Owen Ashworth, formerly of Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, talks grief, dogs and David Bazan
On “Care,” Advance Base singer and songwriter Owen Ashworth describes waking up with smoke in his eyes. He tells his wife to get dressed, grabs the dog and heads outside to meet the fire engines. “That's when I knew that I could take care of you,” Ashworth understatedly sings over an arpeggiated keyboard melody.
Things only get worse in the next verse. Ashworth's best friend dies of cancer, and his wife holds his drunken head as he cries for days. “That's when I could see the way you take care of me,” he sings.
“Care” was one of the first songs Ashworth wrote for his excellent new album, Animal Companionship. A real-life apartment fire and the death of a friend inspired the song, which Ashworth wrote while revisiting Etiquette, a 2006 album he made under his Casiotone for the Painfully Alone moniker and recently reissued on his own label, Orindal Records.
“Etiquette was the first thing I released after my good friend had died. Preparing that record for re-release was like revisiting an old grief,” Ashworth said recently by phone. “I was thinking about that, and different points of grief in my life, and realizing it's just a continuous process with grieving.”
Ashworth originally imagined “Care” as the album title, and he began to write songs around the theme, but a performance by his friend David Bazan forced him to change course. “He sang a new song I'd never heard before. It was really gorgeous,” Ashworth said. “And he's like, ‘That song's called ‘Care.' I was like, ‘Ah, shit.' And then he says, ‘It'll be on my new record, Care.' Are you kidding me? I talked to Dave after the show: ‘I can't believe I just wrote this song. I gotta think of a new title now.' He laughed and was like, ‘You should just go for it if it feels right.'
“After talking to Dave again and playing him the song I was like, ‘I'm just gonna use the original title. It's not like two people have never had the same song title before. ... Dave is one of my favorite people and favorite songwriters, and it felt nice to have that thing in common. I think there's a sense of empathy and commiseration in the way both of us write songs, so that felt like a nice shared trait to have.”
The album got a new title, though. Animal Companionship came about partly because dogs kept making their way into the songs. “The title of the record has two meanings for me,” Ashworth said. “There's having a pet as a companion, and then just the very basic, animal need for someone else to lean on and to be leaned on. That was a thread through most of the songs.”
Ashworth's daughter's piano recital also ended up providing inspiration, particularly for instrumental track “Walt's Fantasy.” To help his daughter practice, Ashworth took out an old Casiotone keyboard. “I put some fresh batteries in it and was playing it, and it was fun. I sat down and recorded a little demo, then forgot about it,” Ashworth said. “When I was putting the final pieces together for this album, I found it. I was listening to the music and thought, ‘This feels like the dog's theme to me.' I liked the idea of the Casio being the voice of the dog. All the songs that talk about dogs have a Casio element in them. … I liked the idea of there being music without words — something beyond language representing the dog's point of view.”