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Sick Thoughts interview with Drew Owen

Normally I would use the term lo-fi to describe Drew Owen’s one-man band alter ego Sick Thoughts.  The Mummies own the term “Budget Rock” and besides, most bands haven’t earned what The Mummies have.  What?  It’s the truth and you know it!  I think even they would make an exception in this case though.  Sick Thoughts is probably the rawest, most pure music I’ve heard aside from the seminal greats like The Mummies and Daniel Johnston whose careers centered around that personal, DIY, Budget Rock approach to music.  At only sixteen Drew is already creating a back-catalog most people would be envious of.  He knows how to take advantage of the affordable, one might even call it cheap?  Recording technology that surrounds him!  I would say Sick Thoughts are coming down from their steady stream of singles, including the Blood Red 7” on one of the best labels going right now Goodbye Boozy Records, for the release of the debut album Terminal Teen Age for Dead Beat Records, but while I was interviewing Drew he posted three new albums from another one-man project he created called Caught and told me about several upcoming releases, so in short I don’t see the hits slowing down anytime soon!  It’s hard to explain how a song that remains barely audible throughout can also contain such an infectiously catchy and deceptively interesting melody.  Sick Thoughts are definitely a “warts and all” kind of band, but I get the feeling that we’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the recordings.  You don’t often come across a punk band, especially not a high-school punk band, that isn’t completely phony, and when you do they’re usually drunken psychopaths and completely impossible to deal with.  That isn’t the case with Drew and you can tell from the get go.  He has all the animosity, anger, fear and hatred that I expect from good hardcore punk in his music but he isn’t hung up on talking about the same old shit over and over again; I don’t recall a single song about drinking cheap beer and puking in the parking-lot, which is all fine and well but gets a little retread with all the wanna be’s out there that have been stinking up the scene for years.  Some people might think I’m giving a teenage, do-it-yourselfer a little too much credit here; those people obviously have not listened to his back catalog of music!  His newest effort, and first long-play, Terminal Teen Age dropped a month or two early and I managed to score a copy as it’s the only thing he’s put out that isn’t available streaming online and I was chomping at the bits to hear it.  Let me just put it this way, I am going to put a link to his Bandcamp page that houses all the other Sick Thoughts stuff, if you like what you hear there then dash over to Dead Beat and score a copy of Terminal Teen Age because this has gotta be the best punk album I’ve heard all year, no questions asked!

Listen while you read:

Now I know that you perform all the instrumentation for the Sick Thoughts recordings yourself but I also know you’re joined on stage by a drummer, which at one point was Southpaw’s own Rob Fales.  Do you have a de facto live drummer or is a changing rotation of people?  Does anyone else help you out on stage with other instrumentation?

The lineup just depends on who can and can't do it.  Right now my friend William Chapstick is my drummer.  Rob Doesntwantajob was like my mentor.  For now, it’s just a two piece.

Why the one-man band approach to your music as opposed to working or collaborating with other musicians?  In your opinion what are the best and worst things about doing everything yourself?

I like the one-man recording thing ‘cause I don't have anybody to answer to or to please, and if I don't like it I can only blame myself.  Best thing about it is there’s no one to bitch at you if they don't like it or wanna do something else.  Worst thing is recording in a room for eight straight hours, sweating, screaming, and losing your mind.

I know from reading some previous articles and interviews that you work alone out of preference and have kind of avoided bands with other members.  However earlier this year you released the I Wish For My Own Death EP with Nick Vance of Kent State playing with you under the moniker Deformities.  I Wish For My Own Death was absolutely amazing, do you all plan to work together at all in the future?  Do you have any other plans to involve other musicians in some other future projects?

Thanks man.  Yeah I do like doing my stuff alone.  Deformities is an exception.  I knew Nick from Baltimore’s Deep Sleep.  He was one of the first dudes I sent my Sick Thoughts stuff too.  We have a full-length LP ready to go, just need a label to step up ha-ha!  I might play keyboards in my friends band Roid Boss, but it’s up to them.  Not sure about any other future bands.

