A musician’s tour rider is a revealing thing. Beyonce requires perfectly carved ice balls and red toilet paper in her dressing room. Drake needs precisely 48 incense sticks. Justin Bieber requests an ‘Indian yoga casket,’ which seems not entirely unreasonable. But Dan Owen would just like somewhere to put his paddle, thanks.
Last year, the nomadic singer-songwriter went on an impromptu bicycle tour around England — just him, his bike, his guitar, and the not-so-open road. (“I told the idea to my manager, thinking he’d book it in the summer — but he booked it in November. It was incredibly flooded and wet, and I spent a lot of time off road, with all my gear, at night, going through woods in the pitch black,” he remembers with a fond twinkle in his eye.)
Next year, though, he’d like to do the same — but via kayak. “I’m imagining going down the coast of Cornwall, and then just playing at surf bars all along the shore,” he says. (“The next step would be to charge a battery as I go, and run the amps off that — so it’s completely self-sufficient,” he laughs.)
In this respect, Dan Owen could be beamed directly from the late 1960s, perhaps — some happy-go-lucky, kind-vibes cruiser, hitch-hiking his way around far flung spots and serenading the locals. (The hair certainly helps.) Some of his happiest memories are on the road, he tells me — like the eight week tour he took around Europe last year in a converted motorhome.
“I could have carried on with that forever!” he says. “On some days, we’d be driving to a venue, and we’d pull over to the side of the road, and make a sandwich, have a tin of beans each, jump in a lake, have a shower — then go off to do the gig,” he remembers. “I feel like that’s when I’m really happy. When your voice is on point, and you’re driving on the open road…”
But the schedule — and the industry — can be tough, too. Last year, Owen released ‘Boys Don’t Cry’, a thumping, potent anthem which struck a genuine chord among the buzzword minefield of ‘male mental health’. And for a while, Owen became an accidental ambassador for the cause.
“It’s hard for everyone,” he says. “For me, sometimes it’s hard, when you’re the lowest you can get, and you have to get up and play in front of everyone, and be the happy bloke. And if you feel like you’re struggling with your voice… that’s the one that gets me. You start missing notes, and it’s a mental thing,” he says. “So it’s good to talk about it.”
This is a nice understatement. There’s a tranquil, almost-philosophical side to Dan Owen, which belies his often stadium-grade vocal growl. His pre-Raphaelite tresses are matched by an easy calmness, and he tells me that it’s only by a quirk of fate that he ended up performing at all.
“I was going to be a carpenter,” he says. “I studied that. And then I had an accident in the workshop, and I had to stop doing it. A piece of wood came out of the machine and hit me,” — he points to one of his eyes — “and so now this one doesn’t really work anymore. If my mum was stood right there, I wouldn’t recognise her.”
“I realised I had to make money somehow, so I just rang loads of pubs — about 30 pubs a day — and asked them for gigs. Can I have a gig? Can I have a gig? Can I have a gig?” he laughs. “I was never doing it to get signed or anything. I was just doing it to put food on the table, because I haven’t got anything else.”
When he was teenager, Owen was doing more than 200 gigs a year. “I mean, I’m not anywhere big,” he says, “but I’ve managed to make a living off this since I was 16,” he says. “So I suppose my advice to anyone else, anyone younger, is just to work hard. That’s not new advice, I know,” Owen says. “But it’s solid, and it’s there.”