Jason Owen – who first won fans as the runner-up in the 2012 season of The X-Factor – will play his first ever show at the Tamworth Country Music Festival when he joins Amber Lawrence in a show at the Blazes Showroom at Wests on 23 January 2014. Amber and Jason have extended their hugely popular Islands in the Stream tour to not only take in Tamworth but a range of other cities and towns throughout the first half of this year. I spoke to Jason just before the end of last year about the tour so far, about Tamworth and also what lies ahead as he writes and records his next album.
The last time we spoke your album was about to come out and it certainly more than came out. It went to number five on the ARIA Album Chart, and number one on the iTunes Country Chart in the first week of release. Was that unexpected for you? Did you think it might do really well?
That was totally unexpected for me, because I didn’t expect to get that type of vibe back from the album. It was a few months after the show [The X-Factor] had finished, and they were auditioning the next lot of contestants and – no, I didn’t expect it to be like that at all.
Even though that album isn’t strictly country music, you certainly seemed to have built audiences in rural and regional areas really well. Do you think that the rural and regional audiences are really good keeping faith, I guess, with you?
Yeah, look, a hundred per cent. There are lot of people out there that love just pure country western music. And there is a lot of people out there that like that type of heavy ballad, type of Bryan Adamsy feel.
Now you are extending your tour with Amber Lawrence, so clearly that is going very well? Or are you secretly not getting along?
We are loving each every day together. We have so much fun together. It is just that it is a real privilege for me to be on the road with someone that has been doing it for a little while and they have had a lot of experience. So you have got to learn some way. And it has been amazing.
And this is your first ever tour experience, and first time, I guess, working with a band consistently, so as a performer, what have you learnt over the last few months?
I reckon, as a performer over the last year, I would have to say I have learnt a lot about performing. A lot about strategy of music, because, I mean, it is completely different – it is a different world when you are performing with a live band to what it is when you are performing with backing tracks, you know what I mean? It is really amazing. And, honestly, to have learnt so much from the band about music and different things like that, I found it really, really enjoyable.
Q: I remember when I last interviewed you, you talked about how you warm up your voice every day and doing vocal exercises. So I was wondering how your voice has been holding up with such consistent and long tour?
That is a really good question. My voice has actually held up very well on tour. There has been one show that I have had to pull out on, because I actually ended up with a vocal infection. I had a really bad case of tonsillitis. And I sang. I sang with a swollen throat. And that damaged my vocal cords. So I had to pull out of one of the concerts. It was Windsor. And then I went to the doctor, and everything like that. But luckily enough there was a month break after that show. So by the time I was ready to come back, I was ready as well. So it worked well.
So for a damaged vocal cord is the prescription just to rest? Or did you have to do something else?
No, no, rest. Whatever you do, try and talk the least you possibly can. Definitely do not sing or you could ruin it for life. So it was very, very – it was scary. I wasn’t game to even say “Hello” [laughs].
It also must have been really strange for you to not sing, because it seems as if, for you, singing is really an extension of your day-to-day life, and who you are.
It is. Like, I get with my mates, and you will sit and the car, and we will just singing along to songs all day, sitting in the car. And they go, “Aren’t you sick of it; doing it nearly every day of the week? And you do it for a living. It is what you do.” And I said, “Well, that is why I don’t get sick of it, because it is something I love to do.”
Well, I think they actually should have been sitting there thinking they were getting a free concert.
[Laughs]. Yeah, but it is not free concert when you are with them every day, and you sing and they get sick of you fairly quickly [laughs].
Fair enough! Speaking of getting sick of things, you are not sick of singing ‘Islands in the Stream’ yet?
[Laughs] Yes and no at the same time. We have probably sung that about 400 times in the last six months. But it is a great song. It is a song that everyone loves. And we have had so much fun singing it too.
Often, as an audience member, I wonder how, when artists have a signature song – and for you and Amber on this tour this is the song – how you manage to make it new every night. I mean, you possibly don’t. But do you find different sort of things inside of it, or different ways to sing it, just to keep it interesting for yourself?
Yes and no. For the audiences, of course, it is always something new for them, because it is not the same people see every show, so of course it is different for them. But, for us, it is the same old ‘Islands in the Stream’ that we have been singing all along. But, I mean, we do try and change things around. But, the thing is, with a song like that, covered by us, and originally from two legends, it is hard to change it too much, because everyone relates back to Kenny to Dolly.