Where are you originally from?

I’m originally from Hanover, Pennsylvania.  Moved here when I was like five or six.

Was your household very musical growing up?  Were either your parents or any of your relatives musicians or extremely involved or interested in music?

Ha-ha not really.  My dad listened to a lot of 90’s grunge stuff in his car though.  He was real into punk stuff when he was my age.  My mom liked stuff like The Cure or The Smiths.  My stepdad showed me Styx and I still love Styx ha-ha.

What was your first real exposure to music?

Maybe just listening to CDs in my dad’s car, ha-ha!

If you had to pick one defining moment of music; a moment that changed everything and opened the infinite doors of possibilities to you musically what would it be?

Probably when I got all of Beck's stuff when I was in elementary school.  All those early records with the hillbilly songs and the punk stuff blew my mind.

When did you start recording the material that would become Sick Thoughts?  Can you talk a little bit about the process and evolution of how the project began?

I got this little box that plugged my guitar into my computer and let me record stuff.  I just started writing songs by myself.

What made you decide that you wanted to start writing and recording your own music and when was that?

I knew I had nothing better to do with my time.  So I just decided to go all out and do as much stuff as I could.  I had just gotten into stuff like the Spits, The Reatards and The Oblivians.

A lot of people might not know this, but despite your prolific musical output you’re only sixteen years old at this point (2013).  How do you juggle being in school and not only creating such a massive output of music but live shows and that kind of thing?  Is it difficult to have the two equally cohabitate your life?

I just kinda bullshit my way through it.  I hate school with a burning passion.  I put more energy and time into my music but still manage to get decent "grades" in school.

While we’re talking so much about your history can you tell me about who some of your major musical influences are?  When I first heard “Blood Red” from the Goodbye Boozy 7” all I could think was that Jay Reatard must have managed to have some bizarre love child with The Mummies before he passed away!  Are there any influences that you would cite that affect Sick Thoughts in particular?

Ha-ha thanks!  The Carbonas, Oblivians, Timmy Vulgar, and Jay are my biggest influences in my music definitely.

Can you tell me about the typical songwriting process?  Do you usually start off with an idea on a particular instrument, i.e. a guitar riff or drum beat, and build from there or does it vary from song to song?

It really varies.  The dumbest way is probably when I, think of song titles and write down thirty to forty ideas then write the songs around the name.  Other times I'll start from a chord progression or a bass line.  Just depends on how I feel.

Do you do a lot of work on a song before you start recording it?  Do you tighten down and figure out all the changes or is it more of situation where the song can change, evolve and sometimes even emerge from the seeming chaos of experimental recording?

I put in barely any work to speak off ha-ha.  I will just record a guitar only demo on my PC then go straight into recording the full version whenever I have a couple of minutes.  99% the structure stays the same as the guitar demos.  The first two demos were total fuck-arounds, but now I know how to play my shit so I can properly record.

How do you handle recording?  I know you are well known for your lo-fi sound and blown out production values but getting that sound without losing the melody or charm of the song is a tight wire act.  Do you do the recording yourself?  Who handles the post production end of the music?

Whenever I record something I want the sound to be different from any one of my records before, just to have a fresh sound.  Lo-fi is a weird term for me, I like budget-rock ha-ha.  Some people will try to make their records sound badly recorded or lo-fi on purpose but I think that’s bullshit.  I do all the recordings on my 4-track.  Post-production is just me panning the guitars and mixing on my 4-track into my computer.  I’m gonna a get a double cassette deck so I can mixdown on tape.

Do you enjoy recording?  You are extremely prolific and constantly releasing new music on your Bandcamp page as well as having a pretty steady stream of releases this past year.  As a musicians myself I know that most of us can really appreciate that final product, there’s not a whole lot in the world that beats holding an album in your hands knowing that it’s yours and you made it.  Getting that material recorded, getting all those tracks laid down and sounding right, that can be a trying task to say the least.  How is it recording for you?

