It's been two years since you last toured the West Coast. What have you been doing with yourself?
Playing a lot of Halo. The West Coast is so far, and there's so little between here [Illinois] and there. I don't really make money going out there.
Some of your songs get pretty emotional. It seems like they could resonate a little too strongly with the wrong person. Has anybody gotten creepy or obsessive about your music?
I haven't been creeped out yet, but I think it's weird in general when people really take an interest. Not that they're doing anything creepy, but if they keep sending MySpace messages or e-mailing... It's cool that they like the music and keep listening to it on my page, but it is sort of weird that people think they're friends with you just because they like your band. No one's actually stalked me, though. I don't mind the more general questions people asking about tunings and stuff; I like that. I like that there are kids trying to figure my songs out. Or they'll ask about a specific line, and I'll usually tell them, "I don't know, I stole it from a book." But sometimes they write things like, "When you come through New Jersey we should get drunk at this bar that my friend works at and you can crash at my house." You know, I'm a 32-year-old guy... am I 31 or 32? [faintly in background, "31"]... I'm a 31-year-old guy—if I was there and I liked the person I would have drinks with them, but, you know...
Your records have a lot of instrumentation, but you normally perform solo with just an acoustic guitar. Do you ever flesh the songs out live with a backing band?
I would say 80 percent of the time I'm by myself. I promised Polyvinyl, and um, I guess myself, that whatever tour follows the next record I'll get a band, even if it's just for a week. It's not really cost-effective to bring people along, and I kind of hate having band practice. I don't necessarily think it's worth my time to teach other people my songs.
Do you miss playing in any of your previous bands?
I guess Owls was the most challenging; that was sort of fun. There was definitely a lot of counting and practicing involved. Cap'n Jazz was the most immediate, just a bunch of kids hitting their instruments and playing hard. I guess if I could be 16 again and be in Cap'n Jazz that would be awesome, but I don't really think it would work for a 31-year-old man.
You've done several projects over the years with your brothers Tim and Nate. Do you still work well together?
Yeah. We only work together every year or two, whenever Tim is inspired enough to write an entire Joan of Arc record. We spend a week or two together and write and record. I think if we had to work together more often, it might not work.
Does Tim pressure you to come on tour with him?
He used to. He used to set up tours and send an e-mail to six of us saying, "Okay, here are the dates," and we'd say, "Okay, I guess we have to go on tour then." But enough time has passed and enough people have been in and out of Joan of Arc that now he can send an e-mail to 20 people and find a random six who can all go at the same time.
Reunion shows are big right now—any chance of Cap'n Jazz or American Football getting back together any time soon?
No, probably not. But every few years or so, when I run into somebody from one of the bands at a bar, it gets brought up. Last fall, we were talking about writing a new Owls record, but it fell through. I guess it had been long enough that it seemed like a fun idea to everybody, but then we lost touch of Victor [Villareal] again.
Is he even playing in a band right now?
I have no idea. I haven't heard anything for the last few years about what he's doing musically. I know he lives in the Chicago suburbs, so he's kind of around.
Just hanging out, being really good at guitar?
Yeah, I'm sure all of his demos are better than anything that's been released in the last five years. I don't know if he'll ever pull himself together and do something with it, though.
On "One of These Days," the last track on At Home with Owen, you talk about finally getting a job and hanging up your guitar. Is that day coming any time soon?
I don't know. Every other day I wake up and think, "Ugh, I should really get some sort of job," but then an hour and a half later I'm playing video games saying, "God, I am so glad I don't have a job."
You don't work at all outside of Owen?
Not really. I guess I kind of work very, very part-time for this friend who has a large printing business where I go and hang out some days, but I haven't even really done that for like four months. When I finish the next album, if the momentum shifts and I sell less records, then maybe I'll take the hint. But so far, each record has gotten more and more successful, and that's been enough.
Owen plays Fri Aug 1, Neumo's, 8 pm, $13, all ages. With Rocky Votolato.