Interview with Karis Owen
Photo by Carol Simpson
Meet the band who nearly had to fight some bears to write their single “Atlantic Girl”.
Karis Owen has created a new kind of music that I’ve never heard before. Between their latest singles “North Caroline” and “Atlantic Girl”, they have established an amazing sound, that is a secret begging to be exposed.
Learn all of the small, yet hilarious, recording secrets and the journey of the band right here.
Elise - How did you all become a band?
Joseph - Sean and I used to be in a band way back when. Then I moved to Wisconsin and I got sick of not playing music anymore. So I got back in contact with Sean and we started sending song ideas to each other.
Sean - Yeah he started sending me voice memos, from his empty room with no mattress, right?
Joseph - Yeah, I lived like a hobo haha.
Sean - That's when we started Karis Owen, at the time that was just me and him, and now its grown far more.
Kyle - I own a recording studio full time, and when I was first starting out I went to some gigs, passing out business cards. I went to one venue and Karis Owen was playing, and I was drinking heavily, moscow mules, and it gave me the courage to go up to them and say “Hey, I loved your set and I would love to record you guys for... free.” The singer at the time didn't want anything to do with me, but these guys were interested. Months later they came to the studio and started recording three songs, which took a year to record, because the singer would take a month to lock in a date, and have nothing prepared to record. So I approached Joseph and Sean and told them that their singer isn’t very good, and that he’s holding you guys back, you should kick him out. Of course they were like “yeah yeah sure” and I didn't think they would actually do it, then the next time I saw them they said “Yeah, we kicked our singer out”. I couldn’t believe that they actually did it, like really? Then they said “Well what do we do now?”. I said “Well lets just book some sessions, you guys write some vocal parts and lyrics, and I’ll sing them because I can sing,”. So that way when they got a singer, he can just sing what I sang. Then we started having a lot of fun. It was kind of organic, they didn't get on one knee and propose to me.
Elise - It was like one thing led to another?
Kyle - Exactly one thing lead to another.
Elise - (to Grace) And how did you join?
Grace - Literally last week.
Kyle - The musical progression that's been going on has included lots of piano and synths, and we didn’t want to be a band that gets up on stage and hits play on a bunch of backing tracks. Last week, we were in the studio and we were talking about having a keyboard on stage and possibly being able to do some of these parts, it would be very difficult while I was singing to do them, but Grace is my fiance, and I met her on tour in my old band, she’s from England, just moved to America a few weeks ago, and we’ve known each other for ages, she was singing in a band, they opened for us and that's how we met.
Grace - I was just 16 at that time.
Kyle - Sean forced her to sing for us. We really wanted female vocals on this song we are working on and Sean literally forced her to do it. She was like “Eh I don’t really know if I wanna do it,” and Sean would say “Yeah no no just do it,” and she did it, and it was absolutely perfect. At that moment we were like, this is us. Having a little female energy in the band was needed. Me and Sean share a bed a lot, any time we play out or record abroad, Sean and I would share a bed.
Sean - Yeah I sleep on the floor of the recording studio a lot now, because Grace and Kyle are together.
Joseph - Now you don’t have your cuddle buddy.
Sean - Well now I get to sleep with you so...
Elise - Let’s talk a little bit about your latest song “Atlantic Girl”, I listened to it the whole way here, I love it, how did you come up with such a creative sound? I’ve never heard something that is so upbeat yet classic at the same time, can you describe the song a little for me?
Kyle - That's actually a really good way to put it.
Sean - We are really just a super guitar based band and started having a lot of fun with logic plug ins, using my vocal melodies, I’m a really horrible singer with even with auto tune and Kyle like samples them, and it starts to trigger my wacky vocal melodies.
Joseph - We wrote the whole song in North Carolina basically.
