons of the Pioneers you can kind of imagine what it sounded like.”

San Antonio Rose by Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys
“They have a tonne of good songs, this is one of the best. Their songs are more the kind that have influenced me more subconsciously, I just really like their music.”

Christopher Owens’ new solo album, A New Testament, is out Monday, 29th September on Turnstile Music. Follow Owens on Twitter, Facebook and find tour updates at his website.

Stay tuned for more Christopher Owens-curated content in the coming days. 

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