Owen Ashworth is a musician and artist, living in Oak Park, IL. For the past several years, he has been putting music out under the name Advance Base, and before that as Casiotone For The Painfully Alone. He also curates and runs a label, Orindal Records. Advance Base’s new record, Animal Companionship, is out this week and we are so glad that Owen made the time to answer some questions for us.
Hey, Owen! Thank you so much for taking the time to Spill The Beans for us! Could we start with you telling us a bit about who you are and what you do?
Hi Ben! You’re very welcome. I used to write sad electronic pop songs & record them under the name Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, but now I write sad electronic pop songs & record them under the name Advance Base. I also run a small record label called Orindal Records.
Owen drinking coffee in Sydney, Australia
You have a new Advance Base record coming out at the end of September, and approached this one differently than previous recordings. Could you talk about that and what motivated your decision?
It’s true! The new Advance Base record is called Animal Companionship, & a lot of the songs are about people’s relationships with their pets, or just the very basic, animal need for companionship. I recorded it with an old friend & very talented engineer named Jason Quever at Palmetto Studio in Los Angeles, CA. It’s the first record I’ve made in a real recording studio, & the first Advance Base thing that wasn’t recorded in my own home by me. A bunch of my old recording equipment broke & I didn’t really feel like fixing or replacing any of it! As a result, I made a much more professional & high fidelity album than I usually make. I think it sounds great!
Animal Companionship by Advance Base, artwork by Jessica Seamans, lettering by Dan Black
On each of your records, there seems to be a conceptual thread loosely tying the collection of songs together. Is this what sparks each new batch of songs? What is your creative process like while writing?
When I start writing stuff for a new record, it usually takes me a couple of songs before I start noticing any common themes, & then I have to decide if any of those themes are interesting enough to write a whole record around. Once I come up with a good one, I’ll just think a lot about that theme, & try to figure out what it means to me, & then I usually read some books or watch some movies or look at some websites that also have to do with that theme, & then I just wait to see what kinds of new ideas occur to me. I really try to let my subconscious decide what the records are going to be about, & then do my best to just get out of the way.
Advance Base, photo by Jeff Marini
Aside from Advance Base, you also curate and run a label, Orindal Records. How did this start, and how has it changed for you over time?
I started Orindal in 2011, around the same time that I started Advance Base. With my previous music project, I had released records through other small, independent labels, & I always asked the people who ran those labels a lot of annoying questions about production, distribution, promotion, & all of the other stuff that goes into running a record label. When I started over with Advance Base, I wanted to test whether I’d learned enough from all of those other labels to start my own imprint & self-release my music. My brother Gordon Ashworth (who is a wonderful musician & graphic artist) was originally involved, & I released some of his music through Orindal, but he got really interested in reissuing archival recordings of guitar music from Greece & Africa, so he went on to start his own great label, Olvido Records. I wasn’t planning on releasing music for any other artists, but after my friend Julie Byrne released two really great, but very limited edition tapes of her psychedlic folk songs, I asked if she’d be interested in allowing me to compile the songs from those tapes onto a vinyl LP, so more people could hear them. She said sure, & I had so much fun working on the project with her that I started releasing more records for more friends. Seven years later, Orindal is getting ready to release its thirty-sixth thing, & there are more than a dozen artists on the label roster.
How have you chosen the artists whose work you’ve released?
First of all, I have to really like the person, & there has to be a good, trusting relationship between us, because it’s a pretty big deal to release someone’s music for them. I mostly work with other solo artists, & many of them record their music at home. I don’t think I could classify any particular genre that links all of the Orindal stuff, but I think there are common senses of intimacy, melancholy, understatedness, hauntedness, stubbornness & idiosyncrasy in all of the things I’ve helped to release. Greg Jamie (a singer/songwriter from Portland, ME who released a sci-fi folk album called Crazy Time on Orindal) described the label as a “community of gentle weirdos,” & that sounds about right to me.
Chicago has been your home for many years now, but before that you were in Seattle, Portland and Northern California. How do you see the art and music culture vary in these places?
