Can’t Miss: Advance Base at The Bottom of the Hill
When I think about an OG indie band from San Francisco I think of Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, former project from the Bay Area native Owen Ashworth. It’s been 13 years since he played the last CFTPA concert (at The Bottom of the Hill!) and after a hiatus started his current and quieter project: Advance Base.
This is going to be one of those nights that will soothe your soul, starting with the local and very cool The Red, Pinks & Purple, Nicholas Kgrovich (his beautiful new album “Ducks” was recently release by Owen’s label Orindal Records) and of course Advance Base. You don’t want to miss any of the bands, there’s something magical when the lineup is this good, it sets the mood for a very special night! People talk a lot about good places to cry in SF, to be honest I can’t think about a better place to cry than this Monday, April 17th at The Bottom of the Hill.
I met Owen in the Summer of 2009, I was killing time in Amsterdam between a couple of art shows when I found out CFTPA was playing in Brussels so without thinking twice I hopped on a train. The show was AMAZING and the audience was super emotional, everyone was pouring their heart out to Owen after the show (myself included), there was this vibe like when everyone knows something special just happened and you’re trying to hold on to it for a little longer. I was coming to San Francisco for the second time for an art show, so I asked Owen for advice of what to do, where to go. I wrote on my sketchbook the list as: San Francisco for the Painfully Alone. It was great! We kept in touch and I’m honored to call him a friend. We geek about the bands we love, SF, and Drag Race. Here’s our chat about music, his label, friends, touring, San Francisco’s golden years and more.
Patricia Colli: You’re driving from Chicago all the way to Vancouver (to play and pick up Nick Krgovich) and then you’re both driving down the West Coast. How does it feel playing again after the pandemic? Also what do you plan to listen to while you’re driving? Any audiobooks or podcasts?
Owen Ashworth: I’m sure Nick & I will take turns playing each other’s music once he’s in the Subaru with me, but while I have the car stereo to myself, I’m listening to some audiobooks. I’m currently halfway through Joan Lindsay’s Picnic at Hanging Rock read by Yael Stone. I’m really enjoying her Australian accent. I’ll probably finish it on today’s drive. My friend Jenny recommended Yours Cruelly, Elvira: Memoirs of the Mistress of the Dark, so I think I’ll listen to that one next.
Spending most of 2020 & 2021 not knowing if I’d ever get to play shows again gave me a new appreciation for how lucky I am that I get to do what I do. Shows feel more intense now than they did before COVID, because I’m not taking them for granted. I love sharing my songs with people & I’m really grateful that people keep showing up to receive the music & share the experience with me. I guess I’m a hippy now.
Since your shows are very personal and emotional (I cry every single time) I can imagine it being tricky to balance the feeling of needing a little space after the show and hanging with the fans. How does it feel for you?
It took me a lot of years to understand exactly what I was getting out of playing shows, but performing is an important part of my emotional life. I don’t meditate, I don’t go to therapy & I’m not religious, but getting to perform my songs in front of an audience does the same thing for me that all those other things do for other people. It’s the thing that gets me through all of the other days. Music is a powerful form of communication & some nights the music is all I feel like I have the energy to share, but most nights I’m really grateful that people want to hang around & talk. I like to sell my own merch because it’s important for me to be present with the people who come to see my shows. I like being there to answer questions or just talk, & I’m not so famous that the crowds are too much for me to deal with. Occasionally I’ll get overwhelmed & I’ll just go take a walk or lay down in the back seat of my car after I get off stage.
The last time you played at The Bottom of The Hill was in 2010, and it was the last CFTPA concert ever! San Francisco changed, you changed. On a personal level, life seems so different, the pace was slower without smartphones and social media. Looking back at that time, how do you feel about it? I’m sure people ask why you change names from CFTPA to Advance Base, what’s the main difference between these projects?
By the time I ended CFTPA in 2010, my mental health wasn’t great, & I just needed to stop. It didn’t feel connected to the songs I was singing & I felt bitter about the music business. It was becoming a job that I hated, & more than that, it felt like my entire identity. I knew that if I was going to continue to make music, I needed to find a new way to balance it with the rest of my life. Also, I’d done some damage to my hearing & it was just painful to perform live. So, after some time away, & giving my eardrums a chance to heal, I started writing very quiet little songs & slowly building up a new project that felt more representative of where I was in my life. It was humbling to start fresh after investing so much time & energy into CFTPA, but I needed it. I like myself a lot more now than I did back then, & I like the music I’m making a lot more now than I did back then.
I’d love it if you could talk about your music label, Orindal and the bands you curate to publish and tour with. I know a lot of them are your friends (I love getting to know bands through you and Orindal) and as the audience, it all goes really well together. This time you’re playing with Nicholas Kgrovich and The Reds, Pinks & Purples. How did you all meet? Also, how do you get to know new bands these days?
