With influences stemming from Rufus Wainwright & Sufjan Stevens and with a vibe reminiscent of Anthony & the Johnsons Owen Duffs new EP, Under, documents his arrival in London and his enamoured view of the city. Owen has linked his music to interesting concept videos for each of the songs, including one using Google Earth to map out the song's narrative.
I recently got the chance to ask Owen some question and talk about what inspired the new EP:
What inspired the project?
For me songwriting or making anything is often a process of sublimation, whereby whatever I'm writing or creating helps to resolve or at least express thoughts and feelings that I may not be consciously aware of. The songs on the Under EP are a good example of that, I wrote them a long time ago in 2003-4 when I'd just arrived in London.
It seems London was your primary muse for the EP, is that right?
I had all these romantic notions of what it would be like to live here so moved down in a very cavalier way, without knowing anyone or having a steady job to go to. The reality of it hit me pretty quickly and overwhelmingly, and while I was determined to stay it took me quite a while to find my feet. The song London You're My High is very ambivalent; on the one hand it's sort of a love song to the city but on the other it uses the dark imagery of addiction, which I think expresses how I felt at the time - intoxicated by London but also finding it pretty bleak.
The reason I kept the songs on hold for so long was that I wasn't able to record on a real piano at the time I wrote them. It was only more recently, when I paid to go into a studio and record a whole heap of things on a real piano, that I was able to get versions of the songs that I was happy to release.
Owen Duff - Morning Finsbury Park
There was actually a 'twin' EP to Under called 'Over', which was much bigger sounding, and more upbeat, with drums and trumpets and stuff, and then a whole instrumental section where a Steve Reich-esque arrangement of 'London You're My High' plays backwards over an electronic beat. It was quiteinteresting as an experiment but overall it didn't really work.
Why did you decide to link the songs with videos?
The video aspect is something I've been meaning to get into for a while - I studied TV and Radio Production at university so it's something I've done before and have a long-standing interest in.
How did you come up with the idea of linking the song with google earth?
Because I'd written 'London You're My High' in my first year of living here I wanted to do something that summed up what had happened to me since then. I started drawing up a sort of bullet-point list of the big events in my London life from the past six or seven years, and then I got to thinking about the places those things had happened, which led me to plot out their locations on a map, which is when I had the idea to use Google Earth. I started off with quite specific descriptions but then made them more vague, partly for aesthetic reasons but mostly to make them universal enough that others would be able to identify with them.
What came first the idea for the project or the songs?
Well the gap between the songs and the videos was obviously pretty long, but the ambition to make an EP or album about this city arose at the same time as writing the songs, so those two aspects were of it were simultaneous. A big influence was New York Tendaberry by Laura Nyro, which I played constantly when I first moved to London. That album is still one of my absolute favourite things to listen to, and I think its central concept of a romantic paean to a big city very much resonated with me in the early days of being here.
You can find out more about Owen on his site owenduff.co.uk and you can download the Under EP from his bandcamp page for free.