Ha-ha I didn't even know what prolific meant until someone told me I was earlier this year.  I’ll never record if I don't feel like it.  If I do, it'll just feel like a miserable job.  Yeah man I can relate with you.  I can appreciate the fact that I managed to record it in time with the other instruments ha-ha.  Whenever I start getting bored or don't like it anymore, I’ll stop recording.

As I’ve mentioned several times before you are a prolific musician and have amassed a fairly massive back catalog of music in the short period that you’ve been releasing music.  Can we take a little bit of time now and talk about your albums?  You’re first release that I’m aware of was the Cut A Rug demo cassette which was released as a cassette tape by Rob on Southpaw.  Was the recording of Cut A Rug a fun pleasurable experience for you?  Can you tell us about the recording of the Cut A Rug material?  Where and when was it recorded?  Who recorded it?  What kind of equipment was used?

For sure.  Around February/March 2013 I bought myself a 4-track and recorded eight guitar tracks on it.  Late March I went to the hospital because I was extremely suicidal and needed to get help.  I left the hospital in April and came home to eight guitar tracks with no other instruments.  I bought a cheap mic and a drum set and recorded the drums.  Then I wrote the lyrics and recorded the vocals in a day or so.  I recorded it in my old bedroom.  I didn't have an amp at the time so I just plugged my guitar straight in and double tracked the guitars; one side real trebly and the other bassy. Mics were cheap ten-dollar junk.  I still use ‘em ha-ha!

You followed up the Cut A Rug demo tape with another, Deformation in 2013 again on Southpaw.  Was the recording of the material for Deformation very different than the recording of the Cut A Rug material?  Who recorded it?  What kind of equipment was used?  Where was it recorded and when was that?

I’d say so.  My first recordings we're all done guitar first and drums second ‘cause I didn't know how to play drums.  For some reason my playing on Cut A Rug was a lot more in time than Deformation.  There are so many fuck ups all over Deformation ha-ha-ha!  This time I used a practice amp and a distortion pedal.  I recorded it in my bedroom shortly after I did Cut A Rug, I think late May.

I did a little bit of looking but it doesn’t appear that either of the demo tapes were ever listed on the official Southpaw site though.  Were those cassette release limited?  If so do you know how many copies it were they limited to?  Are those still in print?  If so where’s the best place for fans to pick up a copy?

Rob sold ‘em for a bit on the site.  But then took ‘em down to save them for shows.  Real limited.  Only 100 of each.  Rob made ‘em just as a band member really.  I need to buy them from him to sell ‘em now.  The MP3s are free now.

You also put out two split EPs this year (2013), the first of which was the Uncle Curt split.  Can you talk a little bit about the recording of the material for that split?  When and where was it recorded?  Who recorded it and what kind of equipment was used?

My friend Jacob from Virginia asked me to do a split with him, so we just did three songs each as a digital only thing.  Those were just songs I came up with on the spot, except for the Buck Biloxi cover.  I had just heard "Shut The Hell Up" and really loved it, so I decided to cover it.

Then there was the Acid Bath split shortly thereafter.  Was the recording of the material very different from the session(s) for the earlier Uncle Curt split?  Can you tell us about the recording of that material?

My friend Erica asked me to do one with her too.  I recorded both splits in two or three hours at my house sometime in July.

Now I know that both the Uncle Curt and Acid Bath split releases are available digitally your Bandcamp page, are they available physically as well or are those digital only releases?  If they are available physically what format were they released on, where is the best place to pick them up and are they limited releases?  If they aren’t available in any physical formats at this point are there any plans to make them available as such in the future or will they remain digital only?

No they're digital only.  There was talk of doing a tape release but I don't have a lot of money.  Maybe if someone does a greatest hits record for Sick Thoughts they'll be released ha-ha-ha-ha!

