Songwriter Interviews

Jake Owen

by Shawna Ortega

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While talking to country artist Jake Owen, we learned some amazing things. We learned why we should pass up green bananas. We learned that regret really sucks. We learned that no matter what you experience in life, it's cathartic to write about it. And we learned that it is possible to go home again. We also learned that Jake Owen has some mad multi-tasking skills, as you will find out. And when he says he's having a ball right now, we believe him.

One of the new, more accessible generation of country music artists, Jake uses the Internet and his cell phone to reach out and touch his fans. After all, how rude is it to not return a phone call? Forget that the initial call is not a call at all, but a mash note on his Myspace page; in Jake's world it's just wrong to not acknowledge it.

And the argument about Facebook over Myspace? Don't even get him started.

Oops.
Shawna Ortega (Songfacts): Can you tell me where "Startin' With Me" came from, what inspired that?

Jake: I was sitting with a couple of buddies talking about some things that we've all done in our lives that we wish we probably could have done together. Everybody's spent so much time blaming things on other people, or on other things that have happened in their lives. So we just kind of put all the things together that we've done; I've had instances in my life I really regret. And the only way you can get past that and be a better person in life is by looking at yourself in the mirror and starting with yourself.

Songfacts: Are there any of the things in the song that apply directly to you?

Jake: Yeah, definitely. I got in a little altercation with my dad one Christmas that I'll never forget about. I was not there when my grandmother passed away. There's quite a few things in that song that are very autobiographical.

Songfacts: And you have reactions from fans that come up and tell you, "Hey, this was a song that got me through, I did the same thing"?

Jake: Yeah, totally. And it sounds trite, but it's what makes it completely worthwhile, to have somebody walk up to you and tell you how much a song means to them, or where they were in their life when that song hit them, and how much they've grown. It's awesome.

Songfacts: Have you had any exceptional stories about people that have talked to you about that?

Jake: Well, one of my favorite stories of all time just happens to be about a different song that I wrote called "Ghosts," which is on my first record, also.

Songfacts: Talk to me about "Ghosts."

Jake: Well, I never met my granddad, and I always have heard how much I am like him. And that song is written about a guy that, if I would have met him, what he would have told me. My mom always told me about how great a guy he was, he just had a drinking problem. And any alcoholic can know to the day exactly how long it's been since they've been sober. Needless to say I wrote that song about how every day you live with the things that you do all your life, the ghosts of them. And in a way it kind of mirrors "Startin' With Me" a bit, but it really revolves around somebody that has alcohol problems in their life. And I've had that in my family.

I was in Hershey, Pennsylvania, playing with Kenny Chesney - the first time I ever played with him. And this guy came up to me with his little girl, and he was almost in tears. Full-grown man and he had this young girl with him, and he told me that his daughter was almost 6 years old. And he said, "I just want to thank you so much for writing that song. It's changed my life." He said, "I listen to it all the time, and I want you to know how much you mean to people like me with songs like that." He said, "I almost lost my little girl here because of my problem with alcohol, and hearing songs like this is what reminds me every day of how lucky I am." And he handed me this coin, and it had the Roman numeral for 3 on it, and it was his Alcoholics Anonymous coin, where he'd earned it for being three years sober. And I said, "Man, I can't take this from you. You've worked three years to get it." And he just looked around and he said, "No, man. Don't worry about it because I'm gonna be getting my four-year one here pretty soon." And I just thought, What an amazing thing to say. Something I'll never forget. And I was proud of that guy, I was proud of myself in a way, knowing that I touched this guy like that. I could look in his little girl's eyes… stuff like that's what matters, you know?

Songfacts: What did you do with the coin?

Jake: I still have it. It's in my guitar case.

Songfacts: That is a great story. Do you have any other stories that you want to throw at me like that?

Jake: "Green Bananas" is a song on my second record that just came out. It's a very true song about a guy I used to fish with. Honest-to-God, growing up, he had a boat named Green Bananas. He was an older fellow, he was my dad's friend. He was probably in his 50s, and my brother and I - I have a twin - we were probably 14 or 15. I asked him one day why his boat was called Green Bananas, we'd been fishing on it forever and I'd never asked him. And he'd had a buddy of his that had passed away when they were in their 30s or 40s. And his buddy told him in the hospital, "Man, don't ever buy green bananas, because as you can tell, you never know what life's gonna bring." I always remembered that. And I just wrote that song kind of telling the story the same way that he told it to me. And I just thought what a great way for people to remember life in such a simple way, and not be a downer kind of "life is short, live it while you can" song. It's got a great feel to it.

It's an amazing song that I was really excited to put on the record. But essentially the chorus is this guy, he's telling the story of his friend that passed away, and he says he basically learned from a guy, he doesn't buy green bananas, he doesn't play the lottery. And "I don't own an umbrella, if it rains, I guess I'm gonna get wet. I don't buy green bananas because I don't plan that far ahead." Yeah, it's a really special song, and it really touches a lot of people.

