And we like MARK OWEN. We loved 'In Your Own Time',
the Universal-Island release that followed his Celebrity Big Brother
appearance (and win). We loved it so much that way back then we decided
we wanted an interview with him. Good things come to those who wait
and now less than a year later (it didn't take that long, did it!?),
with Mark having parted ways with Universal and set up his own independent
label, we've got what we wanted. In the midst of a tangled and busy
web of live performances as well as recording the follow-up to 'In Your
Own Time', Mark Owen took time out to answer some questions for Black
Velvet. Read on to find out how Mark's not a Teletubby, he's not eaten
meat for 12 years and how his quest is still to write one of the best
Velvet: What feelings went through your head when you first decided
to set up an independent record label? Was it a scary prospect? How
much of a hands-on approach to Sedna Records do you have?
Mark Owen: It's a scary prospect to start any business on your own but
I just had a gut feeling that it was the right thing to do and so once
my mind had been made, I never looked back. I think creatively I have
been able to get involved in a lot more areas of my work, for example
directing the video for 'Makin' Out', artwork, etc. etc. but I feel
that's probably the only place where I really become hands-on because
I have a great team around me who do a great job.
The first single on Sedna Records, 'Makin' Out', was a new entry in
the UK charts at No. 30. Were you pleased with that? Or do you think
it should have had a higher entry? If so, what do you think it has/had
that other singles in the chart were lacking?
MO: When I initially got the chart position, I was a little disappointed
but then I looked back on what we have achieved as a label and realised
how well we had done to enter the charts at No. 30. As far as the single
goes, I still love 'Makin' Out' and think it's a great song and as a
record I think it sounds quite unique in that the mixing of styles between
the barber-shop style verses and the close tight harmonies to the breaking
out on the bridges and euphoric chorus - so as you can see I like it
There was a bit of a leap between 'Green Man' and 'In Your Own Time'.
I personally thought that your singing and the songs in general on 'In
Your Own Time' were a million times improved from 'Green Man' - and
I think you said that 'Green Man' was more of your 'prog rock' stage
while 'In Your Own Time' was more guitar pop based. Is there much of
a jump between 'In Your Own Time' and the next album?
MO: 'Green Man' as an album was the first album that I wrote and I think
that I was still discovering what style of songwriting I had. I would
not say that was my prog rock stage, I still class it as guitar-pop
but after that, during the lay off, that's where I went in search of
different types of style and different types of song and eventually
came round to 'In Your Own Time' which, I do agree, vocally-wise is
a lot stronger but that comes from experience. And song-wise it probably
has more good songs, although I still love 'Clementine' and 'Secondhand
Wonderland' and 'Child' and 'Is That What It's All About' and 'I Am
What I Am'. Maybe 'In Your Own Time' has a couple more quality songs
but I'm not sure - but if that's your opinion then great. This new record
I feel is the most open record I've done so far and the most dynamic
record. I can't really say it's guitar-pop, I can't say it's indie,
I can't say it's prog rock, I think that the songs in a sense relate
to my whole thirteen years in music, which in some ways is reflected
in these songs, and so stylistically-wise there is no style.
There was a seven year time gap between 'Green Man' and 'In Your Own
Time' where you wrote heaps and heaps of songs - and then really got
to choose the best of them for 'In Your Own Time'. Will any of the other
songs you wrote back then see the light of day on the next album? Or
is the next album going to be entirely new material following on from
the 'In Your Own Time' period?
MO: 'In Your Own Time' isn't a collection of the songs that I wrote
during those years off, the only two songs from those times is part
of 'Alone Without You' which was an old song and 'Four Minute Warning'
was an old song. The rest I wrote when I signed with Universal as I
always feel that songs should be fresh and because I was excited about
having a new deal, I wanted to write new songs. So there are still probably
maybe 200 songs or parts of songs that are still on the top shelf, gathering
dust. Maybe one day you'll get the chance to hear some of them. And
so that brings us to the new album which is a collection of new material,
all written within a very close proximity. The idea of this album was
to just write ten songs and the album would be written in the order
that it came out of me and that's where I am at and in my mind at this
moment in time; that is the way I believe the album should be heard.
