MICROPHONE PSYCHOLOGY: THE DIRECTOR’S CUT
Chiodos frontman Craig Owens’ future begins with a Cinematic Sunrise
By Mike Shea
NOTE: This is a lot of the stuff that got cut from the cover story on Craig Owens that now appears in AP 242. Some of it also includes alternate versions. So if you take this and put it with what appears in the magazine, you’ll have pretty much a Director’s Cut of the story. Oh, and then the 13,000 transcribed words from the interviews with Craig that I did. But we’ll save that for the bonus edition in the future. – Mike Shea
Craig Owens cherishes his DIY background (10,000+ Chiodos Bros. EPs sold with no distribution deal, tour managing the band’s 13 full U.S. tours before even being signed to Equal Vision in 2004, packing 500 capacity rooms all over the country) but since the band’s 2005 All’s Well That Ends Well, he’s chosen to step onto an increasingly advancing conveyor belt to rockdom that is taking him into a new area of the corporate kiss-ass music business he doesn’t swim well in.
At least yet.
The higher you climb in this business the more pressure and criticism of that success you’ll get. Craig wasn’t ready for that part, allowing himself to remain too vulnerable to the outside world, and it almost took him down for the count.
“He really feels like an overwhelmed lead singer right now, “explains Casey Bates, producer of the band’s Charles Bukowski, Cursive and Gerard Way-inspired rock opera, Bone Palace Ballet. “There’s a lot of eyes on him and Chiodos and there’s that constant struggle of dealing with the criticism that comes from being in a successful band. I know he has a hard time being happy with the things he writes. He’s a perfectionist and takes what he does incredibly seriously.”
It’s all out there in print: A recent Kerrang story provided Cliffs Notes to his drug and alcohol struggles and the self-destructive actions he took upon himself when it all became too much to handle and comprehend and his self-criticism got the best of him. It was one of his “weak days”, he’ll describe of the interview, but thanks to a small group of a dozen friends, a few business mentors and some anxiety pills, he’s been slowly grabbing control of the world he tends to fear around him.
“It’s not an act, it really isn’t,” he pleads, guitar in hand, leaning back on his couch in his rented condo that lies north of Detroit. His place is sparse and hardly lived-in considering he’s had it for more than two years.
He’s anal-retentive (his description) and his house is full of pockets that alternate between extreme cleanliness and organization to creatively-inspired disaster zones (a large plastic tarp with various props on it is lumped into one whole room of his basement for photo experiments for the cover of his upcoming semi-autobiographical, Bukowski-inspired journal in 2009).
His MySpace occupation reads “Trial and Error” and accurately describes the spot where his head is but not his career. “I’m stronger, yes, but I still don’t think I know what I’m doing. I think I know what to do…I think I know what to do,” he trails off in a moment of self-doubt, which is undoubtedly his largest internal battle. Curiously, his self-confidence about his career objectives, daily and annually, are never in doubt. He’s assertive in his creative visions and is more competitive than he would appear at first glance, which drives him constantly onto the next project, the next way to get his voice out and heard.
On tours like Warped Tour, go behind the booths and the stages, get on the buses or back at the nightly BBQ’s and you’ll hear band after band member these days questioning, wondering, trying to figure out the Rubik’s Cube that the music industry has turned into over the past five years. No one ultimately knows what a band needs to do to survive anymore. What works for one band won’t work for another and for the bands that do figure it out¬- where luck just fell at the right time, or they had the right people working for them, maybe they wrote the right music demanded by music fans in a war-tired, economically-screwed nation, acclaim and accusations abound- and Chiodos, specifically Craig, are no strangers to this experience.
For as much as Paramore knocked it with fans on the 2007 Warped Tour, there were still “peeps” backstage that were knocking them for being successful. Sometimes, if there were poisonous blow darts allowed on Warped Tour, half the bands would be dead by Portland.