Songfacts: Is that one that you try to play every night?

Jake: We try to. It just depends on the crowd. If it's a young college crowd or something, you can't stand up there all night long and sing songs about loss and love. (laughs) They want to just have a good time. So it's all about reading the audience.

Songfacts: Let's talk about your newest single.

Jake: "Don't Think I Can't Love You" is definitely a masculine love song. It's just a song coming from a guy, your everyday hard-working guy, this guy that may not be able to afford all the finer things in life. I learned when I was a kid - that's the first line in the song, I learned the hard way real early in life that money doesn't grow on trees. My dad taught my brother and me how to work hard for it. And he always said, "I may not be able to give you, your brother, or your mom the best things in life, but I can love you all more than anything, and that's what's gonna keep our family together. Not money." And I just wanted to write that. But it's coming from a guy's perspective in the song to this girl saying he can't buy her the finer things in life, big houses on the hill, or a big diamond ring for her finger. "But don't think that I can't love you." And I think that it's a really strong way of singing a love song and lyrically putting it out there without overdoing it with cliche cheesy lines. It's just laying it out there on the table, which is the way it is, and it's how I feel.

Songfacts: How long ago did you actually write that one?

Jake: That was probably two years ago.

Songfacts: And two years ago were you kind of past that point in your life, where you're going, "Now I've got money, I can buy you that big house on the hill" kind of thing?

Jake: No. Because I just think it's a figure of speech, and the fact that even if you do have a whole lot of things in life, or money, that's not what matters. And I've seen plenty of people with very little in their life be unbelievably happy. And I've seen a lot of people with a whole lot of money that are miserable. And I'd rather take the latter - or the former. (laughs)

Songfacts: (laughing) Yeah, you don't want to be miserable.

Jake: (laughing) Yeah, my guys are sitting here on the bus and they're laughing, they're like, "What?"

Songfacts: Is that your ADD kicking in?

Jake: Yeah, it is. While I'm talking to you, I'm signing insert booklets of my CD. I've got like a thousand here I was supposed to sign earlier, and I've been doing this for a while. So they're laughing, I guess, they're getting all the stories to my songs, too.

Songfacts: Talk to me about "Every Reason I Go Back." I want to know what place was it written about, if you can give me any specifics.

Jake: It's where I grew up. My home town. Vero Beach, Florida. Pretty small town. It's grown substantially over the last 20 years. I left there because all my friends still live there. My twin brother still lives there, my older brother lives there with his wife, my mom and dad live there. And I just had to get out. I feel like you can't grow in your life in any certain way without being under the shadow in the sense of your family, friends, and all that, without getting out and doing your own thing. So I left. It was the best thing I ever did.

But I went home this past Christmas, this was right before I wrote the song, and I went back to the same bars that I used to go to and hang out with my friends, and my same friends' houses, my mom and dad's house, and even though I got tired as a kid growing up and hearing my mom and dad preach to me all the time… My dad, he'd say, "Son," I'd say, "Yeah?" He'd go, "What?" I'd have to say, "Yes, sir," you know? (laughing) And I got tired of that. But now I realize that those are the same reasons I still go back home, because of the morals and the values that were instilled in me and my friends. And I wouldn't be the man I am today without the things that were instilled in me as a kid. And that stems from my family and my friends, and just life in general.

Songfacts: How have your friends reacted to your success? The same old friends that you grew up with?

Jake: I'm out here this weekend with a buddy of mine I went to college with. He jumped on the bus, and I hadn't seen him in a while, but we're having a good time.

Songfacts: I also wanted to ask you about "Places To Run."

Jake: I love that song. That's one of my favorite songs, too. I'm glad you said that. A lot of people don't ever talk about that song.

It was on my first record, and it was actually the first song I ever wrote in Nashville, with two other people. I wrote it with my producer, and the first time I ever met this guy named Kendall Marvel. He came in, I'd never met him before, and Jimmy told me all about him and said he was a good guy, and he'd get what I do. I had this melody for this kind of old… I used to like Merle Haggard. I mean, I still like Merle Haggard, but he had a song back in the day, it was called "Going Where The Lonely Go." (singing) "Rolling with the flow…" And it just had this kind of easy feeling to it. But yeah, it was a song about love lost, and going where the lonely go. And anyhow, I wanted that same feeling, and I had this little melody and I played it. And I just had that first line, (singing) "I lived all my life," and it's cool… Kendall came in and he was like, "I love that." And actually, there's really only a first verse, and a chorus to that song. And there's an instrumental, and then there's a chorus again. And it doesn't say a whole lot. Just this guy saying he lived his whole life with no ties ever bound him, and he never thought he'd be able to settle down until he did find her, and she said… And I've done this in my life, before, I've had a girlfriend tell me before, "You're too busy in what you're doing. If you don't show me some sort of attention in other aspects of the relationship, then it isn't gonna happen." And sure enough I ignored it, and she went away. And I regret that. And that song has a lot of regret in it. But I think it really represents a great melody, and a great country song. It just sounds very timeless.

