Shawn Owen of Annapolis, MD, will serenade you with an effortless soul that speaks of a raw emotion he might have only set to a strum yesterday. His journey, however, spans years of moves over the states of West Virginia, Colorado, and Maryland, and multiple career changes with many great friends known from childhood and gathered along the way. Every story is captivating and heartfelt, and the strings of his guitars only do so much justice to the experience of his hands. What a beautiful song they make. Appalachian Jamwich was lucky enough to come across Shawn and his music and get a little peek into the inner workings of this dedicated musician’s life.
So where in West Virginia is your hometown? What are some good memories you have of the area you grew up in? How do you think it influenced you musically?
Snowshoe is my home town. I grew up right on the mountain my whole childhood. My father owned a ski rental shop so I’ve been skiing and snowboarding my entire life. Most of my memories are based around that. Most of my friends rode as kids so thats where we spent all our free time in the winter. I remember crazy night-riding with packs of like 10-15 little rippers, causing havoc, sneaking cigarettes on the chair lift, being little punks running around the mountain that we considered ours. Awesome times…
I’d say that stuff influenced me musically more towards punk rock. I was really into punk back then. NOFX, Bad Religion, Pennywise, Face to Face, Rancid, Lagwagon, etc. Fat Wreck Chords stuff was in my Walkman a lot. That’s right, I said Walkman… But the Zen side of snowboarding drove me towards reggae. If I was riding in the park, I’d listen to punk rock. If I was free-riding, it was reggae. I love the sound of knee deep powder cutting though Waiting in Vain or something. So soothing for the soul.
I saw you moved out to Colorado to pursue snowboarding! That’s awesome, our whole family snowboards. What attracted you to that sport? What ultimately ended your pursuit of a career in snowboarding? And how did living in the beautiful state of Colorado affect you?
My whole family rides too! Either on skis or boards, I pretty much consider them the same sport. Never understood the animosity between skiers and snowboarders. Glad to see thats fading. Anyways, I’ve been riding my entire life. I tore my knee up in a mogul contest when I was 13 and coming back from that snowboarding was safer for my knee. So I gave it a try and have been hooked since. I competed as an amateur all through high school in slope-style, half-pipe, boarder cross and racing gates. I moved out to live with my cousin in Denver the summer I graduated high school and moved up into the mountains as soon as we started getting snow. I worked at Loveland mountain and that was where I trained and based my competing out of. I did ok, won a few contests, grabbed a couple sponsors, earned a bit of money. I stayed out there for the next year and a half before I decided to move back east. I’d had a few bad crashes trying to keep up with kids going way bigger and trying crazier tricks than I could pull, like rodeo 9′s, double flips and all that stuff. I decided that the pro route was a bit more than I could handle. I’d been in touch with a bunch of friends from high school about starting a band so the timing was just right to move back and start playing.
I loved my time in Colorado. It was my first home away from home so it has a special place in my heart. The awe and sheer humility nature creates for you out there is inspiring. It always motivated me to go further and harder, appreciate as much as I can along the way. I remember waking up hours before work to catch the first crack of light to ride Loveland Pass backcountry for a few hours and then again after work until the sun went down. Snowboarding will always be a part of my life and my time in Colorado helped make sure of that.
How did you end up moving to Annapolis, MD?
I moved down when I met a guy at Snowshoe from Annapolis. I was living in Morgantown with my old band Stolen Element at the time. We were a punk/ska/hard-core/reggae band. Kinda a mix between Metallica and Sublime. He hired us to play at a fundraiser for local skatepark and a t-shirt clothing company he was starting and the music scene was just awesome. We had played there before and had a great response from the people. A couple guys in the band were graduating from WVU that year so it kinda just fell into place. I moved down and my drummer moved shortly after he graduated.
Where did you play your very first show? How was that experience?
My first live performance was a solo I sang in a christmas concert when I was in 4th grade. The only thing I really remember about it is my sister making faces at me from the crowd and me just making them back while singing. I’m sure it was an epic performance. The first time I ever played live in a band, I was the drummer playing with a few friends of my dad’s when I was about 12 or 13. Drum set was my first real instrument I played in rock bands. I was in a band in high school where I was a drummer/singer. We played our homecoming dance and maybe 2 other shows before word got out that we weren’t that good. But the first real show I tribute to being in a real band was at this little joint in Marlinton, WV called Huckleberry’s. I think it’s a Lutheran Church now but we rocked that joint! It was with the first incarnation of Stolen Element. We were called Moose Head Bob and the Silver Toed Honkys, don’t ask… I played guitar and sang with 5 other guys from high school. It was such a blast! We had about a half-full bar and rocked a good crowd that night. I was hooked immediately.
You cite Bob Marley as a big influence, and your other influences Sublime and Jack Johnson are evident in your musical style as well. What was it about these artists that struck a chord with you? What sets you apart from their music?
I think what strikes me the most is the rhythm. All three of them had such amazing rhythm. I began as a drummer so rhythm has always been very important to me. I think it’s the most important part of music. I always resonated with the vibe too. Bob is just straight love of humanity. World peace for the mind, body and soul. His music and words have always inspired me to love my world brothers and sisters more and more and to try and help people any chance I get. Sublime is a similar vibe but with much more of an edge. “I love you. You don’t love me? Fuck you, I’ll kick your ass and love you anyways!” that kinda thing. And the ska/reggae/punk blending of songs was like a description of my life. They hit very close to home. I got more into Jack as I got a little older and started to calm down. His stuff is more of a love of family and community, which I think is how everyone can really change the world for good, locally. I feel like my music is a blend of their styles. I’m more edgy than Jack. Not a punk as Sublime. Less roots-reggae and more rock than Bob. That kinda of thing. Its me and my life.
