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Believe In The Boogie

(Interview with Mark Owen Taken From Black Velvet 41 - Aug 2003)

By Shari Black Velvet

We at Black Velvet headquarters pride ourselves in the fact that we'll print whatever we like regardless of what other people might think. We don't necessarily stick to one form of rock music. If we like a band or an artist then we'll write about them. We don't really care whether YOU like them or not; as long as WE do that's all that matters.





Above: Mark Owen Photo By Shari Black Velvet


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 songs ever...

Black 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.

BV: 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 a lot.

BV: 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.

BV: 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.

BV: 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.

BV: 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.

BV: 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!

BV: 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 around?
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.

BV: 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… [no comment].

BV: 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.

BV: 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.

BV: 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.

BV: 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.

BV: 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.

BV: 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.

BV: 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.

BV: 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.

BV: 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".

Ahh. 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.





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