Was it hard to come up with a new album's worth of material? How long
does it usually take you to write a song? Out of all of the songs you've
written which was the hardest to write and which was the one that was
easy and most instantaneous?
MO: A lot of this new record was very instantaneous, maybe it's because
it was quite a big part in my life knowing that my deal with Universal
was going to come to an end. I wasn't sure of my future, whether there
would be another album or what my plans would be - so once the decision
was made it allowed a lot of creativity to come out. But songs can vary
in the length of time it takes to write and in my head until a song
is finally pressed onto that final CD. You might want to go back and
work just a bit of a lyric here or a bit of a melody there so a song
is never complete until it is in the shops.
Can you tell me anything at all about the next album - subject matter,
any particular songs? Or is it too early? We heard 'Hail Mary' at Preston's
Rock In The Park. Will that be on the album?
MO: Yes, 'Hail Mary' is a song from the album, along with the next single
which is 'Believe In The Boogie'. I think the answer to the last question
kind of explains what the album is and how it came about. Emotionally
and lyrically the theme on the album, I think, is a 32 year old man
maybe getting close to his midlife crisis, wondering what the fuck he
is going to do with the rest of his life.
Tell us about working with producer Tony Hoffer. What did you learn
most from him? How easy to work with was he? Did you click immediately?
MO: Tony was very easy to work with in a sense of he made you feel very
comfortable within his environment but he takes what he does very seriously.
I think the biggest thing I learnt from Tony was to have belief in myself
and the music that I was writing because for Tony to take on the project
at the time was really just a dream for us and he heard the song when
he's probably being sent 20-30 songs or albums a day from people who
want to work with him from around the world and he phoned us back and
said he really wanted to work on it. So initially I think what I really
got from Tony was belief in what I was doing - and what did Tony get
from me? He got a bottle of beer!
Will there be any different instruments on your next album or will it
just be 'the usual'. What are your thoughts on originality when writing
an album? Do you ever try purposely to write something different to
everyone else and new - or do you just write what you're happy with
regardless of whether it has a similar sound to another artist/band
MO: If I start writing a song and it reminds me of something else then
I usually stop writing that song or I take it somewhere else. I think
that's the great thing about this record that I wrote; I basically cut
myself off from the world for three months and went into the studio
to write this album so had no outside influences apart from a bit of
Jack or wine or the occasional smoke.
You come across as such a lovely person who's always happy and smiling,
yet I read an interview where someone asked about Robbie's success and
how yours hasn't matched and you said you'd be lying if you said you
never at times thought 'Wow, where did it all go wrong for me?' and
that at those times you'd look at yourself and think 'maybe the songs
aren't good enough' or something like that. So
do you have many
bouts of insecurity that the general public don't see? Is the 'real'
Mark Owen' less happy and chirpy than we're lead to believe?
MO: I have doubts and insecurity in life, in music, in love, I am not
a cartoon character or a Teletubby. If my life was filled with chirpy
chappy lovely smiley, then I would have given up on this business a
long time ago. If people just want a chirpy chappy lovely smiley character,
maybe they should go and buy
You said in the Sunday Times (June 6th) article/interview that when
asked if you felt people had let you down, you said no and said that
you wished you'd been more honest. What do you mean by that? Honest
about what? The music you played and what you wanted to do?
MO: I think I spend a lot of my time trying to look after people and
trying to be polite to people and trying to please but on occasion some
people take advantage and walk all over you. But at the same time, I
have let people down and in my time, I have been let down.
Do you think there's still a stigma around 'Mark Owen'? Do you think
a lot of people who weren't into Take That are put off checking your
solo material out because of that? They haven't really checked out your
sound and still think you're in the Take That sort of genre, perhaps?
MO: I can't answer that question. I just make the best music that I
can make and music that I as a person would like and would go out and
buy and that's all you can do as a singer/songwriter. People have their
own minds and thank God they do.
You're currently doing a lot of Party In The Park type shows where you're
on a bill with a ton of other artists. How do you find these shows?