On top of the demo tapes and split releases you also released the Blood Red single on one of the last and most true independent record labels out there, not to mention one of my all-time favorites, Goodbye Boozy Records.  It was a single-sided 7” featuring two tracks, “Blood Red” and “I’m Gonna Miss You”.  I’ve often though like your music sounded like an insane combination of solo Roky Erickson and The Mummies and when I picked up the single you were even wearing a Mummies t-shirt on the cover so I have to ask, does “I’m Gonna Miss You” have any relation or connection with Roky’s song “You’re Gonna Miss Me”?  Either way can you tell us about the recording of those songs?  Were they something that you wrote specifically for the single or had they been kicking around for a while looking for a home? 

I just got one of Roky's solo records that just got reissued and love it.  Before I was only familiar with the 13th Floor Elevators.  The 13th Floor Elevators song and my song have no connection other than Gonna and Miss ha-ha.  I had released a third demo called Young And Done around July on my Bandcamp as digital only that had "Blood Red" and "I’m Gonna Miss You" on it.  But I took it off because five of the songs on the A-Side of my LP come from Young And Done.

How did you get hooked up with Gabrielle originally?  Did you enjoy working with him?  Goodbye Boozy releases some of the most amazing music that tips me off to some of the best underground bands from around the planet and they have been doing so for years now so I’m always curious what people’s opinions of the label are!

Gabrielle hit me up and asked me to do a record.  Of course man, Goodbye Boozy is one of the best labels in this scene.  It’s a shame it’s so expensive to press records.  Goodbye Boozy could take over the world.

Can’t Stand Ya Records followed the Goodbye Boozy release with another 7” single, Need No One.  Was the recording of the material for this single very similar to your earlier singles?  When was that material recorded?  Who recorded it and when was that?  What kind of material was used?  Is that release a limited one?  If so do you know how many copies it’s limited to?

No this one was different.  This was the first time I recorded drums first.  I didn't think I could do it but I managed to get it done.  I had plans for a fourth demo release after Young And Done but Can’t Stand Ya Records got in touch with me and picked three songs for a 7".  I recorded it and rushed it.  Everything’s way too fuzzy and bassy.  It’s limited to 300 copies.

Originally scheduled for an early 2014 release date your debut full-length came out earlier this month (December 2013) through Dead Beat Records, Terminal Teen Age.  Did you approach the songwriting or recording of this material knowing that it was going to be your first full-length album?  Or did you even know it was going to be an album?  Was it a cool new experience working on a full album or was it too different a little frustrating compared to working on so many singles and EPs?  What can our readers expect from the new album?

Yeah.  I tried to write the best material I could come up with.  Most of the tracks on the B-Side are some of the first songs I ever wrote, even before Cut A Rug.  Tom from Dead Beat asked me to do a full-length so I took my time and tried to do the best I could.  Was a little frustrating ‘cause this time I knew it was gonna be my one and only chance to make a good debut.  I did each instrument each day for about three days straight.  The last day of recording I tracked vocals on twenty songs and my throat was bleeding by the end of the day ha-ha!  I guess you could expect a "loaf-eye", "raw", "garage punk", thirteen track record from a teenager who isn't too bright.

There is an exclusive mail-order only edition of 100 red Terminal Teen Age LPs available from Dead Beat Records. Is the black wax edition of Terminal Teen Age a limited release affair?  If so do you know how many copies it is limited to?

Yes there's 100 pressed on Red Vinyl and 400 on Black Vinyl.

You also recently started releasing music via Bandcamp under another name Caught and already have two EPs, Unrequited and You Will Be The End Of Me of material available which is darker, heavier and has a much more straightforward hardcore edge to it.  Can you talk a little bit about the distinction between Caught and Sick Thoughts?  I know at least the first Caught EP Unrequited was a solo effort again with you playing all of the instruments.  Is that the plan for the future with Caught or do you plan on involving other musicians in that band at some point?  What exactly if anything does the future hold for Caught?  Do you ever plan on performing that material live?

