Scottish singer-songwriter Dean Owens is in the midst of releasing plenty of new music in 2021. He released his first EP of the year in March, with two more releasing over the next few months. A full album will follow in the fall. The Desert Trilogy EPs plus the Sinner’s Shrine album are the latest stop on a lifetime’s journey—from the post-industrial heartlands of Scotland to the wide-open vistas of the American Southwest—for this troubadour and musical adventurer. His first single this year was “New Mexico.” You may have seen the video for that song on DittyTV. If you missed it, you can see it below. But first, we hope to give you some additional insights into this talented artist in our 5 Questions segment.
1) As your “Best of” album from 2020 indicates, you are The Man From Leith. For audiences who may not know much about the Scottish port district of Leith, what can you tell us about growing up there, and who were some of your early musical influences?
Leith is the main port in the Edinburgh area. It has a rich shipbuilding history. As a young man, my dad worked as a shipbuilder in Leith Docks. It was a great place to grow up. There were a lot of kids around and the street where I grew up—Madeira Street—was right next to a big housing scheme called Fort House, or The Fort as it was known locally. All my pals came from The Fort. It was my playground. Not far from the docks is Leith Victoria Boxing Club where I learned to box. I’m very proud to be able to call myself a Leither. Growing up in Leith the first music I heard was at home through my parents’ records, stuff like The Beatles, Bill Haley, Neil Diamond, but I also got to hear all the records my big brother and sister were playing. As a really small kid, I remember my big brother Keith getting into punk rock, and the music of The Sex Pistols and The Clash had a big impact on me.
2) Obviously, you’re known as an Americana artist, but more than that, you’ve recorded many of your solo albums in the U.S. and have had numerous collaborators over here, such as producer Neilson Hubbard and singer-songwriter-musician Will Kimbrough, who co-wrote with you the UK Americana Song of the Year “Southern Wind” a couple years ago. What has interested you not just in Americana music but actually recording and collaborating in the U.S.?
To be honest, I’ve been making the kind of music I make for over 20 years, and it’s gradually fallen under the banner of Americana. Before that it was alt-country and cowpunk. I think I have elements of all Roots music in my songs and recordings. From folk to country, blues to bluegrass, pop and good old fashioned rock ‘n’ roll. Throw a lasso around all these genres and you get Americana. I’ve found making my records with the likes of Neilson in the U.S. very liberating. I can get away from all my normal life here in Scotland and just soak it all up in places like Nashville and, more recently, Tucson, where I recorded my new record Sinner’s Shrine. There’s such a great pool of amazing musicians in these towns, some of whom I’m lucky enough to call my friends.
3) That leads us to your new series of projects, which is a fascinating approach. We’re catching you in between volumes one and two of The Desert Trilogy EPs. You released The Burning Heart in early March, while Sand and Blood releases May 7. (Ghosts releases July 9.) All this culminates in the album you just mentioned, Sinner’s Shrine, to be released this autumn. What can you tell us about your decision to take this approach to a year of releasing new music?
Due to the global pandemic I had to delay the release of the new album, Sinner’s Shrine, but I wanted to keep the pot boiling, so to speak, and gently introduce people to a flavor of what is to come with the album, but without giving too much away. I had some tracks that didn’t make the album. Not because they weren’t good enough, I just had too many songs. So, I thought I would use those tracks, plus others I’ve recorded long distance with John Convertino and some of the other Calexico guys during lockdown. I think these three EPs pave the way nicely for Sinner’s Shrine.
4) Indeed, much of the music on the EPs and the upcoming album was made with members of Calexico. What can you tell us about where all this music was made and the collaborators involved?
We recorded the album in Tucson at the legendary WaveLab Studios with long time Calexico collaborator Craig Schumacher. It was an incredible experience. The core of the band was me, Joey Burns and John Convertino, but we also brought in other Calexico members Jacob Valenzuela on trumpet and Sergio Mendoza on a whole host of instruments. And we even have a local Mariachi player on the record. Afterward, I added some strings and pedal steel long distance with Tom Hagerman from the band Devotchka, and Paul Niehaus. Plus, I also got the wonderful Gaby Moreno to sing with me on one of the tracks.
5) While you released Vol. 1 of The Desert Trilogy when most of the world was still in some sort of quarantine mode from the pandemic, there is hope that perhaps by the time your album is released this autumn that maybe, just maybe, the live music scene will be finally underway again. Have you given that much thought, and how does the prospect of touring again play into your plans to promote Sinner’s Shrine?
Touring again has never been far from my thoughts throughout the past year or so. It’s been incredibly hard for us troubadours to stay put. We’re just not used to being in the one place for a long period of time. It’s taken some getting used to. I have some shows starting to come in for September this year so I have everything crossed that they will actually happen. However, I think we’re really looking at 2022 before things get back to anywhere near normal. It will be great to get out and play these songs to a real live audience. I can’t wait.
While we’re waiting for live shows, we hope you enjoy this video from Dean Owens of his song “New Mexico.”