By Beth Casteel
Introducing himself with a simple, “Hello, it’s Owen Ashworth,” the musician behind two of the underground music scene’s best kept secrets, eased his way into a 30 minute conversation about his lengthy career.
Jumping into the underground alternative and indie music scene almost two decades ago, Ashworth’s original brainchild was a solo project under the name of ‘Casiotone For The Painfully Alone.’ Spanning almost 14 years under that moniker, Ashworth dropped the project soon after touring became too challenging due to hearing damage caused by loud noises.
“The Casiotone sound was much more beat driven and a little more abrasive and harsh. I really hurt my ears touring [by using] very loud drum machines and stuff like that, so I stopped Casiotone partially because [of] the damage it [had] done to my hearing, plus it was really difficult to play live at a point,” Ashworth said. “So when I started making music again, I was consciously trying to make things much quieter and gentler.”
When he did decide to give the drum machine another go, this time with a gentler punch, the musician formed the solo endeavor — Advance Base. The project, that now has three albums since his 2010 rebranding, has made quite the splash in the scene for its lo-fi pop anthems.
Decidedly sad songs, Ashworth has created a distinctive style throughout his lengthy career, and with his newest release, “Animal Companionship,” he hasn’t let his signature brand of “depressed, nostalgia-obsessed, lo-fi pop” fall short on his latest effort, even though the process has been a bit of a different experience than in years past.
One thing to note about Ashworth is the fact that when he’s not busy creating new jams for his solo project, he’s helping other artists create music to put into the world. Ashworth created his own record label called Orindal Records back in 2012, and since the creation of the label, has expanded the label to 15 artists and released his first two Advance Base records off of it.
When the time came to drop his latest effort, he decided not to go with his own label this time around, a decision that made the recording process different for Ashworth. As he notes, he took a few years to come up with 10 tracks that he liked well enough to go on a record, and he signed to Run For Cover Records to release his third studio album.
“Typically, I record on my own, I’ve recorded eight or nine albums in my house over the years, and just kind of burnt out with the sound I was able to get,” Ashworth said. “Run For Cover, in addition to being [a] well-funded label, that was going to be able to put me in the studio to make a more expensive record, they also have a larger reach and bigger resources, and it meant that I didn’t have to spend so much time on promoting, distributing and doing all the label tasks in releasing records.”
With the newfound sense of not having to deal with the label side of the process, Ashworth found that he now has a healthier relationship with not just his own music, but with the stuff he’s put out for Orindal. Which, is something he’s noticed has helped him focus more on the development of his latest release.
“Recording myself in the past, I typically will just kind of write and record in tandem. Like when I have an idea for a song, I start demoing it, and the song develops through recording a lot of different versions,” Ashworth said. “To go into the studio and record them all one after another was a really different process for me. There was a lot of freedom in having a bunch of songs, being able to spend a lot of time perfecting them and organizing them before I went in to record them.”
When the time came to actually write the record, Ashworth hit the ground running. Recalling past conversations he had with a friend concerned if their recent international move would have an effect on their pet, he revealed the worry was kind of “sweet and funny.”
Seeing the concern his friend had for his dog’s happiness, he began thinking of the two a lot when sitting down to write the new record. Finding a theme in the sweet concern, he decided he wanted to create a record that was not only sympathetic of pet owners, but to see what animals represent in people’s lives.
So, with the record’s new theme in the back of his mind, he began writing the 10 songs that eventually became “Animal Companionship.”
As with previous releases, Ashworth really wanted to nail down the record’s new theme by finding characters and locations that are added to further tell the story in the album. For his latest release, the whole record takes place in Indiana with some overlapping of characters and locations between songs.
Feeling like he’s populating a town through his songwriting, he built out this world that he’s pretty excited to talk about, even if the theme of this particular record touches on some pretty heavy topics.
“It’s a pretty sad record. There’s a lot of songs dealing with grief. Of people moving through traumatic pasts or going through something dark and how animals can be a comfort,” Ashworth said. “The love you’d expect from an animal is kind of different than what you expect from a person, and [I wanted to focus on] how animals can be a comfort. It’s kind of a loving tribute to people [and their pets].”
“Animal Companionship” is out now via Run For Cover Records.