Interview: Dean Owens – On the road with The Southerners

Kicking off this week is a short tour allowing folk to experience three top-notch musicians who have all been recognised by our buddies at the Americana Music Association-UK at their annual AmericanaFest. The Southerners consist of Dean Owens, winner of the AMAUK’s UK Song of the Year back in January, Tom Collison, instrumentalist of the year in 2018 and Jim Maving who is nominated in the same category for the January awards ceremony. The latest in a long line of collaborative projects from Owens, The Southerners are more home grown than his international efforts such as Buffalo Blood and perhaps his first formal link up with musicians south of the border.

On the eve of the tour, Dean took some time out to talk to Americana UK and we started by asking him how this collaboration came about.

I first met Jim when he came to a show of mine at the Hat Club, about three years ago, and we had a chat after the gig and kept in touch. Later on, he came to a show and came on stage to play a couple of songs with me and I thought that we really connected and that was the start. And then Tom’s name came up, really I think through Danny Wilson who had mentioned both Jim and Tom to me a couple of times and then I met Tom at the AMAUK’s and we decided there that it would be worth trying to do something together. This is our second run together as we played some shows earlier this year and they went down really well. First time we played together I wasn’t sure how it would turn out. It’s not like me putting a band together locally where we can all meet up and rehearse. With Jim and Tom it was a matter of agreeing to do it and then flying by the seat of our pants. Our first show was in High Wycombe and I got down there, met them and we ran through some songs and then played the gig the next night. But it all worked out so we’re having another bash at it.

I presume the band name alludes to you playing with folk south of the border.
Just about. There’s an American band called The Southerners but we felt that the name fitted for the time being especially as I’ve got the song Southern Wind to back us up.

So what can we expect from a Southerners gig.
It’s all my songs with Jim and Tom adding their expertise. Jim’s playing electric guitar, slide and mandolin and Tom, keyboards and bass, sometimes at the same time! So we’ll be playing songs from my albums along with some Buffalo Blood numbers as there’s very few opportunities to play those live as we’re an ocean apart. After our first run of shows, I wrote a couple of songs with Jim and Tom in mind and we’ll be playing them also with perhaps the possibility of recording them on an EP or something. That would be nice as audiences are often looking for a souvenir of what they’ve actually heard on a night so when we go back on the road we might have that to offer.

The Southerners are the latest in a long line of collaborations you’ve been involved in.
Well. There’s The Whisky Hearts, Buffalo Blood, Redwood Mountain, the Vagabond Voices, The Celtabilly Allstars, in the states The Wild Ponies. When I put it like that that seems I’ve had a lot of people playing with me but it’s a really interesting way of working as the songs take on a different flavour when you play with different people. It’s maybe a little like Neil Young who has his Crazy Horse records, the ones with the stray Gators or the International Harvesters and such. It’s always Neil Young but the songs reflect who is playing on them.

Moving on, can I ask why you have decided to record your next solo album in Tucson?
I’ve always been fascinated by deserts and had a great time recording the Buffalo Blood album in New Mexico. I was drawn to Tucson listening to albums from the likes of people like Howe Gelb with Giant Sand, Neko Case and Calexico with their Mexican border influences. On my last tour of the states I had a week off at the end of it and I decided to go to Tucson to just hang out and relax and soak up the vibe. So I saw some music and met some people and got some ideas for songs. Back home I pondered on whether I could actually go back  and finally decided to try and get the backing to go to record at Wavelab where a lot of really great albums have been recorded. I really love going to Nashville and I’ve recorded several albums there with Neilson Hubbard and Will Kimbrough but I just felt it would be good to try something different. There’s still a lot of things to sort out but with the Kickstarter done I’m hopefully going to be in Tucson recording at some point.

In the meantime, you seem to have packed the calendar in the new year.
It’s going to be a busy January for me as I’m going to go to Austin to participate in a project called House Of Songs. Basically, you hole up with a bunch of other writers for a week or so and write together and then play the songs at a showcase. In this instance, we’ll be taking the results to play in a showcase at Folk Alliance which next year is being held in New Orleans. It’s a new concept for me but I’m looking forward to it and it’s thanks to some funding from Creative Scotland which is helping me to get there. And straight after that I have to jet back here to play a showcase at the AMAUK awards and then maybe get a rest.

You’ll be back on your feet again pretty soon as you release a compilation album in March.
Yes, it’s a sort of best of compiled from my seven solo albums. I can’t really believe it’s got to that stage but it’s going to be called ‘The Man From Leith’ and will be coming out on Eel Pie records on vinyl and CD. So I’m really looking forward to that and I’ll be touring again with The Southerners to promote it. So hopefully, see you there.

Dean Owens 2019 UK Tour dates:

28 Nov – Kingsmead House Concerts, High Wycombe
30 Nov – The Exchange, Twickenham
1 Dec – The Betsey Trotwood, London
12 Dec – The Woodside Hotel, Aberdour
14 Dec – The Catstrand, New Galloway
15 Dec – The Glad Café, Glasgow
16 Dec – The Traverse, Edinburgh (Sold Out)

Here’s a taste of The Southerners live:

Photos courtesy of Neilson Hubbard and John Morgan.

Author: Paul Kerr

Still searching for the Holy Grail, a 10/10 album, so keep sending them in.

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