That’s a hard question to answer in any real specific way, but even after living in Chicago for more than twelve years, I still don’t feel like my music fits in the local music scene. I still feel like I’m a very wimpy, sensitive, west coast kind of songwriter, compared to most of the tough guy music I hear around Chicago. There’s something very industrial about a lot of the music & visual art that comes out of Chicago. It reminds me of steel & brick, whereas a lot of the west coast music & art that influenced my art reminds me of trees & water. I’m really generalizing.
Advance Base, photo by Katrina Dixon
How about the coffee culture?
I drink a lot more coffee now than I did back then, but what I remember from my time in California & the Pacific Northwest is really dark & strong coffee. I prefer a nice medium-to-light roast coffee these days, but I guess that’s probably a pretty common trend, wherever you go.
You tour regularly, traveling all over the place. What are some favorite places and/or experiences you’ve had?
Mexico CIty is one of my favorite places I’ve ever been. It’s a really exciting & beautiful city, & I’ve met the most warm, wonderful & welcoming people there. The first time I ever visited, it was to play a show, & the promoter set me up with a friend of his who had a guest room in his apartment, & I was invited to stay with him for a few days. It turned out that this guy was a very skilled barista who had recently placed second in an international barista competition, behind a barista from Seattle. I was living in Seattle at the time, & this guy was dead set on proving to me that he was the best barista in the world. Every morning, he would make me a different & totally incredible coffee drink. I vividly remember a mocha he made with mexican chocolate & dried chiles. It was the best coffee drink I’d ever tasted, but I told him it was the second best coffee drink I’d ever tasted. He laughed & said “you’re lying! I’m the best. When you go home, tell all of Seattle about this mocha.”
Advance Base, photo by David Guttenfelder
What about Chicago makes it home?
My wife is the biggest reason why I’m here, but I really love this city & its architecture & people. I have great friends here & there is good food & art, & I like being in the middle of the country. I like to tour & travel, & it’s easy to get to a lot of different places from here. Chicago is a great place to come home to, though. I have a cool house with lots of cool stuff in it & I really don’t want to move any time soon.
What are you up to when you’re not writing or touring?
My wife & I have two little kids who keep us pretty busy. After I fix their breakfasts & take them to school, I usually have Orindal orders to pack & other label stuff to take care of. When I have the time, I love to draw & watch movies.
Alright, let’s talk about coffee. How much do you like that stuff?
It’s literally my favorite thing to drink! It’s also the best flavor of ice cream.
How much does it play into your day to day existence?
I was over-caffeinating for a while, so lately, I’ve been trying to limit myself to just one or two cups of coffee during the day, & then sometimes a cup of decaf at night. I started using a hand-grinder for my beans, & that has done a good job of slowing down my consumption. It’s just too much work to drink more than a few cups! It’s worth the effort, though. I really & truly look forward to drinking some coffee every morning when I wake up.
How are you brewing coffee at home?
I have a little Bee House dripper that I use if I’m just fixing a single cup, but if I’m making coffee for anyone else at the same time, I’ll use a french press. I have a ceramic Le Creuset french press that I am very fond of. I can’t even tell you how many glass french presses I’ve broken over the years. The ceramic one has outlasted them all.
A glass French press, like one of many broken by Owen Ashworth. Photo by Kristan Lieb
When you are on tour, do you travel with coffee equipment or just visit cafes along the way?
I have brought a little Aeropress a few times, but the truth is that I really enjoy visiting cafes, because in addition to coffee, they often have snacks, wi-fi, chairs & bathrooms. All of my favorite stuff.
Do you have any favorite cafes you’ve discovered on tour?
Oddly Correct in Kansas City, MO, Fretboard in Columbia, MO, One Line in Columbus, OH & Lighthouse in Seattle, WA are probably my favorites.
Are there any coffee growing regions you are particularly fond of?
I tend to prefer Ethiopian coffee, but I’m not too picky.
How do you feel coffee interacts with your creative process?
I like to have a cup of coffee when I sit down to play music or to draw. The ritual feels nice. It makes me feel like I’m really working on something.
Thanks so much Owen! Lastly have you heard any good jokes lately?
My 6 year old daughter just told me a good one:
Q: What do sea monsters eat for lunch?
A: Fish n ships.
Check out these Advance Base videos from the forthcoming Animal Companionship, out 9/21/18!
Here's Owen playing "True Love Death Dream" on his piano.
Here's "Your Dog", featuring a bunch of really cute dogs.