December 14, 2015
Toronto-born Dan Owen moved to Calgary in the ‘70s, and has been a stalwart of the local music community ever since. He was a drummer in rock ‘n’ roll bar bands throughout the ‘80s, and you may have even seen his current project, The Ad Hoc Band, playing your corporate function. He is best known, however, as spearheading OCL Studios as “a passion project” in 2010, a retreat-style studio that has played a vital role in the production of local recordings. Dan is also a big supporter of the National Music Centre (NMC); his company actually helped with asbestos removal from the King Eddy before the building was taken down in 2004.
In our latest Donor Profile, we chatted with Dan about the local Calgary music scene, OCL Studios, the King Eddy, and why he has stayed involved with NMC over the years.
National Music Centre: As a musician yourself, were there any particular Calgary venues you really liked playing when you were starting out?
Dan Owen: Back in Calgary, there were several places to play. The whole live music scene was very different back then. The band would play Monday to Saturday in one venue, and then you’d pack up and drive to the next one. Calgary had places like Frankie & Johnny’s, the Westward Inn, Westgate Hotel. A great room to play was called Lucifer’s. It was on 7 Ave. That was the Holy Grail of places to play.
NMC: How does today’s music scene differ from when you were touring in the ‘80s?
DO: Well it was a different circuit; we called it the Top 40s circuit. You were basically a travelling jukebox, playing Top 40s rock ‘n’ roll. It’s all covers.
This was around the same time Jann Arden was breaking out. She used to play the Westward Inn, which is now Hotel Arts. They had an alternative music venue around the back. So bands would make a decision: Am I gonna do my originals and have a limited number of venues? Or are we gonna play the covers on the bar circuit and pay our dues and save up the money to go in and record? So that was kind of the two different modes of thought.
Nowadays, it’s geared towards original music. Smaller venues, smaller PA… We would carry around a gigantic PA, lights and soundmen—the production you’d think for a medium sized original show coming through town. And we were carrying that around full time.
NMC: Is there anything you think is lacking in Calgary’s music scene today?
DO: You know what? It’s actually getting better. There are a lot of smaller venues like Below Deck Tavern. I think there’s a resurgence towards live music; The Blind Beggar Pub, Marquee Beer Market and Stage. You go down 9 Ave. through Inglewood, and soon NMC. That whole Avenue. There are more and more places to play.
NMC: What is your most memorable musical moment?
DO: I am a huge Beatles fan. Seeing Paul McCartney live for this first time in Las Vegas in 2002 really close up, I was crying. It was a total emotional experience. By the time he did “Hey Jude” and “Let it Be”… And then I saw him a couple years ago in Winnipeg and took my kids. As soon as we went to our seats my daughter started to cry because she’s a huge fan, too. To have gone through that myself and then see my daughter was absolutely awesome!
NMC: Let’s talk about OCL Studios. Tell me how that came about. What inspired you?
DO: I bought this gigantic house out by Langdon in 2007. I never really knew why I bought it. For a while my two kids and I lived in this gigantic house.
In 2010, I was going to buy a recording studio in town, just for my pals and I to hang out and record in. Back in the ‘80s we didn’t do much recording; we never made ‘the record.’ So we looked at a couple studios in town, and there was one in particular we really considered buying. Then I looked at the economics of it and it just didn’t make sense; the property tax, the maintenance, etc.
I drove home and just thought I could do it here. This place is so big. I reached out to a couple friends in Vancouver, and they put me in touch with Chris Potter, who designs studios and is also Sarah McLachlan’s engineer. I brought him into town to look at my place and he said ‘if I’m going to get involved it’s got to get more serious.’
So we basically started digging a great big hole and from that point we started designing a studio.
NMC: Is there a memorable mistake you can share?
DO: The central component of the studio is the board or the desk. I just phoned up Annex Pro and said I’m building a studio, sell me some gear. So I flew out there and had a look at this board. It’s a digital board, so it’s more like a big computer mouse. They played a few sounds and I thought it sounded ok so I bought it. I brought it back, we installed it and it just wasn’t the right board.
NMC: What do you mean?
DO: We have this beautifully designed and tuned room. It’s an analogue, honest room. And here was a digital board. So I thought, we made a mistake, what should we do? Chris and I went down to Nashville and we ended up buying a Neve; a monstrous analogue board.
So that was the biggest mistake because the studio was entirely designed around the board I already purchased. We had to rip everything out of the control room to accommodate the Neve. We had to design as you go, which really isn’t the way to build anything, but it’s what we did.