Kyle - We got an Airbnb in The Smoky Mountains 40 minutes away from civilization and we flushed out the previous release, “North Caroline” and we had a little bit of time but we didn't get to finish it, we kinda just wrote as a band in the airbnb living room on the couch and we wrote the song “Atlantic Girl”, no lyrics or anything like that, we didn't really develop it. We went back to my recording studio in Massachusetts and Sean did his thing which is, like he said, he’s a bad singer, but we just use auto tune and he writes lyrics, but he doesn’t have the ability to sing the lyrics, all he has the ability to do is (an extremely strange sound that trying to spell would do no justice) and then he’ll write the lyrics, give them to me to plug in and something about that process just works out so good. Sean sings in falsetto, so it forces me to sing something I would never sing. It’s really belting, it forces me to sing something really painful but awesome, a lot of the parts I cant hit so I kind of just scream them.
Elise - I thought that was really cool too, how it can go from singing, and then you straight up yell.
Kyle - I don’t think I would do that naturally, but I’m trying to mimic his falsetto things and it just happens. But his sound samples sound so funny that I actually put them in the background of the song. All of his little (strange noise again) is actually a scratch vocal that I put into the background.
Sean - On one of the next tracks it’s so augmented that you cant even tell its my voice in the background.
Kyle - I owe all of the vocal melodies, and all of the lyrics to Sean, he’s a genius, and he has no shame. No filter, no shame.
Sean - I just have no capability.
Kyle - Bands in my studio always ask questions and I break it down for them. The first thing I do is play Sean’s solo vocal track, and they always crack up laughing, asking “What is that, is this a joke?” And then I put the whole song on and I play it in the song and they’re like, “I would’ve never known that that was vocals.”
Sean - I write this shit at home too, and like wait till my girlfriend leaves, then I’ll record because I’m too embarrassed to do it when she’s around.
Elise - So you guys haven’t played any shows in a while, right?
Sean - It’s been a while yeah
Elise - Are there gonna be some soon? Do you miss it?
Joseph - We are really aiming for this summer, trying to play several in New England.
Kyle - So lets make a decision off the cuff right here, I love spontaneity, we’ve got “North Caroline”, we’ve got “Atlantic Girl”, and we have two others in the mix, and possibly two others that are like demos, are we gonna put this on like an EP or an album?
Joseph - I would like to make a long EP or a short album. Like, 8 songs.
Elise - Ooh, a sneak peak.
Kyle - Yeah just happened, like right now. We’ve mentioned it but, I think that it’s a good idea. I don’t just want to release a million singles and we want to keep releasing singles, so if we do a long EP we can keep releasing singles.
Sean - And we have two music videos, for “North Caroline” and “Atlantic Girl” coming soon.
(quick break to talk with the waitress about a fancy pink drink)
Sean - I’m itching to play live, but it’s really been reinventing and writing a lot, when we do play live, our engineer will probably join us on bass. Kyle records all our bass sounds.
Elise - I hope I can make it out to some of those shows, because most of my family lives in Massachusetts.
Kyle - Yeah my recording studio is in Westport, I work full time there. Larry is a business partner of mine. Grace works there, Sean works on it, he’s like our general contractor, because we are undergoing renovations and additions.
Joseph - I say I work there but I don’t actually do anything.
Kyle - Actually he was my first studio tech.
Elise - Our readers are really curious about what it’s like being in the music industry, so could you give me a run down of what it’s like to break through and get recognized?
Kyle - It’s horrible. I mean, I’m very old, much older then you. I was in a band prior to this called war games that did six years on Warped Tour, a handful of US tours, a handful of European tours, dropped out of school, invested everything into trying to break through, and it was brutal. It was physically and mentally taxing, when all was said and done, eventually people were like we have to get careers and real jobs because we are getting older. That was tough for me because it was my entire identity, and I took that band so seriously, it was everything to me. When I lost that I felt pretty worthless, and I found that being in the recording studio kinda scratched that itch and I started recording bands and inspiring them, and telling them about my journey, and my trials and tribulations that are trying to do what I did and really enjoyed interfacing with artists like that every day. And when these guys came along and I kinda slipped myself into the band, it was never mine, it was an outlet for me to express myself creatively. I didn't even tell anyone I was in the band for months. I was like oh yeah Karis Owen yeah those guys are cool, I didn't know where it would go, and I had a lot of fun working with them, and we started working more collaboratively, and some of these recent songs have had some of my best friends reaching out to me and saying these songs are amazing, these songs are the best songs you’ve ever been a part of. One of my good friends said something that really resonated with me, which was “this is what your old band lacked, playfulness. You took everything so seriously and so emotionally that you didn't let yourself tap into the fun parts, which is organic music and fun things.” And I think that was really true. Because I didn't care about Karis Owen, I kind of just had fun with it, and it tapped into this character almost, and I’m just realizing it now that this is so cool, and this is really organic. None of us could’ve planned the way this band ended up. I’ve realized this now after being in music for 10-15 years that playing in bands I’ve discovered that when you’re in the studio working on things, if you’re cracking up and laughing, and time is really flying by, you’re probably making something amazing, and really organic, you’re not trying to hard to make something. I don’t even remember what the question was hahah.
