Q&A: Dean Owens, Redwood Mountain: Transatlantic Crossings

Tell us about your collaboration, Redwood Mountain, and your plans for 2017?

Redwood Mountain came together by accident really. A friend of mine sent me an old book called The Book of American Folk Songs by Alan Lomax. He’d been telling me about this book for years. Shortly after gifting me a first edition copy, my friend suffered a major heart attack. It was touch and go for a week or so and while he was recuperating in hospital I was looking through the lyrics in the book and felt inspired to add my own melodies to a couple of the songs.

I thought they were OK so decided to send them to my friend for a bit of fun. He really loved them so I decided to do some more. I then played them to Amy Geddes who plays fiddle in my band The Whisky Hearts and it just kinda grew from there. We hope to get the ball rolling for Redwood Mountain throughout the rest of 2017 and would love to play more festivals (there are already a couple in the pipeline).

Which other performers/musicians have been your main influences?

Mostly other singers and songwriters. Ronnie Lane, John Lennon, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Elvis Costello, Jeff Tweedy, Mark Eitzel and bands like Calexico, The Waterboys, World Party and Grant Lee Buffalo, Aztec Camera. There are so many.

Dean Owens at TradFest 2016What inspires you when writing or singing?

Usually it’s my surroundings or maybe what I’m reading. I walk a lot and that’s when song ideas often come to me. I’ve written a lot on my visits to Nashville. I find it a very inspiring place.

Which bands or artists from the contemporary Trad music scene, in Scotland or elsewhere, do you rate most?

That’s a tricky one. To be honest I don’t really listen to a lot of traditional music. Artists I know who have been influenced by traditional music like Karine Polwart always comes up with lovely stuff. Blue Rose Code I like. I always love the playing of my mate Chris Stout and have a lot of respect for the guys from Lau. Oh and of course the fiddle playing of Amy Geddes.

Have you played TradFest before? Are there any other acts on the programme you’d recommend seeing?

I have. Once before (in 2016, with The Men From Leith). There’s a lot on! Karine Polwart is part of the Flooers O May concert and Look Again: Scots Heritage – she’s always quality. My friend Adie Baako has two Ghanaian Dance and Drum workshops for kids and adults (as Akrowa UK with drummer Thomas Annang) as well as a performance so well worth checking out.

What does Tradition mean to you?

I guess it means following in the footsteps of those who’ve gone before, but maybe breaking some new ground at the same time. Going forward, but looking over your shoulder now and again to see where you’ve come from. Carrying the baton from musicians and writers of the past and passing it on.

Redwood Mountain: Transatlantic Crossings is on Thu 27 April at 8.30pm

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