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Speak into the Mic: Owen Ardell


Speak into the Mic: Owen Ardell

Jacob Blieu


Let me introduce to you to 17 year old artist, Owen Ardell. From Portland, Maine, Owen has been steadily building a following through releases on Soundcloud over the past two years while going to school. Existing in the bedroom pop/indie genre, Owen Ardell is able to give us a sense of renovated familiarity with his music by performing and producing, because he can create an entire soundscape from the bottom up.

These dual strengths are helping Ardell to establish a name for himself throughout the scene, most noticeably being his recent production work with ROLE MODEL on the EP, Arizona in the Summer, which has been covered by major publications like Pigeons and Planes and HillyDilly. Not restricted by any boundaries in sound, Ardell has produced for rap, indie and pop acts showing a strong diversity in his ability and style that will take him far in the game.

The following interview has been edited for clarity.

How long have you been making music?

I think that I was ten when I discovered GarageBand on the family desktop. After that, I was using apple loops and the computer microphone to make really awful songs and I spent hours every week on YouTube trying to learn as much as I possibly could about mixing and recording in the DAW. A couple of years later I made a slideshow for my dad to try to convince him as to why he should buy Logic Pro 9 for me and it worked. I had gotten a MIDI keyboard and began to start understanding basic audio effects like EQ and delay and started to compose my own songs.

I started producing instrumentals for whoever I could find on SoundCloud that would work with me and I also spent a lot of time doing remix competitions. At the beginning of high school, I created my SoundCloud account and began to share what I was creating. I got a record player and a Roland SP404 and started to become involved in the lofi hip hop community, flipping records from the one dollar bins at Goodwill. I put out four beat tapes under the moniker Mousam (the name of a river behind my house) and released them all on cassette, the first two distributed by the Australian tape label, o-nei-ric Tapes, and the last two I dubbed independently and shipped them out through Bandcamp. Almost a year removed from the last Mousam beat tape, I just put out my first project Full Hamper Keyboard Stand under my real name.

Why do you use your government name instead of a moniker?

At the beginning of last spring, I began working on music for my friend Henry Spritz's short film, OLDTOWN. This was the first time that I started to break away from the lofi hip hop type of sound that I had been confined to by trying to push my Mousam fan base. I honestly think that I just felt like I would be able to make more unique music if I identified with it and owned it instead of putting out pretty conventional beats through an anonymous name.

So you started off making more hip-hop/lofi-fi rap beats, is that because you listen mainly to rap or just because of the buzz on Soundcloud for that style?

No, I listen to everything honestly. I like some weird shit and I always have but when I first got SoundCloud I completely got addicted to that vinyl sim effect off of the sp404 that pretty much defined the lofi subgenre of hip-hop. I saved up for one and bought one and I started posting beat tapes and that was how I originally started to get people listening to my music. People liked what I was putting up so I kept posting similar stuff but instead of sampling, I was starting to record my own guitar and keyboard using the same effects that I would over a sample and that's how I started trying to make actual songs instead of just looped beats.

What would you say makes you different than those in the scene around you?

I would say that I am naturally less worried about things than others around me. It really pisses my mom off because everyone else that I'm around is stressing out about getting into colleges and everything, but I'm honestly not. I'm just trying to find the balance between trying my best in school and creating meaningful music and I feel like if I find it, I'll end up somewhere good in the future. I just think that it's a waste of energy to be worrying about things that are really out of my control, so I think that if I just do my best and trust the future, I'll be happier and turn out someplace positive.

Which part of the process is your favorite when making music?

My favorite part of the creative process is mixing after everything is recorded. That is when you start to get the sense of whether what you are working on is good or not and if it is, it's a really good feeling. When I'm recording, it's hard to know if I'm gonna like it or not because I usually start by hitting record and seeing what comes out of my fingers, whether it be through a guitar or a keyboard, over the metronome. Recording is a pretty spontaneous thing for me and a lot of the time, what comes out is terrible and I delete it and start over. I think that the way that I mix is how I stay unique. I'm always trying to have an individual sound and mixing is where I really can fine tweak things to get them sounding exactly how I want them to.

How did you start working with ROLE MODEL and what was your method when producing music for the ARIZONA IN THE SUMMER EP?

I initially connected with Tucker at the beginning of last summer when I heard Cocaine Babe for the first time and I reached out to him asking if I could send him some instrumentals. He said I could, so I sent him a couple of pretty trash beats that he wasn't really feeling and nothing ended up happening with them. A couple of months later after I had put out a few more projects on SoundCloud at the beginning of the fall, he private messaged me asking if I would be down to try again. I told him of course and I sent him something that I was working on at the time and that was the beat that ended up becoming "Stolen Car" off of Arizona in the Summer.

After that, I think that I really began to understand the direction that Tucker was trying to go in with his music and then we made "I Dnt Rlly Like U." I found the synth preset, recorded a four bar loop and knew that was all that was needed because I wanted to give Tucker room to do whatever he wanted with it. I sent it to him and he had recorded on it and sent me back a version of it the next day. It recently just hit half a million plays on spotify and I was super excited to see that for him. 

Tucker also just released "Not A Fan" which we did together a while back and we have a couple more singles that he's got lined up to drop. This summer we have a lot planned as well so stay tuned for new ROLE MODEL.

You dropped your debut project, Full Hamper Keyboard Stand, recently. What does that mean to you and how did you go about its creation?