I’ve been into black metal since I was twelve or so and always wanted to do a metal band.  Sick Thoughts is a live punk band and more focused, while Caught is more of an experimental project.  I hate the whole thing metal bands get stuck in where they only play one kind of metal, whether it be  thrash, grind, atmospheric, depressive or whatever.  I want to have complete freedom and try different things within metal.  I plan on doing everything myself and not playing live.  I think it would be weird to see Caught live.  I’d rather keep it as records only, no live show.  I’d like to put out an LP for this project too.

Do you have any other music that we haven’t talked about yet?

When I get out of school, Tony Pence from Deep Sleep and WARXGAMES and I are gonna do a band together.  Real short and real fun.  Think we're gonna call it Rat Patrol if that’s not taken.  Or the Medicators.  Drummer William and I have been talking about starting a NWOBHM style band as well.  I think that'd be fun as hell dressing up in tons of leather.

With the early release of Terminal Teen Age a month early and songs popping up on your Bandcamp all the time are there any releases in the works or on the horizon at this point?

A Caught tape on one of the best new labels Chained Meat tapes is coming real soon.  New Sick Thoughts 7" on Zaxxon Records coming in spring and a Sick Thoughts EP on my friend Joni, from the Achtungs, label Fuck CDs in early to mid-2014.

Are there any major goals that you’re looking to accomplish in 2014?

Put out as many records as possible, play as many shows as possible, finish high school early.

Where’s the best place for fans to keep up on the latest news from Sick Thoughts like upcoming shows, album releases and new songs that happen to pop up at?

I always update my Facebook page, so that’s probably the best place on the Interwebs.

What do you have planned as far as touring goes for the New Year?

Goin’ to Boston January 4th, North Carolina in February, not real sure about anything else ha-ha.  I’d love to play Total Punk fest but I don't know if Rich wants us to play.  Gonerfest 11 hopefully?

You have played with some absolutely jaw dropping acts.  I know your third show was with The Oblivions and you’ve also recently played with The Black Lips!  Do you get a chance to play out very often given the school situation?  Who are some of your favorite acts that you’ve have a chance to share a bill with?

Yeah doing the school shit and playing shows is a bit difficult ‘cause I can't flunk out.  My favorite is definitely the Oblivians.  It’s like opening up for Zeppelin or something.  I got to hang out with all of ‘em and had a real good time.  I got an Oblivians tattoo a week before I played the show too.

Do you remember what the first song you ever performed live as Sick Thoughts was?  If you do, do you remember when and where that was?

Our first show was at the Charm City Art space, a DIY volunteer space, in June 2013 opening for some older dudes.  First song we played was “Yeah Yeah Woman”.  My guitar and Rob’s drums were tight as hell, but I’d never sung before while playing, not even at practice.  I just yelled random shit into the mic and kept saying, "we suck" between songs.

Do you have any funny or interesting stories from live shows that you’d like to share here with our readers?

That first show was really bad and funny.  I told everybody to turn the lights off so no one could see our faces.  Everybody was in the back and awkward.  Nobody knew who the hell we were.  After our set they turned the lights on and I had blood all over my shirt, arms and my guitar and people stared.  It’s always fun and memorable to piss off the sound guy by throwing around the mics, slamming into amps and stuff.

In your dreams, who are you on tour with?

Any of King Louie’s bands, Oblivians, The Gories, Foster Care, GG King.

Do you have a preferred medium of release for your music?  With all of the various methods of release available to musicians today I’m always curios why they choose and prefer the certain methods that they do.  What about when you are listening to and or purchasing music?  If so why?

I prefer records but they're hard to do ‘cause they're expensive.  I like vinyl mostly because of the packaging.  I love opening a 7” or an LP to find an Insert or a giant fold-out poster or a lyrics sheet, or opening a sealed record and realizing you have some crazy limited color edition.  I always try to support the labels too.  And of course the sound is great as well.  There’s nothing better than warm distortion.

Do you have a music collection at all?  If so can you tell us about it?

I don't have a huge collection.  I have mostly punk and metal stuff.  My holy grail is the first Carbonas Self-Titled on Raw Deluxe, the Grown Up Fucked Up LP by The Reatards and the first pressing of Nuggets.