Yes [laughs]. It is a big burden. But, obviously, you are carrying it off well or you wouldn’t still be on tour. People are obviously enjoying it.
Yeah. Exactly. So we can’t change it too much. We have just put our own little spins on it.
Has it inspired you to think of doing any more duets with Amber?
I am actually working in the process of a new album, and I hope to get a duet underway with Amber as well on my new album. Of course, if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. But she is recording an album as well. So maybe I can jump on her album, or something. But we are loving working with each other and we really want to keep working along with each other somewhere along the line.
I did have a question about your album. And as you have mentioned it, I will go to that one, which is: I am always really curious when artists are touring a lot, how they manage to fit in, or even think about, recording something down the track, or writing songs for it. So how are you managing your time?
Being on the road, I get a lot of advice off the musos, off the band, and they have all been in the industry quite a long time … I am doing lots of songwriting in December, but as soon as you have got a few days off – because usually you perform on a Friday, Saturday, Sunday basis. It is not very often you sing on a Thursday or something night, [so] you usually record during the week, probably, and then go to do your shows on the weekend. It is a lot of hard work. And it is a lot of pressure on your voice, but you have just got to look after it.
I would also would imagine with recording, because you are doing take after take after take, probably, or for some songs you are, it would be quite tough to keep it going.
It is – it is a hundred per cent. And it is not easy to record at all. You get a really good producer and they want everything a hundred per cent, and that is what you want in the long run. It might seem like forever, and ‘Oh my god, I am sick of this’ in the studio, but when your album is released you will realise that it was all worth the time.
So have you already been writing songs for this album?
I have got about three or four songs written of my own. And, yeah, they are very, very nice songs. I am very excited about them.
Because that is a different process again. It would be quite easy to just be a performer and not worry about that side of things.
Yeah, a hundred per cent. If I had professional writers writing for me, it is a good thing. But it is good to just let your hair down and just start writing your own music. You just put a story in place and away you go … I mean, if you write a good song, you write a good song. But while you are sitting there writing something on a piece of paper, you never know, it could be a global hit that you are writing. You don’t know.
Where does your song writing inspiration come from?
I sit down at home and I just write the type of songs that come to my mind. Of course, being 19 years of age you go through a bit of love crisis when you are younger and you just relate back to that, I suppose. A lot of famous artists that have written love songs, they have all be quite young when they write it. That is when it hurts. You don’t even know what love is really, do you?
And you still go through a lot of chopping and changing, in regards to love, and who you love.
That is right, a hundred per cent.
This is possibly a cheeky question, but I would think there are some young people who come to see you in concert who would be hoping they have a chance. Have you had to deal with any over-keen fans?
Yeah, I have. Like, on the X-Factor tour, there was a lot of fans. They would throw rocks at your window of your room, and different things like that, just to try and get your attention, just to see you. And to go down in the foyer of a morning, and they are there and they – yeah. Look, we have had some crazy fans – pulling their shirts down and everything like that. You do get wild fans. But I suppose you can’t complain.
I just can’t believe anyone would throw a rock at your window and expect that you are going to respond positively to that?
Well, that is what happened. Nathaniel and I were in a room once and that happened. And bang. I said, “What was that?” He said, “Probably just a fan throwing stuff at the window.” [Laughs].
Does it make you a little bit nervous – that sort of behaviour?
It does. Because you don’t know what to expect next, do you know what I mean?
Speaking of shows and fans, you have a big show in Tamworth with Amber. Have you had any Tamworth experiences in the past?
I used to do a bit of recording with LBS Studios, once upon a time, when I was younger, just to experience everything of the industry. I used to do a few shows with them at the Festival. Out the back of their studio it was like an auditorium. But nothing like it will be this year – going to the Golden Guitar Awards and performing with Amber in the Blazes Room at the Wentworth Leagues. Big shows. So it is going to be really good.
Blazes, of course, is one of the key venues to play at. So do be doing that at 19 years of age is pretty amazing.
Excellent. Thank you much. It has just been an incredible ride. And I must say, hopefully I can just keep pursuing the great music for everyone to listen to, and to grow my fan base. And that is about you can try and do here in Australia.
I guess also for you, being so young, it is not as if you have had as many years as others, to dream about having this sort of career and how you might run it. So does it feel a bit like you have been thrown into a washing machine and you are getting tumbled around?