“In the touring community, it’s a very small world,” describes Angel Juarbe, the former Equal vision employee that discovered Chiodos on PureVolume and who is now the band’s tour manager and Craig’s closest mentor in the music business. “So much of this is scene now is made up of kids in bands and those are the same kids that are talking shit about every other band. I grew up as a hardcore kid, going to CBGB, where bands playing to 500 or 1,000 people were considered big bands, even though there was no money in it. Back then it was about bro-ing down and they would all help each other out. What I see now is the completely opposite in the scene. It’s not about being friends and making music and the message- it’s about the way you look, how many CDs you sell and how many kids come out. When a band becomes successful, every other band that wanted to be in that position is completely jealous of them, like Chiodos, and it’s so rare to find a band that isn’t and doesn’t talk shit about their friends. It sucks.”
“I don’t see any insecurity with Chiodos overall, “ explains Warped Tour founder and annual driver Kevin Lyman. “When you look at them on stage, what you see is confidence. Sometimes people will take it as cockiness but what I see is confidence. Of the newer bands, if you go back to the original punk ethos, that you don’t care what anyone thinks of what they’re doing, Chiodos are out there doing it their way and you’re either in or out with them and I think they are connected with the kids on that level. The kids are in with them for the long haul.”
“I think that with bands like Circa Survive and Chiodos, fan-wise,” he continues, “they have real fans that aren’t there to hear just a song- they’re there to experience the whole thing. They both connect with their audiences very well. They both have a confidence on stage and an inside connection with their fans. They have almost a telepathy with their audiences that is very cool to see.”
Watching Circa Survive’s Anthony Green on Warped Tour is like watching John Lennon’s “Give Peace A Chance” video, except without the pillows (or Yoko): Everyone is in on the experience together as he launches out into the crowd, burying himself among his fans. It’s a love fest of Tune In, Turn On and Drop Out (and I’ll meet you at the merch booth later.)
Performing with Chiodos, Owens, with his bending, prancing 6’2” stick frame, is the experience: a bastard son of Robert Plant and Scott Weiland, launching out onto the crowd, walking on their up-reached hands, carried but revered in Rock God idolation. Bent-over, scratching himself, pawing at the bass drum head while collapsed on the stage floor, watching Craig Owens and Chiodos onstage is like seeing a musical interpretation of one of the Hostel movies.
And maybe that’s part of the problem for Craig Owens.
Craig Owens: "A Letter From Janelle", July 26 2008, Pontiac, MI. from Alternative Press on Vimeo.
Owens explains the development of the song and jokes with band mates, Bryan Beeler & Bradley Bell.
Rock Gods like Craig aren’t always welcome at the “punk” rock lunch table.
“I’ve never been anything but a lead singer my entire life, “Craig says. “That’s all I’ll ever be. I’ll stand back and let people talk but if you want me to talk, don’t expect me not to shine because I’ll put my fucking everything into it, ya know what I mean?”
Leaning over, putting the guitar down, he continues, “Chiodos aren’t even touring again for a couple of more months, and, I’m like, ‘Put me in front of these people. I need to be there.’ They hold me up when I most need it. If I go out onto that stage, I’m going to either fold or shine and that is all based upon crowd reaction. Without them, I’m nothing. I stand tallest when I’m with them.”
Despite the piles of love messages, positive comments and YouTube tributes online to he and Chiodos, Craig struggles with one habit that’s been hard to break: “He wants every single person to give him approval on-line and there’s just no way!” laughs Juarbe. “I’ve been assigned to keep Craig off the negative message boards,” he laughs again, “and, hopefully, he’ll grow out of it but he’s just a really sensitive guy when it comes to this stuff.”
“If someone doesn’t like me, I figure it had to have come from somewhere so I wanna try and figure it out and try and make it right. I was always that person in high school. I had bad insecurity because I wanted everyone to like me, I guess,” Craig described in a recent podcast interview with AP.