I have a serious problem.  I’m an addict but it helps to talk about it.  I am hopelessly addicted to physically released music.  There’s something about having a psychical object to hold in your hands that is irreplaceable or maybe even magical to me.  I grew up around a fairly sizable collection of music and being able to grab an album at random off the shelf and immerse myself in it by reading the liner notes and looking at the artwork while I listened to the music left a lasting impression with me.  I think that it makes for a much more complete listening experience when you have something physical to hold and experience.  Do you have any such connection with physically released music?

Yeah.  There’s nothing that can compare.  You can't open up an MP3, read liner notes, look at photos, unfold a poster and tape it to your bedroom wall.  There’s nothing like it.  Everybody should buy records.

As much as I love my music collection there’s always been inherent problems with being a collector.  Aside from having to move the bloody things every time I get a new place I was never able to take it on the go with me before.  I mean with CDs and tapes you could take a good chunk of stuff with you but I would never remember to bring the one album I’d end up wanting to listen to inevitably.  Digital music has virtually solved that problem allowing me to take my entire music collection with me on my phone; which still blows this old geezers mind.  If digital music wasn’t enough of a game changer on its own when teamed with the internet it has completely changed the face of the music industry as we know it.  It has exposed people to a whole world of music that they otherwise wouldn’t have had the opportunity to hear.  But with the good always comes the bad and digital music seems to be marginalizing the physical product of music and turning it into a more a more and more disposable thing.  As an artist during the reign of the digital era what’s your opinion on digital music and distribution?

If not for digital shit like Bandcamp, Sick Thoughts wouldn't be what it is now.  So I'm thankful for it, but there should be a filter for shit that should never be released by some idiot pop star fucks.  I think digital music should be used as a preview and should expire at some point, so you’re forced to buy the physical product.  Only in a perfect world though.

I try to keep up with as much good music as I possibly can and these days that’s not an easy job so I rely more and more on cool people such as yourself for tips!  Is there anyone from your local scene or area that I might not have heard of that I should be listening to?

The Advlts, Pure Junk, Hard Dads, Multicult (Interview here), Slow Jerks, Big Christ, Mark Plasma and Barbelith.

What about nationally and internationally?

The Achtungs, Foster Care, Filth Coalition, Pampers, Kent State, Lumpy & The Dumpers, Black Panties and Complications.

I know this wasn’t short and I can’t imagine that it was a super blast to get through but I hope it was fun to at least look back over the massive amount that you’ve managed to accomplish in such a short time!  Is there anything that I might have missed or that you’d just like to take this opportunity to talk about?

No we covered pretty much everything!  Thanks so much for asking me to do an interview man.  Cheers.

(2013)  Sick Thoughts – Cut A Rug (demo) – digital, Cassette Tape – Southpaw Records
(2013)  Sick Thoughts – Deformation (demo) – digital, Cassette Tape – Southpaw Records
(2013)  Sick Thoughts - Young And Done (demo) – digital – Self-Released
(2013)  Sick Thoughts/Uncle Curt – Sick Thoughts/Uncle Curt Split – digital, ? – Self-Released
(2013)  Sick Thoughts/Acid Bath – Sick Thoughts/Acid Bath Split – digital, ? – Self-Released
(2013)  Sick Thoughts – Blood Red – digital, 7” – Goodbye Boozy Records (Limited to 198 hand numbered copies)
(2013)  Sick Thoughts – Need No One – digital, 7” – Can’t Stand Ya Records (Limited to ? copies)
(2014)  Sick Thoughts – Terminal Teen Age – digital, 12” – Dead Beat Records (Red Vinyl edition limited to 100 copies available only from Dead Beat Records mail-order)
(2013)  Caught – Unrequited – digital – Self-Released
(2013)  Caught - You Will Be The End Of Me – digital – Self-Released
(2013)  Caught - He'll Come For You – digital – Self-Released
(2013)  Deformities – Sometimes I Wish For My Own Death – digital – Self-Released

Interview made by Roman Rathert/2014
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