Owen Beverly

by Nicole Roberge

The Nashville musician revisits his early music after a nearly 20-year-old EP resurfaces, reminding fans and himself that it's always worth a second listen.

The unassuming Owen Beverly can fill a room with his evocative voice; it catches you, at once haunting, and the next, covers like a blanket. Listening to him is settling in for a bedtime story, then waiting for the twist.

Anyone who has had the pleasure of seeing him live can testify to his uniqueness. With songs that propel from folk to gothic rock, his ethereal hymns capture with crushing lyrics and soulful melodies. Owen Beverly is music encapsulated - a raw, pure talent.

But it is a recent video that emerged to throw Beverly's name back into the spotlight. When Rick Beato showcased Owen's 2003 song "For Mia" (from The Drunk Lover EP) on his YouTube channel This Song Should Have Been Massive, he claimed the industry missed out on the then-20-year-old artist and a song that should've been a sure hit. Fans new and old flocked out, banging down the doors for Beverly to make music again. Little did they know, Beverly has been non-stop since. The multitalented songwriter now leads the Southern rock band INDIANOLA, but over the course of nearly 20 years he's led a successful career as a solo artist, touring musician (Oh Land), lyricist (Nicole Atkins), and even actor (the movie Solo Project) into the mix.

We caught up with Beverly as he navigated a trip with his dog from his now-home of Nashville to where he grew up in Mississippi. The carefree crooner was appreciative of the recent attention and self-reflective of where the road had taken him. It seemed a time in his life he may not have revisited otherwise. There may have been forks in the road, but Beverly appears to have merged onto a roundabout, with his next exit being 2003.
Nicole Roberge (Songfacts): You've recently been garnering a lot of attention for Rick Beato's YouTube video on "For Mia." What have reactions from that been like?

Owen Beverly: The funny thing about that Rick video is that I had all these people reach out and say that I need to start my music again. They don't realize I have been for 20 years. I never stopped. Rick talked about some big inflection point in my career that was this meteoric rise and fall as a solo artist. That was the reason I went on to do other projects like INDIANOLA and film. That stuff was born out of a place of picking myself back up and saying, "What do I do now? This particular venture has run its course and all the people it brought to the table have left."

Songfacts: Did you have a heads-up about this or were you surprised?

Beverly: I did not know. I got a call from a mutual friend that morning that he was going to release the video. I think he likes to surprise people.

As hard as it is to harness the power of attention through music, through press, it put my name through to more people than in the past. I'm hoping that what it is going to allow me to do is a retrospective and do songs from other eras. To give a look at other records I put out with a cult following. It's exciting for people who love that EP to now give it attention.

One of my problems has been to always focus on the next song that I'm going to write, thinking the past is just the past. This has been an opportunity to hold a mirror up to me and focus on the older material the same way I focus on new material.

Songfacts: It's funny how sometimes you need something like that to get a new perspective on things.

Beverly: It can be helpful to say, "Why don't you just focus on something you did 20 years ago for a second?" If you're looking for where to go next, it's just nice to have it real obvious laying right in front of you.

Songfacts: Had you not really thought about that EP for a while?

Beverly: Yeah. I know a lot of people really enjoyed it. It's just been so long. In my own mind, it represents this person I was at the very beginning of my career. Going back and looking back at it again through the lens of all those other people who enjoy it made me realize that that there's good writing in it. I'm proud of that young person that I was in a way that I can honestly say I haven't felt in a long time.

Songfacts: Is "For Mia" a song you would've picked to be singled out off that EP?

Beverly: I guess one thing that's interesting to point out is that your memory, your recollections, they get colored by your experience. In that case, that experience for me was kind of traumatic. It seemed like so much success was coming my way. When it didn't, it made me not only disappointed, but it felt like it was my own fault. It felt like maybe the music was not good enough. That's to understand that things didn't happen the way I wanted them to. That song in particular was a silly little pop song that I wrote. When I watch the Rick video, I'm like, "Oh, those chord changes are pretty cool." I see now there's a lot to that song.

If you'd have asked me a few weeks ago to pick a song that says a lot about me as a writer, I would never have picked that song. But I think it's because that era of time and everything that happened after that EP came out was like a dark night of the soul.

Only now am I able to look back on it and maybe give it the respect it deserves all these years later and give myself a little bit of a break for not being able to control all these uncontrollable things that kept it from being a bigger success.

Who Is Mia?

When we asked Beverly to identify this Mia who won his heart, he offered this explanation:

"I like to tell little stories with my songs, often written in the first person but not autobiographical - more like character studies. In this song, my character is having a Say Anything John Cusack moment in Mia's yard. It's the middle of the night, waking up the neighbors, classic teenage love story."
Songfacts: As any artist, a musician or writer, it's hard not to think those things are your fault or you could've done something different. But it's out of your hands. It's not something in your control.

