Local musician Ryan Owens does a better job of describing his sound than anyone else possibly could, even though he said in a GO interview that he has always struggled with said description. “I have felt I hit the nail on the head very well calling it John Lee Hooker making a punk record,” he said. “I really love and appreciate the old jazz and blues records, but I am unable to pull myself away from playing electric guitar at an obscene volume.”

As for the rest of the conversation, it went a little like this:

Where are you from, and where do you currently live?

I grew up in northern New Jersey and lived there (minus a brief stint in Boston) until the end of February 2011, when I moved up to Portland.

“Devil-be-gone” is your lathe-cut 7-inch EP. Who plays on it, and aren’t you due to release a follow-up soon?

On that record, I performed vocal/guitar tracks with a backing band comprised of Miranda Taylor (drums), Erin Hays (bass), Mordechai Rosenblatt (bass), Jeff Shroeck (guitar), Dragana Drobnjak (organ) and my father on horn. The 7-inch I have coming out in June is titled “Awl,” and features myself on guitar/vocals/drum (sometimes all three recorded at once, sometimes the vocal overdubbed later). There were a few songs during that session that are available in demo form featuring Sierra Roberts (The Outfits), Elliot Heeschen (Meghan Yates & The Reverie Machine) and session engineer Todd Hutchisen (Baltic Sea) helping with backing vocals. 

Tell us about the box drum that you play.

The box drum is merely a box used in place of a bass or floor tom drum. As far as I can ascertain, the history of it goes back to folk playing without accompaniment and stomping their foot to keep time. If one were to search around, there are all sort of boutique builders making tiny stomp boxes with a jack to allow use with an amplifier.

I first started playing with one about two years ago, but in my experiences with them, they do not sound impressive, so I was rather reluctant to try playing with one in a live situation. That all changed when I received the idea for the design from Winnipeg native Greg Rekus when he was performing at a venue where I was working sound.

After soundcheck, I went up to Greg and inquired about several models I had used, and before I could voice my disappointment with them, he had stated his own lack of enthusiasm with them. I use the same playing style I saw Greg using: Standing/dancing atop the box to provide a visual dynamic that you often do not get with a “person with guitar” live situation.

It certainly strikes me as funny that I had not previously thought to build a large box to get the sound of a large box (mine is about 3 feet by 3 feet by 14 inches off the ground versus the boutique models that are less than a foot in any dimension).

What kind of guitar do you play, and when did you first start playing?

I am actually not a guitarist by trade. I first started receiving electric jazz bass lessons when I was 12 and continued with that until age 17, when I transitioned over toward playing in punk bands.

Around that same time, I started having a few friends show me rudiments of guitar playing, but largely any electric guitar training I have had came from a jazz guitar and music theory workbook I purchased around the time I turned 22.

I currently play a Rickenbacker model 450 electric guitar, but I am looking to retire that as my live instrument soon with a guitar being built for me by Nameless Instruments. The Rickenbacker is a lovely thing I have been chasing since I started playing, but I am a little too ham-fisted to have nice things as non-studio instruments.

When did you develop that raw, gutsy vocal style?

Honestly, when I first started off, I was just trying to do my best impression of the guitarist from Aus-Rotten, but as I got older, I tried to swipe cues from Captain Beefheart and Howlin’ Wolf for the most part.

What’s next for you?

I am getting ready to do a couple of jaunts in June and July to play along the East Coast and possibly west toward Chicago. After that, I aim to find someone looking to release an LP lest I continue to self-release into oblivion. Beyond that, I am continually trying to figure out the logistics of West Coast dates, given that I have a large amount of lumber to bring with me to every show.

To hear clips and read more about Ryan Owens, head to r-s-o.bandcamp.com.

Staff Writer Aimsel Ponti can be contacted at 791-6455 or at:

[email protected]

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