AFTER 13 YEARS, thousands of shows, countless cheap keyboards, and a handful of truly endearing—albeit criminally underappreciated—recordings, Owen Ashworth has had enough. The painfully alone component of Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, Ashworth is ending his solo project's run, "celebrating 13 years of obscurity" with one final tour before he puts the Casiotone moniker into the ground, once and for all.
But unlike his moody miniature pop numbers that tug your heartstrings and beg to be chronicled on some desperate mixtape for a hopeless crush, Ashworth is rejoicing in Casiotone's demise. The former Portlander (and onetime intern at this very paper) is awash in possibilities, eager to begin a new chapter in music, while thankful to shed the cumbersome identity that has haunted him for so long. We spoke to Ashworth on the eve of his 70-plus-date global farewell tour.
MERCURY: Thirteen years is a lifetime for most bands, why stop now?
OWEN ASHWORTH: It's something that's been on my mind for a while. I started Casiotone with a real specific idea of what it was going to be, and kind of spent the last few years breaking most of the rules I'd set up for it. The joke got old for me, I guess. It felt like it was time to do something else. I want to keep making music but I want a fresh start. There are Casiotone songs that are 13 years old, and I feel like it's gotten kind of easy to play a show, because I can roll out old songs for as long as people want to hear them. It feels like less of a challenge than I'd like music to be.
By doing this, but still staying involved in music, do you see it as an opportunity to get a clean slate as a musician?
I've been really envious of friends' bands that get to break up; it just seems like such an important and dramatic chapter in playing music. I have friends who have been in four or five bands in the time that I've done Casiotone, and I was always envious about the idea of starting over and trying something different. Casiotone really feels like it belongs more to a much younger version of me and I think I've kind of perverted my initial intentions enough. I want to leave the idea of Casiotone to me at 20, it feels better to start over and close that chapter of my life.
I'm of the opinion that a farewell tour should be mandatory for any band that is breaking up.
It's such a heavy feeling. I'm kind of bracing myself for it. The tour's going until December. I'm doing the US, then I'm in Europe, and then I'm going back to California to play my final show on the actual 13th anniversary of the first show in the very same place where it happened. I think it's going to be really intense, just to say goodbye 70 times.
Take me back to December 5, 1997. What was your first show like?
I made tapes for friends, and I didn't really have any aspirations of Casiotone being "a thing." I made demos of songs on a keyboard and played them for a few friends and a friend of mine really liked it and asked me to make her a tape. She was like, "I want all the saddest songs you got, 'cause I just went through a breakup," so I named the tape "Casiotone for the Painfully Alone" just for her. She asked, "Do you want to play a show?" and I said, "Not like this, I want to play with a band." But she said, "Well, I already made flyers—you're playing the show." So she named the band and she booked my first show. I feel like two of the toughest things to pull off in a band were just handed to me.
You're calling this your "First Annual Final North American Tour." This isn't going to be like Jay-Z's "final" album, is it?
I think it's really funny to make jokes about it, but I don't plan on rolling out Casiotone again. The last tour I did, halfway through I was like, "Fuck it, I'm not going to do this again." Some of these songs I feel like I have zero relationship with anymore, and I'm ready to move on to something else... it just seemed like it a nice thing to do, to do one last tour and give people a little bit of notice that this is it.
What is your post-Casiotone project going to be like?
I think it'll be more with other people. I've kind of been joking that Casiotone is the singer/songwriter phase of my career, where this will be my solo album, and it's going to be real nice arrangements and sit-down adult style. I bought a Rhodes that I'm playing on this tour. I've been writing a lot of songs on the piano, and I think it'll be less electronic, for sure, and just real focused on songs. I'm a better musician than I used to be and I enjoy just playing more than I did. The songs were really utilitarian for a long time, because I was basically learning how to do everything as I went along.
I think I'm going to call the next project Advance Base, which is kind of the name I've been using for my home studio for a long time—which means the four-track in the room where I record. It's named after this meteorological outpost in Antarctica in the '40s. There's a book written about it called Alone by Admiral Richard E. Byrd. He lived alone in Antarctica in this hut, basically, for an Antarctic winter and wrote this really great book about it. He decided to do the whole thing by himself, which was really stupid because he ended up getting really sick. I just kind of like the idea of doing stuff really stubbornly on your own, when it's probably a really terrible idea.