Dylan Owen Interview
DECEMBER 17 2013
I recently caught up with Dylan Owen, a rising independent artist known for his brand of heart-on-sleeve storytelling. After first releasing the track Ghosts on his 2012 record Keep Your Friends Close, Dylan just unveiled “Ghosts Revisited”—a video that features the talents of director Mike Holland as well as an updated arrangement of the original track.
It's been nearly two years since you first released "Ghosts". What was your main goal behind this project?
I always wanted to make a video for “Ghosts” — this was a perfect chance to revisit the song and give it a new perspective, like looking back on things. So there’s a new chorus, featuring my friend Kiah Victoria, and I wanted to make a video that would capture the feel of the original song and also have the feel of it being updated with what it means to me now. The new chorus is super personal, and gives a more inspired, hopeful approach to the relationship that the song talks about. So now that I’ve been removed from the situation and the relationship for so long, I felt like I was able to look at it again and reflect on it and kind of have a second opinion about it. So it was a really cool opportunity to do that with a song of mine and get to link it to a video, I’ve never had that kind of opportunity before.
What was your idea behind the video?
We wanted to capture the nostalgic, haunting, reminiscent images that I see when I hear the song. The director Mike Holland and I wanted to convey the feeling of memories that stick to me, but were beautiful when they were around. Mike took a Spike Jonze approach to directing; it was super organic, super in the moment, and everyone involved was really together and engaged during the shoot.
I’m sure you’re used to the collaborative process when it comes to songwriting. But is it different when you’re working with filmmakers and people who do a lot of the work when you’re not so much involved in the editing process?
Yeah it is really different, especially because we had to work a lot over the internet and over the phone, because Mike is living up in Ithaca right now, so he’s not based in the city and only here every now and again. And it’s also different, because with songwriting, I feel like I have a lot of the creative opinion as the final answer for me. Whereas with filmmaking, a lot of the creative process is beyond my vocabulary—that’s not my area of expertise. So I have to voice my vision in a way that a director can interpret, and it definitely takes a lot of good communication, and also trust. But I think once you get to the point where you have the same vision, you’re good to go. And I’m really glad that’s what happened here.
This seems like a big project with a lot of people involved; anyone specific you’d like to thank?
So many people. I want to thank all of them because I could not have done it without them. Huge thanks to Mike Holland, Dominic Murphy, Sydney Amanuel, my little bro Noah, Kiah Victoria, Nico Marchese, Kaleigh Young, Gabe Valle, Jason Moss, Mike Falb, Greta Hayes, Joe Salzer, John Scrip, the list goes on and on, and of course everyone who watches this and relates to it.
Before this video, you released “The Window Seat”—is that track a follow up to your 'Keep Your Friends Close' record?
It is, as far as the theme goes. The song is about how I’ve been feeling as a person since Keep Your Friends Close, between then and now, and what it’s been like living down here in New York City. Life has been very different for me, it’s been a bit of an adventure. Sometimes I question if I’m making the most of my time… it’s important that I’m not just watching things pass me by.
What is the most gratifying part of making music?
Well really why I’m making music is as much to affect people as for myself. I really want people who are going through the same things that I am, to be uplifted through music, be inspired, or be like, shit, somebody else relates to me, so it’s going to be okay. So I would say my favorite aspect of doing this is when I can put out music and I know that other people feel the same way I do, and I know that I’ve inspired them, affected them, uplifted them, it’s really that.
How does your creative process change as you start to see people positively responding to your music?
That’s an interesting question, because I actually work really hard to try to not let the process change. I think that the most people are going to respond if I just write from my heart, and write what I’m feeling, and not try to cater it to make people like it, and make people enjoy it. So the most humbling aspect is definitely that, if I just write what I feel, and stick to my guts, and people love it, then that’s like, the best thing man. And that’s super humbling, because it’s like, exactly what I feel is exactly what they’re feeling, and I didn’t have to change myself in any way.
What inspired you to start rapping?