Your music often has very emotional undertones and of course musicians have been inspired by love stories since the beginning of music! What emotion do you find inspires you the most? Happy, romantic, sad, struggle? How do you see your music change as you grow and mature and your emotions also mature?
I try and write about any and all emotions I’m having. In my early years it was more love lost based songs. Boy meets girl, boys loses girl, boy writes song about girl. You know the drill. I think as I’ve matured, some of that still remains but I’m much happier with my female situation. I found an amazing woman, fell in love, made her my wife and there seems to be less songs about the girl that got away. Now my songs are more about the contentment found in life, the peacefulness. Some about social commentary, struggle of people. That stuff. But I’m sure I got a sappy love song left in here somewhere.
You used to play with a band and then went solo, tell us how the band formed and how you came to play on your own. What are some advantages/disadvantages of both?
The band was Stolen Element. Myself on guitar and vocals, Bill Browning on lead guitar, Pat Cumashot on bass and Andy Hall on drums. It was 4 guys that went to elementary, middle and high school together. We were life long friends and still remain the same. We formed a few years out of high school in Morgantown while 2 guys were in school. We played together for about 7 years as the 4 piece until Billy graduated and became a doctor, 2 schedules that do not mix well. We played as a 3 piece for the next 3-4 years, switching bass players about half way through the 3 piece era. Once Andy quit and moved from Annapolis to Boston for work, it made sense to switch to more solo stuff.
The biggest advantage of playing solo is the money and the booking. It’s easier to get into smaller bars and restaurants as a solo performer and the money is a lot better. It’s easier to schedule shows because there is only one persons personal schedule to consider when booking instead of 4. But the shows are so much more fun with a band. There is so much more energy and release at a full band show. I can play 2-3 solo shows a day. I can only make it through 1 real full band show and I’m wiped out.
How did you meet the members of The Shawn Owen Band?
The bass player, Zach Ditmars played bass in Stolen Element near the end of our run. So when I started putting together s support band for my solo stuff, he was my first call. We met a short while after moving down to Annapolis and have been tight friends since. All the other guys are musicians around the Annapolis area and I just started scooping them up one by one as I go. Right now we are up to a 6 piece for full shows with myself, Zach on bass, Tobias Russell on keys, organ, guitar and vocals, Viki Nova on vocals and guitar, Ben Bays on percussion and Paul Clagett on drums.
What are some venues you’ve played and what is your favorite?
I’ve played all kinds of venues. Bars, clubs, festivals. The biggest shows I’ve played at are probably my CD Release at Carnegie Hall in Lewisburg, WV, Rams Head Live in Baltimore, MD and the festival Jam @ the Dam in Weatherly, PA. I’d say my favorite full band club so far has been Rams Head Live in Baltimore and solo is Pussers Dock Bar in Annapolis. Just chilling on a stool, on the water, sipping cold drinks, watching boats go by, strumming guitar and singing songs. Heaven…
Do you play at festivals? Do you attend any for fun? What’s your favorite festival?
I’ve played a couple festivals before. Jam @ The Dam is probably the biggest I’ve played at. I rarely get to make it to a festival for fun but I love going. I worked for a few mobile recording companies for a few years and we got to do some really cool festivals. We recorded main and 2nd stage at Bonnaroo twice, Virgin Music Festival twice and Earth Day Fest on the National Mall in DC. Its was really cool getting to meet and work with the crews of top name international acts like Pearl Jam, Phish, Yonder, Jimmy Buffett, Metallica, Sting, Jimi Cliff, The Roots, Ziggy Marley and on and on. I actually got to meet Jack Johnson and his wife while working Bonnaroo and got to take a picture with him. Super cool man. Always awesome when the people you think are cool really are once you have a chance to meet them. I’d say for that reason, Bonnaroo has been my favorite
Tell us about your most memorable experience playing a show…maybe a particularly awesome fan connection or something funny that went on with you and your band.
I’d say the most memorable show I’ve played was my solo EP release at Carnegie Hall. We had about a half-full house, so about 150 people, just so into the music. It was really awesome to have a quiet house while playing a and then thunderous applause after each song. It’s the only show I’ve ever done an encore. They just kept clapping and cheering so we came back out and did a couple more songs. Myself and my band were about as high as we could get that night.
The jam/festival scene has been growing a lot recently. What do you think of the scene and the fans?
The scene is definitely growing, fast. It seemed a few years ago, the major festivals moved more from the roots of jam festivals and gone more mainstream. It seemed more like Beach Week or a frat party than a music festival. I mean the first year I worked Bonnaroo it was Metallica and Chris Rock headlining the main stage one night! Which was cool for sure but seemed ridiculous for the setting. But I think that push has opened up a lot more smaller, more jam roots based festivals. I see a lot of local festivals that I don’t remember seeing 5-10 years ago. I think that the true music fans that go to festivals are awesome! It’s people that live and breathe music and most are incrediblly open to new and unfamiliar music. That’s all I could ask for as an artist, give it a chance.
Where can we buy or listen to your music?
All my music is available for stream and purchase at my website www.ShawnOwenMusic.com It’s for sale on iTunes, Amazon.com, CDBaby.com and at any live show. And I offer it for free download on different social networking sites throughout the year.
My full calendar is on my website. You can Demand It that I come play a show in your town on the website. But if you catch one show, come to Virginia Beach August 25 for the 50th Annual East Coast Surfing Championships. It’s the longest running surf contest on the east coast with over 200K people expected this year. I’m opening for Donovan Frankenreiter on the main stage with other acts like The Aggrolittes, Dirty Heads and many more. That one is going to be awesome!
interview and article by Elsie