Beverly: Exactly. Especially that young. Everybody says, if I could go back and do it all over again. Oh my gosh. I would know so much more how to navigate some of those difficulties of the music business. As a 19, 20-year-old person, you don't even know how to do your taxes.

I wish I had had a little bit more patience and resolve to not let one EP stalling out on success bring me down or take me off course or take the wind out of my sail. As you probably know, it's so hard to have a record explode and do really well out of nowhere. Much easier then though!

Songfacts: You moved on with your music to do more solo work and played with other bands (French Camp, Tent Revival), but seem to have found your niche with your current band, INDIANOLA. Is that your priority now?

Beverly: I did a solo record in 2014 that I recorded in Denmark. After that, I started INDIANOLA basically as a concept with Michael Trent from the band Shovels & Rope. He was getting into producing and we just started talking about rock and roll, roots music, southern gothic music, and dreamed up a landscape of a sound together that ultimately became INDIANOLA. I started out playing guitar when I grew up in Mississippi playing blues music. When I went to college and got more into songwriting, I was listening to Radiohead, Sigur Rós and Muse, and my idea of what music was expanded out. The INDIANOLA project was trying to reconcile all the places that I've been with music.

There's so much to do with music. I feel like I've said a lot of things. When that first INDIANOLA record was being made, I felt like, "How much have you tried to get back to that place where you first started?" I think that's what that project was born out of, and now it's really turned much more into doing my own producing, making records for other people, and doing videography.

Songfacts: What is striking about you is that you can transcend all genres and do it well. You can go from a song like "Dixie" to "1960's" seamlessly. Would you classify yourself as any genre or do you not feel that matters as a musician?

Beverly: I have different goals through different periods in my life with songwriting, because there's so many different types of songs and they're all great. When I wrote "Dixie" I was listening to a lot of Townes Van Zandt and a lot of country music that had never been super important to me.

One of my greatest passions in life is writing. Switching genres is a time I take to study a different kind of music, to try to achieve some goals outside of whatever sandbox I've been playing in. When I'm writing country or Americana, it's part of my learning as a writer. It's part of me trying to understand what makes that music work, what makes it great, what makes it connect with people. With the INDIANOLA project, there's a lot more early birth of rock and roll components to it.

One day I woke up and I was tired of going on tour and playing sad folk music. I said, "I want to go out on tour, and I want to rock. I want the place to be bouncing." And I hadn't written like that in a way that felt concerted. It became a goal.

Songfacts: Do you find the fans take to that? That the fans who like the folk songs can also jump into the rock songs?

Beverly: I think it becomes confusing for people to follow me on all these different paths. Now I'm realizing that I owe my fans and supporters a little bit more of a throughline to all these places I've been. Shamelessly, I have not made a lot of decisions based on what I thought would accrue the most attention for myself. It really has just been my own journey through music that has been the most important to me all this time - a lifelong study of music more so than a marketer of my own brand. Because of that, it has been a challenge to keep people informed and up to date and keep people moving with all the side projects.

Songfacts: I think that's important though. If what you want out of your life is to be a lifelong learner of music and keep advancing yourself.

Beverly: It totally is! I've had so many friends that have had early on success in a narrow lane, and it's hard for them to get out of that. For me, I've scored music for films, I've went on tour with big bands as a guitar, bass, and keyboard player. I've enriched my life in a way that I wonder if that could have been constricted by early on success with one song or one type of sound.

Songfacts: It does seem you've opened doors for yourself that might not have been there otherwise and have had some pretty amazing opportunities. You have done some collaborating as well?

Beverly: I've been lucky. I've done co-writing with Howie Day. Teddy Heart (formerly Teddy Geiger), who in her own right has had a lot of success with Shawn Mendes. Teddy transitioned a few years ago and that's its own inspiring story. I did a few songs with her on the last record she made identifying as a male as Teddy Geiger. I just did a cut with this country artist William Clark Green. I did some cuts on Nicole Atkins' last record and right now I'm working on a concept for her next record. I stay busy in that field. There's so much work to be done, it's hard to get it all done. I'd love to do more.

Songfacts: You like the co-writing process then? Do you find it creative, or does it ever hinder your own work?

Beverly: I think it's a challenge for me. Sometimes I'll sit down and write a song in 30 minutes, and sometimes I'll do it over the course of 15 years. When you sit down in a room with someone, you certainly don't have that luxury. It's really important you find whatever it is you need to manifest that idea into the physical world, because if you don't, you leave the cowriting session feeling like you failed. When you're sitting there by yourself, you certainly don't have that expectation that after a couple hours you're going to have a finished song. When you're sitting with someone, you want to know you're going to have something definite.

That's always my goal in a cowriting session: When I get up from this chair, we're going to have a song. It can be exciting and powerful and remind you how easy it is to materialize a song when you don't have all your own blocks.

Songfacts: Notably, you've written songs with Danish musician Oh Land and toured with her as well, playing guitar. Was that a good experience not being front and center all the time?

