Owen Ashworth reflects on 13 years as Casiotone for the Painfully Alone
"I don’t think I’m a particularly good interview,” laments Owen Ashworth about halfway through my interview with the purveyor of indie electronic act Casiotone for the Painfully Alone—coming to the Crepe Place on Wednesday, Sept. 22 with opener Otouto.
This is a half-truth. It’s not so much that Ashworth isn’t a good interview—rather, I feel like I’ve learned a great deal about the Chicago-via-San Francisco musician during our 30 minutes. His answers are methodical, philosophical, and engaging. However, Ashworth is correct in asserting that his musings are distinct (read: much headier) from other indie pseudo-stars. And I feel like this is because he knows all my tricks and secrets.
Though starting out as a film major at San Francisco State, before he started doing Casiotone full-time, Ashworth spent time as a music journalist for SF Weekly and the Portland Mercury. I’m getting a clearer picture of why I might relate so well to his music.
And indeed, with his austere delivery, oh-so-distinct downtrodden aesthetic, and relentlessly frank lyrics, Casiotone for the Painfully Alone is the kind of music that’s easy to form a personal attachment to. One story Ashworth has told in the past is of receiving an email from a girl who had just been broken up with, and was thus breaking up with Casiotone.
“It was very sweet and sad, and clearly at a point where this person was still a little raw emotionally,” recalls Ashworth. “There’s a lot of music for me that has very specific emotional resonance, and seems tied to a certain time or place where it just gets uncomfortable to listen to it in a different context. It’s weird to have made something that someone has incorporated into their life that way. Music’s a real emotional thing, and emotions change real fast. Music can seem like the most important thing in the world one day, and something you never want to hear again the next. It’s kind of a fickle line of work; people feel in and out with Casiotone all the time.”
This is also very much the reason that, after 13 years, Ashworth has decided to hang up the Casiotone moniker after his current tour and a one-off anniversary gig, going forth into the unknown with a new alias and a new batch of songs.
“I’ve been writing songs for 13 years and I feel like I’m a very different guy now than I was when I first started writing songs,” says Ashworth. “I really like some of the early music, but I don’t really feel comfortable singing it. It would feel disingenuous to write songs that I’d written as a 20-year-old. For people who really like the early stuff, I kind of just want to leave it alone, instead of it continuing to be reinterpreted by a guy in his thirties.”
And yes, many of the characters and scenes that Ashworth has portrayed over the years involve tweny-somethings coming to terms with things—but others incorporate bank robbers and true crime, proof of expanded songwriting interests.
“I almost have visual storyboards for a lot of the songs sometimes before they even get written,” says Ashworth. “For me to write a song I need to have some sense of place, whether it be a city, or a certain kind of landscape, or something like that … Usually it’s just a couple of actions I’ll obsess over, and that will be the central image for a song. It’s almost like a loop that I get obsessed with a certain image that will inform a song.”
So, while it will be painful to watch Casiotone for the Painfully Alone ride off into the sunset, for Ashworth—like changing scenes around one of his characters—it’s just the perfect situation.
“I don’t know, it’s time to do something else. I need different context.”
Casiotone for the Painfully Alone plays at 9 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 22, at The Crepe Place, 1134 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $8 in advance or $10 at the door. For more information, call 429-6994.
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