By the time Owen Temple’s Two Thousand Miles makes its worldwide debut on iTunes in December — followed by an “old-school” (CD) national release on January 22, 2008 — chances are that his most loyal fans will have already owned the album for months. In some sectors of the music business, where an artist lives and dies by those all-important first-week SoundScan figures, this would be cause for serious concern. But Temple is A-OK with the situation, because it’s all part of the master plan.
“The record first came out in late summer as a digital download on LoneStarTunes.com,” explains the 31-year-old Texas-based singer-songwriter. “We were the No. 1 seller on the site for a couple of months, and then we released the CD on LoneStarMusic.com [LoneStarTunes’s parent site, specializing in CDs by Texas and Americana artists], and we were in their Top 5 among Ryan Bingham, Shooter Jennings, and Walt Wilkins. The idea was to not put any barriers between the fans hearing the new record right away — and then to let things grow from there.”
Temple’s been a proud member of the organic Texas music scene ever since his 1997 debut, General Store. And Texas, both literally and figuratively, will likely always be his home — hence his decision to treat his Lone Star State fans to Two Thousand Miles first. But now four albums and 10 years into his career, he’s ready to expand his horizons. When his new album is released outside Texas, he knows he’ll be venturing into brand new territory as an artist, almost like starting from scratch. And he can’t wait — so much so that he readily calls Two Thousand Miles “my first fulltime professional record.”
Although it’s got Texas roots as deep as Temple himself, it’s not, strictly speaking, “Texas music.” This is rock solid Americana music at its best — and it’s already been proven in the heartland.
“I had the opportunity to play my stuff up in Madison, Wisconsin,” says Temple. “People up there aren't as familiar with Texas singer/songwriters and they aren't as familiar with this type of music. But thankfully, the press responded and helped me find an audience there. It was refreshing to see that people can care about indie music everywhere.”
Temple was in Madison attending graduate school, studying psychology with an eye toward possibly starting a new career in academia. He was still writing songs, but had opted to put his music career on hold shortly after the release of his third album, 2002’s Right Here and Now. The record racked up great reviews and sold close to 20,000 copies, but then Temple’s distributor went bankrupt right before paying him. Temple, first and foremost a family man with a newborn son to feed, took it as a sign that maybe it was time to look for another, more stable line of work. Just like he had right out of college, when he got married and put his finance degree to work with a 9-to-5 gig with an investment bank in Houston. (Right Here and Now, back there and then, was supposed to be his “comeback” album).
Madison was swell, and Temple found the idea of a life in academia much more palatable than the business world. But two years later, one class shy of earning his masters, Temple decided to give music another go. “I thought, ‘Maybe I just need to get my tenure in the music business,’” Temple explains. “You know, and do something I’d never done, which was just stick to it, come hell or high water, whatever it takes.” At least, that’s how he broached the subject to his wife — a woman who already knew that particular Temple tune by heart.
“I drove her crazy debating it,” Temple laughs. “Finally she was like, ‘Oh god, just do it!’” And so was born Two Thousand Miles, aptly named after the distance (more or less) from Texas to Wisconsin and back again.
The farther afield he strayed from that songwriting calling, the stronger the fire burns on the comeback. To capture that fire on disc, Temple called on the services of an old friend — Grammy winning producer and Texas guitar legend Lloyd Maines (Dixie Chicks, Terri Hendrix, Terry Allen, etc.) It was Maines who helmed Temple’s first two records, General Store and 1999’s Passing Through, both recorded while Temple was still just a green and wide-eyed college kid, a diamond in the rough with a brace of uncommonly good songs.
“Lloyd was where it all started for me, so I thought it’d be interesting to see how we’d both developed,” says Temple. Maines proved to still be the consummate professional and mentor — coaching Temple to the best vocal performances of his life and helping him swing for the fences with solid assistance from some of the best musicians in Texas: guitar ace David Grissom (Joe Ely, John Mellencamp), bassist Glenn Fukunaga (Dixie Chicks, Ray Wylie Hubbard), drummer Dave Sanger (Asleep at the Wheel), and harmony vocalists Terri Hendrix, Bob Livingston and Gordy Quist (Band of Heathens). “It was a real family experience,” Temple enthuses, “almost like a homecoming.”
Maines and the all-star support team shine on Two Thousand Miles, but it’s Temple’s songs — cut from the same hardcore troubadour cloth as early Steve Earle (“Demolition Derby”) and prime John Prine (“Can’t Drink Enough to Sing”) — that drive this boat. Whereas his writing on the first three albums suggested a maturity beyond his young years, songs on the new album like “You Want to Wear that Ring,” “Swear It Off Again,” “Like We Still Care” and “The Pluto Blues” reflect the kind of hard-won wisdom (and wit!) that can only come from putting real-world miles on the odometer. It’s the difference between trying to write like your heroes, and finding — and earning — the confidence to just be yourself.
“Basically, I feel a lot more independent and self-assured now,” he continues. “and I wouldn’t have this self-assurance without having done things the way I have. I guess I had to take some time off and learn from what worked and what didn’t work. I’ve got more realistic ideas now about what the music business is and what it isn’t, but I know the risk and I’m OK with it. To me, writing and recording is a magic experience. There’s nothing like it to me in the world.”