Take the laid back, disaffected, self-referential ennui that hangs thick in the smog of Los Angeles and combine it with the classic swoon of pedal-steel straight from the heart of The Ozarks and you’ll start to approach the foundations of Lasers Lasers Birmingham, the new project from former Vanish Valley multi-instrumentalist Alex Owen.
Imagine a classic sawdust honky tonk populated with cowboy boot clad, line dancing locals tipping their hats to check their latest Snapchat messages. This is the intersection of cultures at which Owen’s new Royal Blue EP begins, but make no mistake; this is plain speaking country music. Having toured the west coast, and headlined such coveted LA venues as The Troubadour, The Echo, and The Satellite, Alex Owen is a seasoned Americana storyteller with a gilded voice. Honing his skills in past projects like Vanish Valley and We Fear The Bees, Owen has taken center stage, evoking contemporary Los Angeles life through the lense of his Springfield, Missouri upbringing. With Hammond organ, steel guitar, and barn-burning swagger, Lasers Lasers Birmingham brings to mind Waylon Jennings and Sturgill Simpson, with the smooth influence of Neil Young and the modern wit of Father John Misty.
Alex was inescapably drawn to the guitar during his college years in Missouri, soloing for kicks with his friends. He found himself playing folk rock in the deserts of Phoenix, and ultimately followed the call of the west coast to Los Angeles where he settled with his wife Soraya.
Lasers Lasers Birmingham’s first EP was a self-distributed, eponymous cassette on which Owen played all the instruments except the drums. The tone of the project was honed on the rough edges of LA’s lonely barrooms and plastic scene— the town didn’t know it was itself inspiring a new release. “People don’t go to shows because they love the band. They go because they love themselves— How the band makes them feel.” As Owen labored in the dark amid LA’s ironic beards and big floppy hats, the seed of his second release was born.
The title track Royal Blue laments lost love over classic steel guitar and twinkling country piano, but does so using the extended metaphor of an Instagram filter. 70’s classic Americana is both evoked and subverted in Hard Man To Please as twangy guitars duel over a swaggering dance number. Shedd Aquarium’s solid punch of a snare is the heart beat that carries a swelling, stadium-swaying ode to a day of debauchery which is guaranteed to arrest the listener. Any Way You Slice It confronts the pathetic routine of addiction while showcasing the songwriter at his most spare— Just a musician, his guitar, and an aimless sorrow that knows no source nor destination. “Like any craftsman, I like making things other people can use,” says Owen, “As a carpenter would with a well-made chair, I want to make art that’s also highly functional.” With tracks playing on KCHUNG and other local radio stations, Owen built a following that has supported him through stints at LA country music mecca The Escondite, as well as appearances at The Lexington, Lot 1 and many others. “In LA pretty much no one has a penny for your thoughts. Music gives me a vehicle to communicate in a way I can’t in everyday life.” says Owen, looking up from a game of Candy Crush on his iPhone as a Hank Williams cover blasts from the band behind him at Sassafrass Lounge in LA. “It’s such a gift when a song feels like it was written just for you. I want to do that for other people.”
The Royal Blue EP features Alex Owen on lead vocals and rhythm guitar, “Mustang” Lang on keyboards, John Schreffler Jr on pedal steel & telecaster, Seb Bailey on bass, Mikey G on drums, and features the back up vocals of Jake Gideon who also produced and engineered the EP.
Los Angeles, 2016