Yeah. I have always wanted to do something with my music. And there was a stage there when I just thought I am never going to be good enough, so what is the point? And I just drifted away from it. And then all of a sudden I came back to the X-Factorauditions. And I went in that just for the sake of it. And look what happened. You never know unless you have a go at things.
I am curious about you saying that you thought you were never going to be good at it. Was that because you had been sending off demos? Or you had tried to get shows? Or you just thought, look, it is all too hard in general?
No. I just never thought I was good enough. I never had any self-confidence. Everyone used to tell me I was really good and I just never believed them. Of course, they were going to tell me I am good, because you don’t get many people who will turn around and say, “Oh, mate. You sound like crap.” Especially where I was from, in a little town. There was like 20 of us at the pub on a Friday night, or something, and who wants to start a fight?
[Laughs]. That is a very good point Jason. I wouldn’t have thought of it like that.
Oh well, it is true [laughs].
So, were you getting up and singing in the pub on a Friday night then?
When I was younger I did. When I was, like, 9, 10 years of age we used to go for dinner, and they set up a little amplifier and a CD player. And you could sing Kasey Chambers, and Shania Twain, and [laughs] all those types of artist when I was little, so.
A lot of blokes wouldn’t touch a Kasey Chambers song, I don’t think. So I am really interested that you were covering Kasey Chambers and Shania Twain.
Oh, this was when I was, like, seven or eight. A while ago. I couldn’t sing John Denver back then. My voice was too high [laughs].
Fair enough. But, still, I think it is great you were singing Kasey Chambers songs. So has your band changed at all during the tour? Do you get to continue with the same band in 2014?
We are until May but once I release my new album, I will be finding my own band.
Does that mean you essentially operate as your own band leader? So you are making all those choices?
Definitely, when I go on tour by myself I will be choosing the band. Choosing my songs I am singing. Choosing the act that comes with me, whether it is a double headliner, or whether they are supporting me, or no matter what. It really all comes down to how the next album goes. I think if the album sells well,as good as the first, then I can take someone out the road that wants the experience of touring big time. Like, not a double headline. And I will just take someone out that is just starting and to give them a go.
I would imagine it is quite difficult to choose someone, because there are probably quite a few acts who would love to have the spot. And so it is a question of working out not only who wants it, and not only who is good, but who is a good fit with you.
That’s right. You definitely want someone who would fit in well with me. Because I am quite out there. You don’t want someone that doesn’t swear, doesn’t do this, doesn’t do that, because I’m the total opposite, you know? So you want someone that can fit into my type of genre and my type of feel.
Is there any part of you that looks around at your friends and thinks, oh, I am doing all this work – essentially I have got more than a full-time job, and it looks like it is going to continue for a while now, maybe I should have just kicked around and gone to uni or done something else? Are you missing your late youth, basically?
There are always thoughts about what is going to happen. Nothing is ever certain in this industry. Like, prime example, we have been touring this year , and have had the third biggest tour in the year in the country music. [Some big acts] just aren’t drawing the people any more. And it just goes to show how hard it is in this industry. It is not an easy industry at all.
But what people do respond to is entertainment. And you and Amber have very definitely billed this show as being entertaining. Plus, because there are the two of you, for punters coming along, that is a really good night they are going to have. A lot of people, I think, worry about who a support act might be. But if they know it is you and Amber both doing sets, then that is a great night out. So it is, essentially, a sure thing for a punter.
I 100 per cent agree with you. You have got to be very careful who you take on the road with you, and what they sing. You don’t want someone accompanying with me singing jazz or something, because that just wouldn’t work. So you have got to very careful of what you do. You are a hundred per cent right with the support artist. If the support artist is not good, then people aren’t going to want to come and see the show, do you know what I mean?
And it is also a responsibility because you could actually break this person’s career out in the open. You could be giving them a lot of exposure which sets them up for their own career. That is a lot of responsibility for you, as a young artist. I can’t think of many people who have been in that position so young to, essentially, almost be moving into the position of being an elder, being able to break to someone else in the industry.
A lot of people have said that to me, “You are quite a young artist to be doing what you are doing. And if they are going to make it, like Keith Urban did, or so forth like that, they all start where you are. You never just straight into the limelight. You always built it. But you have had an amazing start. You have got 15,000 followers on Facebook. And that is just an incredible achievement for your first album, and everything like that.” So, yeah, I am very excited.
Jason Owen and Amber Lawrence play at West Tamworth Leagues Club on Thursday 23 January 2014. Tickets from www.wtlc.com.au.