When an artist drastically changes up their style of music, it’s generally a hit or miss for fans. In ex-Chiodos frontman Craig Owens’ case, his new alternative urban sound, presented under the name badXchannels, seems to definitely be a bullseye. Radio hosts of “Jalapeño Peppers” Ezgi Toper and Claudia Quadrino sat down with badXchannels after his show at the Middle East in Cambridge on Dec. 10, 2016. He was touring for his newly released debut EP WHYDFML. Owens seems to be comfortable and confident in his new style and project.
The artist was energetic and passionate on stage at the small and intimate upstairs venue. Off stage, he was humble and kind as he hugged and took pictures with fans that came over to chat. Afterwards, Owens led the student DJs up to a room in the side of the box office, where he had previously warmed up before the show. While there were only two seats, the cheery artist insisted he be the one to crouch down on the ground during the interview.
How did you get started with music?
Craig Owens: I started Chiodos when I was 15 years old. I just started singing, and I saw the way that it changed the world around me and how I felt about myself. I just kept doing it. I met a bunch of friends in middle school who also liked music, so by high school, I had my first band which was Chiodos. I’m from Flint, Michigan, so blue collar, grew up super poor, just grinding. I got out. Music was always a survival thing to me. I didn’t have the opportunity to go to college or anything like that, and I kind of knew that. My disposition was just different. It was like, you either succeed at this, or you go back home and find some blue collar job in a car factory.
A lot of artists start out with so many resources and it’s such an advantage, but it’s a lot harder to start where you did and make it yourself.
CO: It really is. You know, there’s something to that. I just think that there is something to the survival. I feel like it puts me almost at an advantage sometimes. Because no matter what, I’m always going to bounce back because I have that in me. Some people will break, so there’s pros and cons to all of it. It was definitely really difficult when we started out—no money. It was real bad; it was hard, but we worked hard.
So you only have one more show left in Philadelphia, how has this tour been for you overall?
CO: It has been awesome. The project is being really well received. It has only been out a little over three weeks now, so the fact that people came out so last minute, so quick, has been overwhelming and reaffirming. I just love to sing. I kind of hid the last year and a half, and it just feels good to be on stage again and singing and connecting with people who have been supporting me since day one.
What stop on the tour has been the best for you? Or was there a particular moment in the tour that you loved?
CO: I really loved LA, New York, and Detroit. I’m gonna say Detroit, because that’s where I’m from. I got to play at a venue that I grew up going to, The Shelter. The guys from D12 came out, and we did our thing. My mom was there, my dad was there, my aunt was there, my cousins, and on stage I just felt safe. The crowd was crazy. They were all sweaty, singing along, jumping up and down. It was special for me because it was only the second show that I did. That was the jumping off point. It felt like I jumped off the diving board into the deep end, and I felt safe doing so because those people were there to support me, kind of like it was in the beginning.
How has this transition from alternative rock to R&B/soul been?
CO: Like any transition, you’re a little uncomfortable at first. Musically and in the studio I felt right at home. There were a few changes I had to make vocally and lyrically—just being more direct and not having to be so poetic or sad or anything like that. It has been pretty seamless on my end of it, and when I started sharing it with people, I knew [there were] going to be mixed reviews. But I thought it was actually going to be way worse than it [was]. It has been really well-received; people are really into it. Yeah, I was really surprised and really excited, I guess. But the more that people come up to me and just say “thank you, thank you for doing this, it inspired me to go chase my dream,”—it’s kind of a beautiful thing. I didn’t think of it like that. I just want to make music.
How did the idea of this project come to you? Walk us through the developmental process.
CO: I mean it wasn’t like I was laying in bed one night and in a cold sweat jumped up like (gasp), “Oh my god I need to do this!” There was a time when I didn’t want to do anything. And then when I decided that I needed to keep singing, I knew that I wanted to and that I had to. It was kind of a natural thing in developing it. I’ve always been big into Bjork and that atmosphere—like that background, the new lo-fi movement, like the Neighbourhood and Frank Ocean, the Weeknd—it just really inspired me, and here I am.
So this was almost like a natural progression of your career? Did you expect to go this way?
CO: No, I don’t think anyone expected it, right? Yeah. I don’t think anyone expected it…but that’s life. I didn’t expect to be playing music at this age. I didn’t expect a lot of things. You don’t expect to meet the person you are with, or any of that. I try not to even pretend like I have that much control over my life or the situations I’m in. I just try to show up and be the best version of myself that I can.
I’m sure it’s a hard question, but as a solo artist now, have you preferred collaborating with people or working on your own?
CO: I would say that this is more collaborative than any band that I’ve ever been in. In the past, there’s one or two writers, you dive in, and you do it. This, I can work with other artists. We can go in and change everything for one song and not be limited to what it is that we were known for, or whatever. We can just go in and make a shared vision—an accepting collaboration. In rock music, unless it’s like a feature, collaboration in songwriting and stuff like that is really looked down upon. You know what I mean? And in some hip-hop it is too, but that was the most exciting part to me about this whole thing. I love people. And I like making music with people. It has been cool.
Do you keep in touch with members of the bands you were in?
CO: No, not really. How many friends have you had for seventeen years? You drift apart. If you put it into real life context, people fade apart and it’s amicable and nice. There are no problems or anything. There may be pockets of resentment hidden here and there like there is in any relationship. So, no, I don’t really communicate with anybody, and I’m totally cool with that. If I see them it’s going to be all love, and we’ll probably hug each other, have a beer, smoke a joint and chill.
What do you think the most challenging thing has been for you throughout this process?
CO: I think confidence. One of the lyrics in dottedXlines is ‘the crisis of confidence is a constant.’ I think that when you have success at a young age, that remaining confidence moving forward can be difficult, like when people try to box you in and tell you that you’re this or that. I think just my family and my friends and the support system that I’ve built up for myself instilled that confidence in me. They made it so that I could hold my head up high when I go into that studio, and I can write confidently and directly. So I think probably just staying confident consistently through it, that’s probably the hardest thing. And a lot of artists won’t tell you that, because I think they’re afraid. I embrace it. I think it’s part of it. It’s part of the ride of life.
That’s the biggest part of the transition. This is me being confident and actually telling you the truth. I feel like I’m being more direct with lyrics and telling you my actual feelings as opposed to like this sad thing that you think I’m supposed to be. I just don’t think that I’ve ever been more honest lyrically. It’s real from the beginning to the end and there’s no facade, and I just don’t feel dirty doing it.
How do you see the future of this project playing out?
CO: This is it for me. I’m not going to do another band. I’m not interested in anything else. I produce half the time, so it’s awesome because I get to teach, and you learn about yourself when you teach. But, yeah this is it. I’m going back in the studio on Tuesday and just making new music. I’m just going to keep making new music and stay modern and consistent with content. With rock music, you can really only release a record every two years or something like that, and I just want to use it as an outlet. As long as I need an outlet is as long as I’ll be making music. And as long as I’ll be making music is as long as I’ll be doing this.