Tucson artist Bill Owens spreads the musical love | music feature
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Local musician Bill Owens has recently been putting out music through different projects, including Blunt Objects.
Tucson musician Bill Owens doesn’t stick to one sound with his music. With his recent projects Blunt Objects, DEO Toy and DID NOT!, he has been showcasing different sides of himself as an artist with various collaborators.
Owens is a multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter with an interest in ’60s British invasion and ’80s alternative music.
While living in Minneapolis and San Francisco, he led an alternative rock band called ME.
The musician started to write music while living in Tucson in the early to mid 1970s, before heading to Minneapolis and Seattle. He returned to Tucson in 2017.
He started in music at a young age, taking piano lessons at around 6 years old. When he was older, he turned to brass instruments such as the trumpet, trombone and tuba, before embarking on the guitar as a teenager.
Owens grew up on a farm in South Dakota, listening to music and singing along while out on a tractor.
“You could sing your lungs out while you were out in the field,” Owens said. “My first audience was cows and pigs. The chickens ran.”
Along with writing and recording music, Owens also hosts the 99.1 FM radio program “Music You Should Know,” where he often plays obscure music.
One of his recent projects, Blunt Objects, is meant to highlight how, although Owens plays multiple instruments, he’s not a virtuoso.
As part of this project, he released the albums “Safe at Home??” and “Sharper than Some…” in April and the single “Lonely Together/Cloudy with Storms” in June.
He released the newest Blunt Objects album, “Round Points,” on Aug. 12.
The Blunt Objects project began around March 2020 when he started writing again at home during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. He had also recently retired from an administrative job in the education sector.
Previously, he only dabbled in music a little since the mid-1980s.
He said he had to get back into the habit of writing regularly again.
“I sit down and make myself mess with the computer, the keyboards and the guitar for a couple hours every day just to see what happens,” Owens said.
With Blunt Objects, he has been collaborating with Jim Waters from Waterworks West Studio. The songs were recorded at home and then mixed and mastered at Waters’ recording studio.
Owens said his musical style hasn’t changed, but he has a lot more tools available to him than he did in the ’80s. He often uses the music production software Cubase.
Many Blunt Objects songs feature creative sounds he recorded, such as trains coming through on railroad tracks near Owens’ Downtown home.
“I use lots of interesting sounds and textures that I find and incorporate them into what I’m doing,” Owens said.
He also used a guitar riff recorded in 1977, the sound of cardboard boxes and background conversations recorded at a bar.
The album “Safe at Home??” especially was a reflection on feelings he was experiencing because of the pandemic and political/social unrest in this country. He also threw in a few lighthearted songs about his children and about roommates.
“Sharper than Some…” reflected on changes in his life. With the album, he hoped to express a sense of redemption and optimism.
Owens said he often tries to bring humor into his music.
“I like to write with a sense of humor and not take myself too seriously……My songs are kind of weird and sometimes surreal, with a fair amount of irony and satire in there,” Owens said.
As part of another new project called “DID NOT!,” Owens has partnered with Matt Rendon from Midtown Island Studio, reworking songs he wrote in the ’70s when he first lived in Tucson.
These songs are reminiscent of mid-1960s rock, with jangly guitars and harmonies packed into 2- to 3-minute pop songs.
Rendon’s studio is set up with equipment designed to recreate a ’60s rock/pop/psychedelic sound.
In the music, Rendon plays many of the instruments and sings, while Owens plays the keyboard and provides vocals.
Owens said the two of them have very different styles, but their shared love of similar music has made the collaboration work well.
“Matt is very process-driven and knows exactly how we want this stuff to go. He knows the order that we go in, and he knows what to do next…He’s also a task master when it comes to harmonies…Where I’m loose and messy, and I embrace it, he is very disciplined…He’s been a really good influence on me, and he’s also taught me to keep things simpler than I usually do,” Owens said.
Thus far, one single and one album have been released under the DID NOT! moniker, in the spring, respectively. Owens released “Again?,” on Aug. 12.
His other project DEO TOY is a continuation of work that he started in the ’80s with his late first wife, Diana DeGraeve. They started to record together at home when they wanted to move away from a local music scene riddled with drugs.
They used equipment such as a Dr. Rhythm drum machine, a Farfisa organ and a Portastudio. The project had minimal instrumentation and featured his late wife’s vocals.
In the late ’80s, Owens continued making DEO Toy music under the band name Beatrix Treazy. The new iteration was influenced by the music of the time and was more instrumental.
As part of his newest collaboration, Owens has been working with local artist Rev Wyn, who he met while out at one of his shows.
He helped Owens to rework songs from the Beatrix Treazy days.
With Wyn, he recorded the single “Sunday on Wheels,” which was released in June under the “Blunt Objects” moniker.
Owens plans to continue to release singles throughout the summer and fall for different projects.
Music has been a passion of Owens since he was young.
Owens became a fan of The Beatles when he saw the band on “The Ed Sullivan Show” at age 10.
His interest in the Beatles led him to other British invasion and American rock groups and artists, including the Velvet Underground, the Kinks, Robert Wyatt, the Pretty Things, the Zombies, the Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones, David Bowie, the Talking Heads , the Smiths, the Cure, Arcade Fire and the Magnetic Fields.
Owens said he has a difficult time characterizing his music because it doesn’t fit into one solid box, especially with the different projects.
“It’s just a little bit out of tune, just a little bit out of time. The harmonies aren’t quite perfect, but it all just comes together,” Owens said. “It can be uncomfortable to listen to because I enjoy dissonance, but I also love The Beatles, the Beach Boys and the Mamas & the Papas and their harmonies. There’s all of that in there too.”
When Owens is inspired, he often records ideas on his phone or writes them down on pieces of paper.
“My house has got little scraps of paper all over the place with five to six words or a couple of lines,” Owens said. “Every once in a while, I gather them up and throw them in a box. When it’s time to write lyrics, I dump out the box. It’s like assembling a jigsaw puzzle.”
When putting albums together, Owens usually doesn’t have a single concept in mind. He just approaches one song at a time.
“To me, the song is the art of the thing. A song is like a little painting. It’s a standalone thing that lives on its own. So, I don’t ever write in the context of an album or a concept. It’s really just to get a complete song that begins and ends,” Owens said.
He also doesn’t try to adhere to one style with his music.
“I can go from jazz to country to pop to down-and-dirty rock and roll,” Owens said.