He sits up on the couch, pulling down his t-shirt, always too tight and too small, as he describes it, because he consciously slouches when others aren’t around, when they then seem to naturally fit, “I wish I could walk in somewhere and be, like, ‘Fuck, yeah, I’m a bad boy, and this is what I do because that’s my lifestyle,’ because, like I said, I’ve always had been and always will be a lead singer, but to go into a place and not worry about all the whispering with fucking deflectors on and have a good time and not worry about it? That sensitivity to it is just brutal, man.”
It could be called the AbsolutePunk Generation: a tribe of internet-living music fans intent on letting everyone know what they think and feel about anything a band does at any given time regardless of their full-knowledge of the facts of the situation. As with Fox News, it’s not about the facts, but how you feel, and, unfortunately, with a South Park vocabulary where the cruelest are the loudest and most rewarded. Impulsive statements made by impulsive fans that would criticize regardless if you started off with your right foot or left.
On Equal Vision’s Chiodos web page, a series of postings in the fall of 2007 by a group of seven fans quickly evolved into a Craig-bashing series of statements, most passionately communicated by a “Senior Member” by the name of Kaylin-clearly a fan of their work before the full-sounding Bone Palace Ballet came out, with postings like: “I guess we all just miss the old Craig Owens-the real Craig, “ and “I used to admire his writing and how he portrayed his emotion through lyrics-his attitude has changed (letting fame get to his head) and when I hear his lyrics I picture this…jerk.”
When photographer Nicole Rork, a close friend to Owens, posted a passionate defense explaining his humanness, the other six posters back-stepped: “Chill out guys, don’t be so harsh on Craig, “ replied GhostOfPlut007, “He’s a great guy. He’s just grown and that’s something to admire.” Kaylin wasn’t impressed, “Grown into an ass…this is never going to end (the conversation between those who think Craig is self-centered and those who think differently).”
When contacted eight months later and asked what exactly Owens ever did to her to receive such heated attacks, the 18-year old Chicago native responded via MySpace, “I have no harsh feelings or hate for that matter towards Craig…Describing the ‘new’ Craig as ‘the Creation of an egotistical music monster’ might have been a little harsh but I said it. Nothing completely personal…I am sorry Craig has been hurt by the things said. I know I do not know him on a personal level so I technically have no right to talk about (him) in such a manner…Posts are things just to pass the time. I don’t think Craig should take them so literally….I just express my thoughts on a situation and then move on.”
Does he think he’d ever be able to stop reading negative message board posts-ever?
“If someone bought me an iPhone,” he jokes, laughing and collapsing over on his side on the couch.
Desiring a rare rock star-like moment while off the road for once, Craig pulls out the hardly-washed (or driven, for that matter) Porsche to take us up to a local Starbucks drive-thru for some morning breakfast. He points to larger condos and houses that he hopes to someday progress up to, “I want a castle, that’s what I really want,” he half-jokingly admits, still driving the speed limit down the streets of the strip-mall upscale city he lives in. Despite the sunglasses, the tattoos, the hipster lounge-around clothes and driving a Porsche, he still is hunched down behind the steering wheel, his shoulders collapsed and folded in like an old man driving to CVS for his meds instead of a Gen-Y guy that turns 24 on August 26.
Visibly, a complete contrast to the iconic lead singer who, with Chiodos as the opening act, won over a skeptical audience of Metallica fans back in the Spring with the line, “I know I sing like a girl, but your girlfriends love it.”
“Craig will always be one of those human beings that you’ll never be able to crack,” explains close friend, Nick Martin, of the group Underminded. “It’s an extremely positive and admirable trait about him, but, at the same time, he’s always been that guy that you can go to talk about shit with and he’ll pick you right back up. He’s that friend that will send you a random text out of the blue saying that he misses you and he loves you to death. That’s probably the biggest misunderstood thing about him- that people have this misperception of him being an asshole straight up. You read these message boards and the bashing that goes on- for sure, it sucks to read that stuff about a friend you love and admire as a human being with this huge heart, but when I was out on Warped Tour with Chiodos all last summer, he and I would walk around every day and he would get bombarded by kids every single day and not once did I ever see him act rude or be a dick to a single kid. He just appreciates honest and genuine people-like his fans are.”