Beverly: I loved it. She was really good and big in Europe. That song ("Wolf & I") was a hit song in Turkey. We would go to Turkey a few times a year and it was like being in The Beatles. That song did really well for her in other markets as well. That was the most rewarding part of it and that was the first time I could see a physical representation of how well something did, that as a touring artist I was never able to achieve. We would do festivals where tens of thousands of people would attend and that was amazing.

Songfacts: What a great experience. Just that opportunity to tour and travel for that many years (2013-16). That led to you writing your own album (Amager) while in Denmark?

Beverly: The keyboard player for Oh Land and producer Tore Nissen, I met playing with her. He had a studio in Denmark and said, "Why don't you come over and we'll make a record in a month." We did and we made it on the island of Amager and put it out in 2014.

Songfacts: Did spending time writing in another country, away from everyday distractions, give you a different perspective on your songwriting?

Beverly: It did. There's a song on that record called "Postcards." It captured the way I was feeling at that time. Traveling all over the world, feeling like an ex-patriot, feeling like a stranger in Europe, which I hadn't spent a lot of time in. It felt lonely but allowed me to be introspective and challenge myself in a different way. Being in Denmark, being completely unheard of, completely unknown—it opened up more possibilities in a weird way. Almost like, "nobody's looking, what do you have to say?" instead of being on display.

Songfacts: You did a movie as well, Solo Project, about a musician who left his band to be a solo artist and is trying to get a record deal in Denmark. Can you fill me in a little about how you got involved with that?

Beverly: I had done some scoring work for a film company called Lost Pilot that had mostly done documentaries and concert movies, headed up by this guy Mike Allen. He wanted to do something music oriented. That story that was told in the screenplay was not my story but similar. The concept was that he wanted to cast someone who has done all this, who has lived it. We ended up using INDIANOLA music in the soundtrack. Instead of hiring an actor, he wanted to find someone he could write the part around.

That was my first acting experience, and it was very scary. I was in every scene almost and on the set nonstop. I have so much respect for actors now. I wouldn't be opposed to doing it again, but it felt like a one-off. The stars aligned with where he and I were in our lives. He wanted to base the film in Denmark where I was already living at the time. It ends up for me just being this incredible scrapbook of my life.

The character I played was a little more of a dirtbag than I am in real life, so I have to reemphasize that it was not autobiographical.

Songfacts: You've played solo, in several bands, are an esteemed co-writer, have starred in a movie. What's next for you? What have you not done yet?

Beverly: I've gotten really into filmmaking. It's become a later career passion, working with video. I have a film we're slating the release for now that I've made. It's a music film. Now that there's been all this attention put on previous work, I'm going to take a moment to go back and touch on some of that stuff. Ironically the film is a lot about memory, experience, and past trauma. It just feels especially poignant. You look for indicators in real life to tell you that you're on the right path. I think that now that there's all this focus on my own past after having made this project that is about memories, I'm now going to fuse those two worlds a little bit together. I'm going to go on this retrospective in film making and look at some of the songs, like "For Mia," that have kind of gotten a cult following, and do a little work there before we release the newer materials.

Maybe I'm finally learning that lesson that there's value in the music that's already been made, and it's not always just about the next thing you do.

I'll probably be doing some more of these live videos like I did with "For Mia." It has some found footage from the era with a live performance. I keep calling it a retrospective. I'm going to do that with different songs, move through some side projects and different solo projects, and tease a little bit of the movie.

For now, I'm going to focus on the past a little bit—and luckily that ties into the theme of the film.

Songfacts: It seems the past might be drawing you back, and that's a good thing.

Beverly: It's serendipitous. The way the whole thing's happened. I never would've pulled that record (The Drunk Lover EP) out otherwise and listened to it. There's too much sadness attached to it. Only now that there's all these people saying it's great am I able to let myself off the hook. It's bittersweet. It can be hard, thinking that's what you missed - your whole life could've been different.

I've had a great life and, there's been so many hardships and struggles and difficulties. There've been so many times when I've just been flat broke and looking for a song to save me. And I think that there is real power in that lack of complacency. When you feel like you're writing to save your career or to save your life or to put a meal on your table. I think it comes from a deeper place than when you're just trying to stay on top.

Songfacts: That's such a difference when you're writing music to get by, to survive.

Beverly: Or just keep what you have. It's more like, I've got nothing, so I've got nothing to lose.

I'm going to write whatever I feel. It doesn't matter if nobody likes it because how will that change anything? This thing I do now, I want to put everything I have into it. That's how desperate I am to keep at it. If you never get to the top of the mountain, then you never know how much further there is to go. I've been nothing but blessed with all the wonderful artists I've worked with, all the people that have taken me under their wings, all the people that cheer-leaded my cause. It has not been in vain. I love everything about all the work I have done. I have no regrets.

June 7, 2022

More at owenbeverly.com

Further reading:
Misty Boyce
Asaf Avidan
Kate Davis

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