I started Orindal in 2011, around the same time that I started Advance Base. I originally planned to just release music by my brother Gordon & me, but once I had a website & P.O. box, I figured I might as well help some friends release records, too. As I toured around the US playing Advance Base shows, I met & played shows with more & more musicians who I felt a real connection to, & it just made sense to make them part of the label. It has turned into a really supportive little community of friends & collaborators. I am still amazed that the label has grown the way it has.
I first met Nicholas back in 2001 when we ended up on a bill together at an old Vancouver, BC venue called the Sugar Refinery. Nick was still a teenager & I was maybe 23 or 24. I remember Nick covered Elizabeth Cotten’s “Freight Train” on a little Yamaha Portasound keyboard that night. We just hit it off immediately & we’ve been friends ever since. I love his music. Orindal released Nick’s album On Cahuenga back in 2015, & we just put out his new one, Ducks.
I knew Glenn Donaldson from The Reds, Pinks & Purples a little bit when I still lived in San Francisco, & I was a fan of some of his former projects like the Ivytree & Skygreen Leopards. I’ve seen him play a ton of shows over the years but I think this is the first time we’ve actually played on the same bill! I’m really thrilled that I get to see Glenn & Nick perform on the same stage.
What have you been listening to lately? Any movie, book and/or show that got you excited?
I’m very excited about the new Wednesday album, Rat Saw God. (I’m allowed to say that because Orindal didn’t release this one.) I’ve gotten really close with those folks over the past few years & it’s been a thrill to watch their band get better & better.
Also, there’s an album of George Jones & Melba Montgomery duets from 1963 called Singing What’s In Our Hearts that I’ve been listening to over & over. Their voices are perfect together.
I recently watched a 1978 movie called Remember My Name & I really loved it. Alan Rudolph wrote & directed it & Robert Altman produced it. The cast is incredible. Geraldine Chaplin is especially terrific in it. I need to track down some more of her movies.
I’ve been really lazy about reading lately. I think the last book I read was Bruce Adams’ book about kranky, You’re With Stupid. It’s a pretty interesting history of Chicago indie music from the decade before I got there.
My favorite TV show is RuPaul’s Drag Race.
When we met in 2009, you graciously made me a list of places to go in SF since I was coming over to spend a month alone here working on art for an upcoming show in LA. I named it “San Francisco for the Painfully Alone”. I wish I could find that sketchbook, it really saved my ass during that time and a few months later when I actually ended up moving here. I remember The Roxie and Aardvark Books were on it!
What are the places you miss the most and which spots must you try to visit when you come back here?
I’m so glad that list came in handy! I’m really looking forward to visiting North Beach & Ocean Beach on this visit. Those are two places that still feel the same to me.
Some of the places I miss the most are the ones that aren’t there anymore. I wish I could see another movie at the Lumiere Theater, where I worked for a few big years, or go shopping at Epicenter & Aquarius, two record stores in the Mission district that were absolutely cultural hubs for me.
My first apartment was at Taylor & Clay, just a few blocks from Grace Cathedral. I usually try to walk or drive by whenever I’m in town. Kim Novak & Jimmy Stewart drive by my old building in Vertigo. I’ll watch that movie again when I’m feeling especially nostalgic about San Francisco.
I’m really jealous of the amazing concerts you saw when you lived here during the golden years, can you name a few of your favorites?
I’ll never forget seeing Kraftwerk at The Warfield and Elliott Smith open for Tindersticks at the Fillmore. Seeing Smog & Cat Power share a bill at the Bottom of the Hill right after The Doctor Came at Dawn & What Would the Community Think came out was a really special experience. Same with seeing Low & The Dirty Three together at Bimbo’s. Corrupted at 924 Gilman. There were also tons of great local (& local-ish) bands like Henry’s Dress, Track Star, Rocketship, Duster, Papercuts, Total Shutdown, Erase Errata, The Lowdown, The VSS that I’d go see every chance I got. I probably saw three or four different Magnetic Fields & Blonde Redhead shows at the Great American Music Hall.
SF is the last city of this tour and then in May you are touring solo in the South. What’s the difference about playing in cities that you’ve lived before like SF and places you’ve never played before? Does the setlist change a lot?
When I know I’m playing in front of people who have seen me play before, maybe even as recently as my last tour, I’ll be sure to play some different songs & give them a different show than last time. I keep little lists in my phone of what I played the last time I came through a particular city. I’ll play requests, too. It’s a special experience playing for people who keep coming back over the years, & even if I don’t know them personally, there is a real warmth & trust in that relationship. I put a lot of thought into balancing the new stuff that I’m eager to share with the old stuff that I know has some personal meaning to the people who came to see me on three or four or five other tours.
There’s also something really exciting about playing in a city for the first time. It can feel like an audition, & I’ll try to play the stuff that I know works the best on a first time listener. Some songs, or even some particular arrangements of songs, are like magic tricks, & when you know that your audience hasn’t seen all of your tricks yet, it makes for a special kind of show.
Thank you Owen for being so awesome and so kind, I could talk to you for hours! Drive safe and see you in SF!!
8:00 PM doors, first band starts at 8:30PM. 21 and over
1233 17th Street, San Francisco, 94107