Back at the house, after a lunch of frozen chicken tenders and beer (he says the only time he eats right is when he’s got a girlfriend to remind him to do so), Craig points out to his barren-bed room with an unmade king-sized bed on the floor, “I don’t know if you noticed, but in my bedroom I have little signs that kinda remind me of whom I’m supposed to be. There’s one that says ‘Be Normal’ and another one that says, ‘I Can’t Spell.’ I’m a terrible speller and it’s amazing because sometimes I have these beautiful things in my head that I want to express but I can’t spell them. It’s just my way of reminding myself that this is an imperfection but to think about what it is I’m capable of doing. ”
As much as he wants to be a rock star, to live that life and everything that it can provide, Craig Owens will probably always reject what it takes to be one. The larger-than-life Owens you see onstage simply can’t overpower the sincerity of the private one. Rock stars don’t turn down red-carpet events and dating actresses over and over. After lunch, per se, Craig signs onto his MySpace account, “You see? Here’s another one,” he says, then reciting a message from an upcoming starlet asking for some companionship in Los Angeles and ending with her cell phone number. “I don’t care about any of this. I understand it all, yes, but I don’t care.” A few seconds later he deletes the message. “I just want a normal girl, you know what I mean? I want to be able to come home from touring, collapse into her arms, have her piece me back together, you know? Someone that is more interested in what’s on TV than the music industry.”
Despite filling the next 15 months of his life with project after project with goals to achieve and idols to overcome, Owens is maybe subconsciously taking the route that if he’s just busy enough on the positive, he’ll be moving too fast for the clouds of negativity to build overhead. At some point, as those around him are hoping, he’s finally realized that this Ferdinand the Bull will finally take some time to sit, smell the roses and just let himself “be.”
When asked to describe what the word “beauty” means to him, the man who admits he’s a “lyricist not a politician” is remarkably at a loss for words. “I don’t even know. I really…don’t,” he says pausing for a minute. “Here, okay, you know what beauty is to me? Just put me out in a field with a body of water in front of me- a green field- surrounded by beautiful flowers, the smell of the air just…absolutely free, and the sun just hitting the lake and everything around me just completely empty. No one is there with me. It’s just peace and I could just let my shoulders down and sigh.”
BEING CRAIG OWENS
To understand CRAIG OWENS’ lyrics (or life), you first have to understand Charles Bukowski. An American novelist and poet who wrote countless books, poems and essays, Bukowski is often referred to as the “Poet Laureate of Skid Row.” Chiodos’ latest CD, 2007’s Bone Palace Ballet, was named after the author’s posthumous book of poems of the same name. Owens is deeply inspired by the work of Bukowski, often inferring specific lines and moods in his lyrics. We spoke with Owens to find out how his life intersects with Bukowski.
How do you relate to Bukowski’s work?
I like that he has this “say whatever is on my mind” attitude. It’s not politically correct, and he doesn’t dance around issues. He’s very forward and there are moments of hidden genius in some of his writing. It’s untouched and unedited, and there aren’t people telling him how he should be acting. He just acts and it’s admirable. He really has shown me how to live and not to live. If I read something that he’s doing, then I probably shouldn’t be doing it myself. [Laughs.]
Do you feel some misunderstand Bukowski’s work?
Yes, people think that a lot of his work is so negative. There’s this underlying positivism throughout his work that is unspoken. It comes out through his actions, hinting that not everyone is bad all the time. People don’t catch onto that unless they psychoanalyze every movement and every word. I feel like him writing was his way of kind of letting it all out-exposing his negative lifestyle. It was his way of coping, you know? There’s nothing more therapeutic than sharing it with the entire world.