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The Larynx-Shredding Raw Power of Sick Thoughts

Drew Owen looks back on how he started Sick Thoughts during his teenage years and the recording of his triumphant new album Heaven Is No Fun.

Photo by Michael He-Man

Drew Owen, the brainchild and craftsman behind the New Orleans-based garage punk recording project Sick Thoughts, has been churning out records, all recorded by himself, for over a decade. Following 2018's Goner-released self-titled LP and a hot streak of scrappy lo-fi punk singles, Owen returned with his third album, Heaven Is No Fun, last fall on Total Punk Records. The latest album is a victory lap of sorts of high-speed hostility that cuts straight to the point with its onslaught of blown-out hooks and scorching guitars. The lo-fi savagery continues on cuts like "Hole in the Wall" and "Skrewed," which are loaded with an enormous wall of scuzz and distorted crunch, while sugary power pop takes charge of mature earworms like "Someone I Can Talk To" and "No Life No Life."

Following Sick Thoughts' West Coast tour back in April, we caught up with Owen to discuss the frenetic energy behind the new album and how his recording project advanced from being just a teenage punk novelty.

Paperface Zine: Your latest LP Heaven Is No Fun was one of our favorites last year and I saw it on many year-end lists. What has it been like having it out and touring it almost close to a year now?

Drew Owen: It's been great! After ten years of putting out records this is the best one yet. Glad it hasn't quite been swept under the rug!

PZ: What was it like putting the record together and how did the recording sessions go?

DO: Used an old Otari half inch 8 track in my apartment. First time using the big tape. No going back to cassette now! Recorded drums in two days. Then the bass in a day, rythm guitar in a day, then leads/solos in another day. Then Hurrican Ida hit, lost power for 14 days, then finished vocals and mixing shortly after power was back. I begged Rich [Evans] over at Total Punk to put out my records more than a decade ago when I was still in high school. Can't say enough good things about working with him.

PZ: How did you approach the songwriting here and what sort of themes do you like to write about? Even with the ultra addictive, dizzying rock ‘n’ roll, you're boiling down a lot of your feelings with some pretty dark and introspective lyrics.

DO: I demoed out all the tracks and then fixed 'em up on the proper recording and added production, etc. I just let the songwriting flow I guess. Most of them were new, but tracks like "E.M.P." and "Submachine Love" were songs I had written over three years ago that were unused. I wanted to make a record where each song is different from the last, but still has an overarching theme. A lot of hate and boredom!

PZ: Take us through the origins of Sick Thoughts. How crazy was it hearing from labels like Goner, Zaxxon, and Goodbye Boozy about doing some releases in those earlier years? DO: I learned about guys like Jay Reatard and Ty Segall making records by themselves and got inspired and figured I could do the same. Didn't know how to play anything and just taught myself drums, guitar and how to record. Very slowly, but surely. Now I can kind of do it OK. It was crazy hearing back from those labels since I would just email them demos expecting nothing back but then I was pressing records in freshman year of high school and giving my records to my few buddies and one teacher I liked.

Photo by Kurt Peterson

PZ: How'd you get into playing music and who were some of your musical heroes? I know you were really big into the Carbonas and Oblivians during your earlier years.

DO: My parents showed me a lot of great stuff that has still stuck with me today. They couldn't play though. My older cousin opened my mind up to crazy stuff when I was real young like J Dilla, Madlib, and Led Zeppelin. And he played guitar and drums. I always looked up to him as a brother and wanted to be like home so I adopted those things and they shaped me I think.

PZ: You were in your mid-teens when you started Sick Thoughts. What was it like playing some of the bars or punk venues around Baltimore at such a young age? Did you ever feel belittled by any of the old timers? DO: It was a funny time for sure. Drinking at bars when I was 15 and 16 not getting carded getting into bullshit and then going to school the next day. I belittled them more than they could've ever belittled me. I was a shithead.

PZ: What has it been like later relocating to New Orleans? DO: It's been good in New Orleans. I have a solid crew there. Making me a little crazy now though, I've been there for six years. Very similar to Baltimore, better people in NO though. I definitely needed to leave Baltimore, as everybody there was sick of me and I was sick of them. PZ: How has your approach to making music changed over the years? DO: I used to set up mics in one second. Use first takes and not give a shit about quality. Now I take my time, get anxious, and overthink, but it's producing good results. I wish I could still get some of that naïveté back but it comes through sometimes. Now I KIND OF know how to play my instruments, but not knowing how to makes for some cool parts or riffs.

Photo by Michael He-Man

PZ: You've been doing this for a bit now. What's your advice to the younger punks on gaining publicity or getting in contact with labels? DO: Eleven years pretty soon. Just do what you like and stay true to yourself. Never try to do something you think other people will like. If you don't like it, don't do it. Go for it and have fun. Email or call labels that you like and send them your demos or finished recordings.

PZ: You're also a very skilled artist and I was wondering how important it is to pair your artwork with your releases? DO: I grew up drawing all the time and really appreciating album art. I used to painstakingly add album art to all my stuff in iTunes that i had got from BlogSpot blogs, Pirate Bay or Soulseek, just so I could look at it on the half-inch iPod screen. I love physical media that's why I put out records. Artwork, front cover, back covers, center labels, inserts, posters, etc., are all really important to me. If the record looks good I want to buy it, so I take a lot of time in doing my layouts. In this age of instant gratification, rectangle of death smartphone mindfuck, most people really don't put a lot of time and effort into packaging or artwork and its a bummer. Same thing with concert flyers. People are perfectly ok with slapping some bullshit together and it's sad. I try to separate myself from that and make something that will stand the test of time. PZ: How did the West Coast tour go back in April? How was the new Sick Thoughts van?

DO: West coast tour was really good. I met a lotta fine people and every show was a banger. Thanks everyone who came, put us up and partied with us. Van made it was pretty comfy. The last week of tour was real sick, totally Cal Ripkend it!

PZ: What were some of your favorite memories and shows you played during it?

DO: Seattle, L.A., San Francisco, Texas were all highlights. Starting off playing shows and hanging with Ninth Circle for our first three dates in Texas. Shoutout Marky, Dexter and Marc, and the other two fellas names I'm forgetting. Listen to that band. Raging and staying in a sex dungeon/weight room/"Viva La Bam" type house the first night in Houston really set the tone. Thank fucking god the van survived the trip, I used my life savings on it. Eating at an Olive Garden on Easter. Billiard Hoang the Vietnamese restaurant in Seattle, was amazing, good ice coffee too. Good show, thank you Ryan Matthews you absolute smokeshow.

Photo by John Rash

PZ: You went back on the road shortly after to play drums for New Buck Biloxi during his West Coast tour.

DO: That tour was good, a lotta the same faces and it was good to see them again. We rented a tiny car and smoked a lot of weed. Got to drive through a tree in California and saw some big Redwoods.

PZ: You plan on being at Gonerfest 20 in September?

DO: No Sick Thoughts show but my new band Evil Tree is playing the Total Punk after party in support of the new Moon Maniac 12". And maybe some other bands, not sure yet.

PZ: What else is on the horizon for Sick Thoughts in 2023? DO: European tour in October, a few out of town shows and hopefully selling out Madison Square Garden and the Superdome. One billion streams on Spotify so now I can buy groceries.

Heaven Is No Fun is out now on Total Punk Records.


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