Joseph - That's kind of like our philosophy.
Sean - Like if we aren’t having fun making it, then you probably won’t have fun listening to it.
Elise - What do you guys do besides writing, recording, what helps you when you’re in a block and you want more creativity?
Sean - I… get on an airplane.
Joseph - Get on an airplane?
Sean - I can write on an airplane because I don’t have guitars and things in front of me.
Grace - That's a bit expensive isn’t it?
Joseph - Yeah self imposed limitations are great for creativity.
Sean - And I find that with the recording studio we have some limitations. We don’t have every single amp, we don’t have every single guitar.
Kyle - That's one of my philosophies, suffrage and restriction create more. I always give the example that we find this new band and they’re fresh and the world picks up on them and they become a little bit more successful, and now they have a bigger budget to go into the studio and more tools at their disposal. So many times they put out an album that's not raw and like the previous album. A lot of bands can successfully do it and put out an album that's great. But a lot of bands put out this vanilla record and personally I create some of the best art and music when restricted. With most bands it’s because of finances-
Joseph - So you come up with creative solutions.
Sean - When we kind of just locked ourselves in the cabin for a week, we were like this is it, we have to come out of here with something so let’s just do it.
Kyle - And like you said, just getting away. “North Caroline” was such a good song because we had a successful experience, because really getting into the mountains and away helped us.
Sean - And when we pulled in the driveway we saw that bear fight!
Elise - What haha?
Kyle - They were like wrestling each other. And they were blocking the driveway to the house.
Elise - Could you get a better experience?
Kyle - Right?! And we were like beeping the horn, and Sean's like, you know, nudge them. And I said “No man they probably have thumbs and they’ll open the door up.”
Grace - That is crazy
Kyle - So at four in the morning we are just honking the horn at bears and flashing the lights, and eventually they moved. Yeah, creating restrictions, moving around, (pointing to Grace) bring new people in the band, have someone listen, get a new producer, have a feature.
Sean - I really like listening to something that is the opposite genre, like latino electro, synth pop stuff.
Joseph - Bomber stereo.
Elise - Does working in the recording studio and hearing other bands inspire you?
Sean - Totally. Totally yeah.
Kyle - Very much so. It’s like my job now. Every single day is a new experience. I deal with roadblocks in the recording studio every single day. It’s really helped me know how to identify and work around those things. I don’t see creativity or writing blocks as an issue really. And not for Sean either. Every time he comes to the studio he has like 10 songs
Elise - He’s just a writing machine
Sean - But the other thing is I don’t know anything about engineering so I just throw him everything.
Joseph - We call Sean dumpster fire.
Elise - Have you been doing a lot of interviews or just features here and there?
Sean - We are really just scratching the tip of the iceberg
Kyle - Yeah we were really focused on our product, now we are getting to the point where we are really proud of this stuff and we need to get it in somebody's ears. He is right, we are scratching the surface. We are getting ready to throw all of this into a record as we just decided.
(lots of laughter)
Elise - Yeah as just decided in this band meeting/interview
Kyle - I like spontaneity like I said haha just force yourself to make a decision. Of course we’ve been chatting about it a little bit, but I dont think its like “Hey let’s get married.” We can still have a kid of course if that's what you want. Larry you want in on the kid?
Larry - I’ve already been there done that.