Songfacts: I love the simplicity of it. Okay, off of your new album I heard "Tell Me," I love that.

Jake: "Tell Me" is a great song. It's one of my favorite songs off the new record, too. I love the way it kicks off the new record with the intro. It was a big deal to me to create some sort of a feeling and, when you go to a show you have this kind pre-show intro, and when someone puts the album in their disc player or their MP3, they can kind of get an experience when they're listening. And once again, I either sing songs about having fun, with love and being carefree, or they're songs where I'm regretting it. "Startin' With Me," there's a line in there that talks about I let a woman slip right through my fingers. I've done that more than a few times. And with "Tell Me," I was dating this one chick, and - I say "chick," that's so bad (laughs) - I was dating this one girl, she was what I thought was great. But she didn't have the same intentions I did. And that seems to be the way it goes most of the time: one person's got intentions and the other one doesn't. (laughs) And all my friends told me it probably wasn't gonna work out. And I just kept on and kept on with it, and everybody kind of just agreed with me. They're like, "All right, well, if he likes her, then he'll be all right." But meanwhile, everyone kind of shut up. And I wished at the end of it, after I got my heart broken, I felt like the whole time I was essentially looking down the barrel of this loaded gun that somebody should have just taken out of my hands and said, "No." But then again, I should have taken myself out of it. So it's kind of one of those reflective songs. But I can't write everything dark and dreary, and I love the tempo to that song, and the way it feels.

Songfacts: It's a good way to start off a show. That one will get the energy up for sure. I read in an interview that you said your girlfriend is cast on the next "Survivor"?

Jake: Oh, no, no, no. We were dating… but I said that she was wanting to do that. People misinterpreted what I said. I think she said she was going to try out or something. I was joking around when I told the girl from the interview in New York that, and I said, "She can't live without Facebook, so I don't know how she's gonna live without a computer."

Songfacts: (laughs) Hey, Facebook is cool.

Jake: (laughs) I have no comment on Facebook. It's cool for some people that really honestly use it connect with long-lost friends. But, see, once you connect with these "long-lost friends," they're no longer "long-lost" friends. So people tend to get into long-lost friends and new-found business. And I just… (laughs) I hate that about it.

Songfacts: But your Myspace - is that your personal one that you go on?

Jake: Well, the label basically runs it, but I get on there and talk to people. That's different. I mean, I'm on there talking to people about, "Thank you for coming to my show," and blah blah blah. Whereas my brother and his girlfriends and my ex-girlfriend and her friends (laughs) they get on there to see who posted what on who else's Web site, and why they were in a picture with so-and-so last weekend. Yeah. Now it's essentially girl talk without having to talk to your girls.

Songfacts: Oh, man. And texting. It's horrible. You don't have to do face-to-face anymore, ever. Anywhere. You call your fans from your Myspace because they ask you to call them, and you video tape it for youtube. Whose idea was that?

Jake: That was my idea. I wanted people to know that it was real. I kept calling people back and they kept saying, "No way, no way this is you, no way this is you." And I'd say, "Do you really call people and leave a message and you're expecting them not to call you back? I don't leave you a message and expect you not to call me back."

Songfacts: But then through caller ID, people have your phone number. You're not worried about that?

Jake: Well, it comes up as an unknown number.

Songfacts: It didn't on me just now.

Jake: Well, this is actually my cell phone number, so, Shawna, you can consider yourself a special one. (laughing)

Songfacts: (laughs) I'm honored.

We spoke with Jake on March 13, 2009. Find out more on his Web site www.jakeowen.net.
More Songwriter Interviews

Comments: 4

  • Ken from Archer,flajake like your 8 second ride video. it is good to see sombody from fla make something good for them selfves.
  • Tatianna from Clearwater FloridaHi jake! i would just like to say that i think your an amzing guy and you write beautiful meaningful songs that i love to listen too. i just turned 15 and listening to some of your love songs always makes me think about what i would do in that situation. my favorite song youve written is "dont think i cant love you" i hope to one day see you in concert. your hands down my favorite male artist.
  • Brian from FloridaHey Jake, saw you and round up on 10/28. Great show! I remember you singing with Tyler at potbellies at FSU. You've come a long way, congrats!!
  • Debra from IowaJake you are my favorite artist and always well be.i love watching you on stage and you are super sweet and nice as they come.
see more comments

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