Thursday, March 30, 2006

Casiotone For the Painfully Alone, more often called cftpa is the musical genius of Owen Ashworth. A twenty-something endearing singer/songwriter, Ashworth serenades audiences with heartfelt stories backed by catchy synth-pop melodies. With his latest release Etiquette, cftpa explores a new musical voice through different and at times, minimalist keyboard and organ effects, as well as both computerized and live drum beats.

In “Young Shields,” the premier track of the album, Ashworth writes on the desperation of teenage years with lyrics like “we quit our jobs and shoot the moon and cut our wrists and sleep ‘till noon.” Etiquette is laden with stories referencing parents and children. He continues in the track to describe the paradox of being young—the ability of feeling almost invincible (a shield), yet finding a nervous feeling of fragility and insecurity in life in this masterful chilling track.

I caught up with the cftpa/donkeys tour in march at the Nightlight in Chapel Hill [see below for exclusive live tracks from their performance]. Many of the other songs on the album were altered in cftpa’s latest live performance on tour with The Donkeys to include the shimmering alt-country touch that The Donkeys add to their music. These adaptations of both new and old cftpa songs were a welcomed addition to the live show Ashworth provides. The addition of a full band in some songs proved Ashworth’s versatility as an artist in switching from an intimate solitary performer, to an entertaining frontman.

Although cftpa’s popularity is increasing exponentially, spawning a huge increase in air time on college radio stations, and an appearance as ambient music in the Fox’s "The O.C.", sadly only eleven people were in attendance at the Nightlight show. Even still, The Donkeys and especially cftpa deserve a much larger crowd for the high caliber of musical performances they give. For five dollars, Ashworth will make you want to dance, reflect, and even cry.

1) To begin, I'm curious to know how you came to decide to make music on mostly older casiotone keyboards.

It was an experiment. I've always liked the idea of making one's own rules in art, and I was curious to see what sort of ideas would come out of defining a very strict palette. I appreciated bands with instantly recognizable aesthetics- bands like Suicide, Young Marble Giants, Big Black. I was challenging myself to find ingenuity within strict set of limitations. I knew for a long time that I wanted to make three albums within that set of limitations, and then it would be time to try something else. Etiquette is the something else.

2) So the new record is titled Etiquette. Any particular reason behind this title?

The title and cover came from a dream I had about the album while I was still writing and recording the songs. I decided to trust the dream and try to recreate the imaginary album as close as possible. I asked Heidi Anderson, who painted the Twinkle Echo cover, to paint the cover based on a one paragraph description of what I saw in the dream, and the dream ended up dictating many of the themes and aesthetics of the album.

3) Among other notable reviews, your new album is number 2 on the charts at my school's station, WUAG at UNC-Greensboro. Do you feel that Etiquette has been more successful than your other records, and if so, why?

I think it was absolutely been more successful than the previous albums, and there are a few different reasons for that. For one thing, I think it's a stronger and more accessible record than what I'd made in the past, and for another thing, Tomlab paid a shit ton of money to publicists to make sure that people knew about the record.

4) Do you think the new record shows versatility in that you incorporate more instruments and voices than we've heard on previous records? Any thoughts or comments on this?

Etiquette was the first album I'd opened up to different instruments and musicians and ideas. I spent three albums figuring out what sort of songs I wanted to write, and I think the songs on Etiquette are still recognizable as my own, but just way way fancier. It feels very liberating.

5) The songs on the new album are more minimalist at times in that they make more use of silence and aren't quite as lo-fi as other records you've done. What was your thought process in the writing period of this record?

I wanted to let go of what Casiotone records were supposed to sound like and pay attention to qualities I admired in some of my favorite sounding records. I wanted to trust Jherek and Jason's instincts as friends and musicians and engineers and try to make something collaborative and exciting and grand.

6) By the time this interview is published, you will have finished the tour. Did it go as well as planned? Where are your favorite places to perform?

I still have a week between here and home, but it's been a great tour. I've had a lot of fun on this tour, and I've been very proud of the performances. I feel good. We had some great shows in Texas. Boston was a lot of fun. Albany was surprisingly great for having never played there before. We're playing in Rochester tonight [last week], which I'm excited about. I kind of have a crush on that town.

7) In your latest tour you performed quite a number of songs with tourmates the Donkeys, adding a country twang to a couple classic cftpa favorites. What inspired this?

The Donkeys are old friends of mine, and we've played music together off and on for some years. This is the third or fourth tour I've done with Anthony, the piano player. This is something we've been wanting to do for a while, and now seemed like the right time.

8) Most of the songs on this album and other albums tell detailed short stories. Are these stories usually based on real people or self experience or are they mostly imagined? In other words, are Jeane, Toby, and Bobby Malone real people?

The stories and characters are fictional, but they are certainly based on real things. I don't know anybody named Bobby Malone, but he sure reminds me of some people I know. I feel no obligation to tell true stories. They just have to be good stories.

9) The beats on the new album are much more complex and sometimes comprised of live drum records, obviously not made from the same keyboards on your previous work. Did you write the beats on the record?

I certainly did. I mostly used a Korg EM-1 and a Korg ES-1 for the beats. Some of the sounds are tweaked presets and some are samples taken from a bunch of different sources. Four of the songs use live drums instead of drum machines, but I would usually make a drum machine beat first to show Jason or Nick what I was looking for.

10) The relationships between parents and children seem to be explored on this record quite a bit through the tracks "scattered pearls," "happy mother's day," "young shields," and "cold white Christmas." Can you explain some of the reasoning and symbolism in these songs?

I've wanted to make a sort of loose concept album about families for a few years now. Etiquette isn't that album exactly, but a lot of the themes of guilt and obligation and comfort that go along with my idea of family worked their way into many of the songs. I made a point to sing about overtly non-romantic situations, because any relationship in a pop song left open to interpretation will almost always be read as your standard boy-girl sort of story and life is more interesting than that.

11) I read on your blog that you've recently relocated to Chicago, Ill. What made you decide to move and how has this affected your progress with cftpa?

Howlin' Wolf moved to Chicago. It's a handsome city. I've only been there a few months and I'm still finding my way around my neighborhood. It's too early to know what living in Chicago will change about CFTPA. I didn't move there with a business plan. I bet you I will probably end up playing more shows in Wisconsin than I ever dreamed.

12) What can we expect from cftpa in the future?

I'm going to Seattle to record a few new songs with Jenny and Jherek after the spring tours. I think there will be some singles and things coming later this year, along with more touring. New album in 2030.

-thanks to Owen Ashworth in being so patient for the interview process. –Naveed Hassan

mp3] Cold White Christmas
mp3] Young Shields
video] The Subway Home
[web] Casiotone for the Painfully Alone


1 Thoughts:

Anonymous Sagnik G on 3:21 am

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