A fiercely conceptual artist with the backing of Coldplay and an output that leans quite heavily on his own dreamscape, Belfast experimentalist Owen Denvir has an imaginative and memorable output.
He’s currently working on a series of three EPs, each representing a different Freudian concept, which will eventually combine to form his debut album. The tracks feature various household implements creating percussion, and challenge Owen to take on different styles as he creates them.
I caught up with him before the release of latest EP ‘Stones’ in late May…
I like the concept behind your EPs – what made you decide to do things with three different, related EPs eventually forming an album?
Thanks! It’s kind of become the trend with music now to keep releasing a catchy radio-friendly single every month or 2, which is a bit frustrating because I’d been hoarding a lot of music I loved that didn’t really fit that formula. Basically I wanted to be able to release collections of music with a definitive theme behind it, rather than just continually releasing short songs with no real depth or connection from one to the next. I grew up with a portable CD player, so music was always delivered within the context of an EP or an album.
Do you going into producing the EPs with a particular theme in mind for each one? I understand it’s a Freud concept?
My plan from the start of the project has actually changed as it’s progressed. The concept still stands of Freud’s theory of personality – where we each have 3 sides to ourselves: the “Id” (chaotic and unreasonable, responding directly to basic desires), the “Ego” (which operates by reason and real-world influences) and the “Superego” (the moral conscience and ideal self). I’ve swapped the order around in my trilogy though, with the “Ego” coming first in the “Sticks, Stones and Bones” EPs.
I’d already paired up which songs were going to go where before I released the first EP – with all of the songs being related to love and relationships – but as time’s gone on I’ve written and recorded new songs that I’ve swapped in instead. It’s nice to have the restrictions of a theme to follow because it invites you to go a different direction each time. The upcoming EP (Stones) has probably been the most fun so far because it’s supposed to be brash and chaotic, so I let rip with my voice on some places.
Have you thought about how the three EPs are eventually going to fuse into an album – things like running order, and progression?
I go back and forth on this decision pretty regularly so at the moment I’m not sure! I’m going to reassess once it’s all finished with “Bones”.
Can you tell me a bit about the story behind ‘This Could Be Love’?
I’ve actually had this song written for about 2 years. I produced 2 complete versions of it previously, with different choruses and instrumentation each time, but I scrapped them both because although I loved the song, I didn’t feel as though I’d made the most of the song’s potential.
It was when I heard Billie Eilish’s “When The Party’s Over” that I got the idea for this version I’m releasing now. I basically stripped away as many elements as possible and replaced them with just my voice. All of the percussion is either glitches or the sound of me hitting various random objects in my home. I didn’t want to use any sampled or recognisable drum sounds because the song itself came from a pretty weird dream, so I didn’t want anything to sound familiar.
Given the Freudian style of the EPs, are dreams a big part of your creative thought process?
Definitely yeah – 2 of the songs on “Stones” were written after weird dreams. I’m not sure why I have so many weird dreams but it’s handy for inspiration!
I love writing from the perspective of people who ignore reality in order to dwell in a fantasy within their head. “The Lie That You Think I Am” from the Sticks EP was written about the delusional woman from the documentary ‘Catfish’. She played an online persona to try to seduce someone she admired into a fake relationship, which is obviously an awful thing to do, but from the limits of her perspective it was the most wonderful experience to have ever happened to her. Similarly “Like Nobody Can See”, the last track on the upcoming Stones EP, was written about a character from ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ who chose to deny reality and follow the ghost of her husband into her own death. There’s a tragic line between love and pain and it’s easy to dwell on one to distract from the other, rather than face reality.
What are the advantages in your view of producing work that’s far more conceptual, instead of a series of individual tracks?
I’ve had a few moments in my career where I’ve set myself boundaries and restrictions, which actually seems to help creativity. I used to make a lot of covers and mashup videos in a triptych style, dissecting songs with a limit of 3 performances that I’d have to do entirely in 1 take. The boundary of themes for these EPs makes the project feel like I’m trying to explore a particular area each time, rather than just giving myself the option to write about absolutely anything. I’ve had new songs come along that I’m eager to release, but they don’t fit this project, so it’s keeping me motivated to know I’ve got lots of directions I can go after finishing Sticks Stones and Bones.
When you get your music shared by people like Coldplay, How do you feel about that, and how does it affect your own world – was there much of an uptick in listeners, for example?
It’s a surreal experience at first. People who follow your career are really special because they’ve actively chosen to continually support you, and I’m always grateful to see familiar names and faces pop up on likes and shares. You get used to the scope of your social following and roughly how many people will respond when you share something, but people like Coldplay have a following that absolutely dwarfs those numbers by comparison.
Essentially though, they’re Coldplay fans, not Owen Denvir fans. You’re immediately thrust into the social feeds of millions of people so lots of them will pitch in with their takes and opinions, which thankfully have mainly been nice, although I’ve seen some funny comments from people who don’t seem to think I’m a real person. One guy on a random Facebook page said I “probably want a sex change” because I sang falsetto. So really you get one big spike of attention, more streams and followers, and those people will decide within a few days whether or not they’re interested enough to stick around for the wild Owen Denvir ride (metaphorically, not literally).
Can you tell me about some of the household objects that have ended up featuring in your music?
I thoroughly research as many objects in my house as possible, smacking them all with a drumstick. In “This Could Be Love” we’ve got a plastic bin, the metal part of a lamp, the leg of my desk, the sound of my desk dropping on the floor and the sound of a microphone switching on. Other sounds I’ve used are the fan noise from my old flat in Edinburgh, snapping planks from a wooden fence, birds outside my window, and my earliest music has some accidental noise in the background from being called for dinner.
What’s been your favourite experience as an artist so far?
Supporting Dodie in Belfast’s Mandela Hall was pretty amazing. 1000 diehard Dodie fans. I’d never played for so many people, let alone a crowd as intense and excitable as that. It was really fun!
What do you make of Belfast’s music scene at the moment?
It’s hard to define any area of music at the moment – everything’s pretty up in the air. Not performing live is a weird adjustment. Everyone is having to adjust to relying solely on streaming for income. Hopefully my new single goes massively multi-platinum and maybe I’ll sleep easier. Like my musical friends, I’m cocooned up in writing/ recording and mixing to try to make the most of all this down-time. Lots of my friends here have said they find it difficult to draw inspiration from living every day exactly the same. Personally I’m betting we’ll come out of isolation with lots of songs about Tiger King and every other show keeping us going.
What are your hopes for the future?
It’d be nice to play in front of people again. I was lining up shows with a cellist friend so it’s a shame we’ve had to put things on hold. Irish radio has been really supportive of my music recently so I’d love to get travelling round and play in different counties. Also, recently I’ve been pushing what sounds I can make from my home studio and I’ve made some cinematic style stuff, so if I could score a big Hollywood movie that’d be swell.