NMC: Who is OCL for?
DO: It’s for all artists at every level. It’s all about creating music. Bringing your passion and creativity into fruition at whatever level.
NMC: You’ve had a lot of artist come through the studio. What role does the studio play in your life now?
DO: This is strictly a passion project. It’s a tough business. If it had to succeed solely as a business, it couldn’t and wouldn’t. I give full kudos to any of the studios around town where they’re keeping the lights on and feeding themselves from the revenue generated from a studio.
NMC: Do you have a favorite act that’s recorded at OCL?
I’m very partial to two guys. I call them my musical sons: Michael Bernard Fitzgerald and Reuben from Reuben and the Dark. Those two guys have hung around quite a bit, and they’re both doing very well. Reuben is out on tour with Vance Joy right now and Michael’s new record is coming out soon. Those are my two personal faves just because I’ve been with them for quite a while now.
NMC: Who are three emerging artists that you’re really excited about?
The Wet Secrets are fabulous. Lauren Mann did her record at my place, and it was really cool. And a guy named Transit who did really well during the Peak Performance Project.
NMC: Let’s talk about The Prophets of Music. How did you become involved?
DO: I attended the concert held shortly after what happened. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house and I thought, I gotta do something. A couple weeks later, I got a call from a friend of mine name Jory Kinjo who plays with Mocking Shadows, asking if a couple people could come out to the studio. So Jory came out with a few other people and among them were Barclay Hunter and his wife. Barclay is a father of one of the young fellows that unfortunately perished. They started talking about putting together a foundation to support emerging artists. I didn’t know what shape that thing was going to take, all I said was ‘yep I’m on board. What can we do?’
It was just one of those things in life where I really wanted to reach out to someone and ask if I can do anything. Since then, Barclay and I have become very good friends. It’s been a lot of work. There are all kinds of people, including NMC that have just stepped up to support Barclay’s vision.
NMC: How did you first get involved with NMC?
DO: My company (Owen Construction Ltd.) does asbestos and mold cleanup. We were contracted by the CMLC to do the cleanup of the Eddy. It was a… dynamic environment. When they closed it down, they literally just closed it. We were almost the first contractors in the building. We went in and cleaned out all this stuff that was left behind.
NMC: What was the state of the Eddy?
Oh lord. By the time we got into the building it had sat with no maintenance for at least a couple years. The roof was caved in and leaking. The mechanical area was knee-deep in pigeon droppings. There was mold everywhere. The basement was a dugout crawl space with an old boiler in the corner. I had to crouch down to walk along. The thing was over 100 years old. It wasn’t a pristine building. They wanted to save it, but the bones were gone.
What’s happened now is amazing. If you were gone from Calgary for the last couple years, you wouldn’t even know, however many months ago, that it was an empty lot. It looks the same. You wouldn’t know that it was actually taken apart.
NMC: What was the worst thing you saw?
DO: The pigeon droppings. It was terrible. The only good thing left was an ancient blue plywood sign that said ‘Appearing at the King Edward’ and a round space where they stapled a picture of the person performing. Somehow through musical connections I was introduced to Andrew Mosker (NMC’s President and CEO). We had a chat, and I invited him out to my studio, and to also take back the sign I kept from the Eddy.
NMC: How did you stay involved?
DO: Your strong suit as an organization is being involved and engaged in the community and bringing people into your community.
NMC: You’ve been a great supporter for NMC in a number of ways. What makes you want to contribute to NMC?
DO: It’s furthering the musical community that we are all invested in. What NMC has going on is just spectacular: saving, preserving and restoring history, like the Rolling Stones Mobile Studio. To do this is pretty cool. It’s not something that easily done or commonly done. To take a block and a half of prime real estate in an emerging section of Calgary, and design a spectacular facility is a huge undertaking. It’s a no brainer for anyone that’s community-minded or music-minded to be involved with it, in whatever way you can.
It’s like an unwritten song. We don’t know what’s going to happen, but it’s going to be exciting.
NMC: What excites you most about the project?
DO: I’m excited about the non-brick and mortar aspects of it—the sense that it’s going to create synergy between artists and businesses. It’s going to attract people that wouldn’t otherwise come to Calgary.
To learn more about OCL Studios visit: http://oclstudios.com/
To learn more about The Prophets of Music visit: http://www.prophetsofmusic.org/
— Interview conducted by Terry Cho, NMC Stewardship Officer.