This project is huge for me. I have spent so many hours listening to these seven tracks over and over and over again and it is really rewarding to get to see the final product. I started recording for FHKS around six months ago and I had recorded close to fifty or so different demo tracks that I went through around Christmas time when I decided which tracks I would refine and ask people to feature on. I produced the majority of the EP in January and February and spent most of March and April finishing the mixes and mastering each track. 

A huge part of this project was my diagnosis with Lyme disease. They caught it late so my body was pretty messed up and at the beginning of this school year, I was  5'11' weighing 118 pounds. When I started taking the antibiotics, they made me really sick and I couldn't go to school. This is when I did most of the recording for FHKS.

I decided on the name Full Hamper Keyboard Stand because I produced, recorded, mixed, and mastered the entire project in my bedroom and during the recording process, the keyboard that I used to record all of my synths and percussion was propped up on my full hamper. I think that the name is really weird and is fitting for the place that I was at when I was making the project. It represents the messy person that I am. 

After taking more than thirty pills a day since last fall, I have my weight up to 145 and I am almost entirely symptom-free. I'm also really excited to have the EP released and am looking forward to seeing what people think.

When you began to choose features for your tape, how did you decide who you wanted on each track?

I had wanted to work with Emma Ivy at the very beginning before I had made any of the instrumentals. We had made a song together at the end of last year that she released called "Long Time" and I knew that I wanted to do something again but with a different sound. The song that we ended up using for the EP, "Drifting Away" was initially another song that I had written an recorded different lyrics to and then I deleted all of my vocals because I knew that whatever Emma would write and record would be a lot better than whatever I had. I sent her the song that I had recorded and then she wrote her verse and chorus using some of the lyrics from the song that I had sent her and she absolutely killed it. I rerecorded my verse coming out of the chorus four separate times because I hated how my voice sounded when it transitioned from Emma's. I like making music with Emma because she makes me sound better as a producer because her voice is so perfect, and, she also makes me have to be better when I'm singing on a song with her because I can't do the sexy pitch stuff with my voice to make it sound less bad.

I connected with Skyler for the first time when he requested to follow me on Instagram and I saw that he had a SoundCloud. It was for his song "Pity Fuck" which I listened to and then immediately sent him a DM to see if he would want to be on the project that I was working on because at this point I had a number of songs recorded that I didn't like my vocals for that I knew I wanted other people to be on. I sent Skyler the "Nothing" instrumental with one of my verses on it and he recorded his part on it and I loved it so much that I decided to take out my last verse and ask him to write his own version (at the end when the drums come back in). Skyler has a really unique voice and he is a talented songwriter. His flows stick in my mind and his lyrics are powerful and that is why "Nothing" is one of my favorite tracks on the project.

The song with Miles was completely spontaneous. He's a good friend of mine and one day, I asked if him he wanted to come over and make a song with me because we had been talking about making music for some time. I picked him up and we went back to my house and I made the entire beat that day with Miles and he recorded a hook and a couple of verses that he had written another time. Then I recorded a keyboard solo (on that mf full hamper) and we stopped for the day. I sent Miles what we had done so far and he wrote more to it and then he came back to my house another day to record the verse on top of the keyboard solo. I usually make music joking around and not take it seriously at all when I'm with my friends but that day with Miles, we both took it really seriously and I think that the final product is something that we created that is pretty personal to both of us. That was one of the first songs that Miles has ever recorded and I think that he has enormous potential. I'm looking forward to making more music with him in the future.

Full Hamper Keyboard Stand... is it bedroom pop? Is it indie alternative? Is it indie alternative bedroom pop? I honestly don't know, but it's really fucking good.

With a roster of smaller acts featuring across its seven tracks, Ardell is able to pull a variety of sounds together in a way that perfectly fits into his nonlinear genre. With being completely made in his room, its has that vulnerable rawness that you hope to see within a budding musician because it feels like you really get to understand the base of their artistry.

This is most seen by the transition from the opening track, "Peter Pan / Interlude" into "Drifting Away" as we find ourselves flowing from the lofi stylings of Ardell's Mousam persona into the more indie leanings of his solo work. This transition is helped along by the incredible feature that Emma Ivy gives, lending a lot to the vibe switch early on in the tape. Ardell doesn't let up as he continues to deliver mood setters, one after the other in the form of "Perspective" and "Sunbeam". Both of which will leave you filled with nostalgia as you think back on the better days and fill you with uneasy certainty that life still has so much more to show you.

And one of those things left to experience is the unique and deeply pleasing timbre of Skyler Stone's voice as he slides over the dreamy rhythm that Owen creates on "Nothing." The shift of only having Skyler on the song was a good way to break up any sense of security that listeners may had been feeling along the way. This works perfectly to set up the next track, "Face of Mother," which finds Owen and close friend, Miles Wiggz, sharing space and having a good time over synthed out production. This song helps lead into the final piece, "After School (Voice Memos)" through shear contrast. The synthy production clashes beautifully against the piano that comes in next, creating that last bit of unease that I've come to depend on.

And the way it ends is too perfect for me, because hearing the phone that seems to have recorded the whole piano solo be picked up and a distant conversation in the background embodies the sense of DIY spirit that Owen Ardell just oozes all across all of his work. This project, and all of the work that Ardell has ahead of him is a must listen.