Does the fact that so many people turn up to them, ie. 30,000 at Great
Yarmouth make them worth doing because you're getting your music out
to heaps of people?
MO: You know, I think a lot of the audiences are at those shows aren't
probably there to see me, you've got to be honest, but it gives me the
opportunity to perform and get some of the songs off the new record
heard. We're not looking at doing a proper tour until around September
and so it just keeps you out there and it's fun. It's something to do
at a weekend but I would rather be playing Glastonbury and V, T in the
Park festivals if I had the choice.
At Preston's Rock In The Park, you did a cover of The Cure's 'Friday
I'm In Love'. Have you been playing that one live a lot/for a long time?
Are you a big Cure fan? Why did you choose that cover?
MO: I am a Cure fan but not like avid, like maybe readers of your magazine
are. I just really know the hits and probably have the 'Best Of The
Cure' which may offend some of your readers but I am a huge fan of that
song and I decided to play it when I was in a bar in Norway called Mono.
And that was the first time I had heard it for a while and everyone
enjoyed it and was bouncing around having a good time. We played it
a few times towards the end of last year and it just felt like the right
place to play it again. Will we play it ever again? Who knows, it depends
whether it's Friday and whether I'm in love or not.
I know you like all sorts of music. Two bands that stood out that I
remember spotting you liked are Queens Of The Stone Age and Placebo.
Since Black Velvet is a rock zine, what other rock bands do you like?
MO: Hundred Reasons. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. I am enjoying Franz
Ferdinand at the moment. The Streets, they are not rock but a great
album, the new album. White Stripes. One of my favourite artists at
the moment though is Rufus Wainwright.
It must be quite a lonely existence being a solo artist - having to
do signings, press etc alone. Being the one person all eyes are on must
be quite hard too. No-one to hide behind, and being the one person who
everyone can rip apart. But then I guess you make a lot of friends and
you more or less can do what you want. Comments on that/the existence
of a solo artist?
MO: I think that at some point in your life you have to look at yourself
whether you are a solo artist or in a band whatever and your kind of
feelings would be the same. I think sometimes that being a musician
or a songwriter or being creative can be quite a lonely existence. But
I love it and that's why I'm here still trying to do what I started
doing eight years ago and that is to write one of the best songs ever
and as long as I continue to have that dream, I can't and won't stop
- which then brings you back to the lonely existence.
I read that you used to be vegetarian but you now you eat fish - or
something like that! Can you clarify this? How long were you vegetarian
for and is it just fish that you eat now - or do you eat all meat? And
how can I convince you to go vegan!? Haha.
MO: I haven't eaten meat for twelve years, fish I started eating again
about three years ago I was in a restaurant once and this cod in butter
sauce was surrounded by neon lights and started shouting "eat me,
eat me" and it was the best fish I have ever tasted and still is.
I think my body told me that I needed to eat some different foods. I
couldn't eat cheese and beans on toast one more time.
What are your thoughts on animal rights? Foxhunting? Vivisection? General
cruelty to animals?
MO: I don't want to see any cruelty to animals in any shape or form
but I'm not against people eating meat. I'd rather them eat a rabbit
than test eye liner on a rabbit for cosmetic purposes. I'm not into
cosmetics being tested on animals at all.
Bit of a mad question to end on
and continuing the animal theme...
I know you've got two cats
and I guess they talk to each other
in cat language. If you could understand or guess what they're saying
to one another, and they were talking about you right now, the Mark
Owen of Summer 2004, their dad/owner, what would they be saying?
MO: They would probably say "why doesn't he just come and hang
out at home for a while, for a little bit? We've only seen him four
times this year and he needs a holiday but here with us".
Yep, Mark's indeed been a busy man. Hopefully all his work will pay
off in the end (if it hasn't already). His new album will be out soon
on Sedna Records. Take it from us, Mark Owen ROCKS. If you've not yet
listened to any of his solo material, get out there and do so. If you've
got good taste you'll be impressed. Look out for his forthcoming tour
too. Visit www.markowenofficial.com for more information.