A lot of different things inspired me to start rapping. Back in middle school I loved poetry, spoken word poetry, and I also loved hip hop. Like mainstream hip hop, Jay Z, Kanye West, Eminem, Obie Trice. And I thought that using just my words was the best way to express myself simply because I loved writing. I didn’t play an instrument, I didn’t sing, and I had a lot of creative thoughts I wanted to say out loud. I knew that I was feeling things that I wasn’t afraid to express, and I wanted to be able to do that. So I kind of got into it in a playful sense in the beginning, like rapping punchlines over Mobb Deep instrumentals and stuff like that. And then right around ninth grade, my love for writing and hip hop combined – I wrote my first songs, about my life and things I was feeling, and I started listening to more underground hip hop that I related to more realistically, and that really inspired me, and that’s where I think the start of me as an artist really came about, more than just a kid who was just like, rapping and rhyming.
What would you recommend for people who haven’t yet found that creative outlet or means of expression that you found?
I’m so grateful that I found this, and that I’m so into it. I encourage everybody to try out different things; it can be anything, painting, drawing, etc. I used to draw a lot. Whatever it is for them. Film. People get inspired by so many different things, it doesn’t even need to be something in the arts. I encourage people to try different things, and when they get like, a nice gut, inherent feeling that this is the right thing to be doing, to stick with it, and just to try to do it like a crazy person, and bring it to its full potential, because that’s where you’re going to find happiness in life – doing what you love to do. It will have great benefits, so I encourage people just to try a bunch of different stuff, even if it feels weird.
I used to act a lot too, and that’s definitely like… I never expected to get into acting, and maybe people would be surprised by that, but I don’t know, I loved it. It made me a lot more comfortable on stage. I realized music was my true, one passion if I had to choose, so that’s why I’m sticking with it now.
Tell me about your first performance then — were you still nervous, or did you already have acting experience by then?
I was nervous for sure. It was the very beginning of ninth grade, of high school, and I performed at this Battle of the Bands that they had in the high school. And this was like, the thing; you had to do Battle of the Bands, it was your rite of passage to being a local musician in Goshen High School. I played with my older brother’s band, he was in a ska/rock band called Contains No Fruit Juice. And I was this guest rapper, this little white kid with braces and a Tenacious D t-shirt on (laughs) and it was just like, really unexpected, I guess, for everybody, but it was cool. And that was the first time I had actually put my rhymes into song structure. We had a live trumpet, bass, electric guitar, and drums. That’s on YouTube somewhere, you can watch it if you can find it.
I’m gonna link it in this interview.
(laughs) Oh god please don’t. But yeah, that was the first time, and we won that Battle of the Bands. At the time, that was like… holy shit, we made it. It was ridiculous how nervous I was.
What’s it like being able to interact with fans from all over the world through social media?
It’s really, really cool. I’m so thankful for everybody who loves my music, and relates to it, and connects with it, and keeps up with what I’m doing.
Like last night, at the show, I met this girl afterwards, and she was like, oh I have your songs on my iPod, and it was cool seeing you play. And I was like, oh sweet, where did you hear about me? And she said, my sister who lives in India loves your music, and she showed me. And that’s too crazy. That’s definitely the internet, showing its potential… and it’s so cool, I never thought that people in India—I don’t even know anyone in India—so I never thought that people in India would hear my music let alone listen to it.
So it’s a really cool feeling to post and have everybody react to it, and I think if you stay true to yourself on social media, that works, and that’s what people are going to vibe with most.
I think many artists have certain expectations for their work, and sometimes in the process, they end up becoming their own worst enemy. How do you deal with negative thoughts when making music?
There’s definitely a lot of that in any sort of writing and creative process. Once again, maybe it sounds a little corny, but, if you believe in it enough, then who cares what other people think. Because that’s where a lot of your own personal negativity is coming from, like, oh my god, people are gonna hate this, or this is going to offend people, or whatever. I think if you really believe in the music, then you can forget everything else, I just care about making this so much, and I care about finishing this and coming out with the product I want to come out with, because that’s my dream and that’s what I see in my head. Make what you love, that’s my best advice, and don’t let self-doubt hold you back.
Anything you’d like to say before we wrap up?
I know it might seem like I’ve been laying low, but really I’ve just been working my ass off on new music. I’m creating it more than ever, I’m making new music every single day. I’m just trying to get it to sound exactly the way I want it to be before I release anything, because I know what I want my sound to be, and I can communicate it better with time. Following the “Ghosts Revisited” video, new music will be coming out, and I cannot wait to share it. And thank you so much to anybody and everybody who has been listening, and paying attention, and interacting with me online, I love you guys. I can’t wait to share the new stuff with you, and I know you’re going to love it. Much love.
Stay connected with Dylan and his music at the links below.