Advance Base: Putting the low in lo-fi livelihood

by Kristen Stanovich

photo by Jeffrey Marini

Owen Ashworth’s first song was recorded on an answering machine. It was in the 90s on a cassette tape when people left voicemails and manually recorded their own outgoing messages. The track falls at around two minutes in length, static-laden with slow, steady drum beats and the low, melancholic murmur of his vocals.

“If I switched the tapes I could record indefinitely,” Ashworth said. “So basically I recorded a song like I was recording my outgoing message.”

The early recordings would serve as the makings of Ashworth’s first album, Answering Machine Music under the moniker Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, a lo-fi electronic pop solo project he started using a borrowed keyboard in an entry-level music class. The keyboard, Casio model with a built-in drum machine, would serve as the basis behind Ashworth’s distinct sound for the next decade.

“I started playing and writing and recording all at the same time, and over the years I feel like I kind of outgrew those instruments,” he said. “I use more digital technology in recent years and incorporated more modern techniques, but compared to most of my friends or most of my peers in the music business, I use basically children’s equipment. And not only that, like children’s equipment from the 90s.”

Easing from his 20s to his 30s, and performing as Casiotone for 13 years with three albums, Ashworth said he felt it was time to pursue other avenues. He’d grown as an artist but was stuck as Casiotone to his fans performing songs filled with troubles teens obsessed over which weren’t representative of his growth as a musician.

“I made a couple more albums until it got to the point where I really I felt like I [had to] do something new. I was like ‘I don’t wanna be playing these songs that feel like teenage songs forever,’” he said. “I wanted the challenge of starting again just to see if I could do it, partially, but I just wanted to do a new project I felt like represented me and my life a little better.”

Against the advice of his friend who warned rebranding was risky, Ashworth launched Advance Base, venturing from his solo beginnings into a full band featuring bass, electric piano and autoharp. After a career as a popular touring artist, Ashworth admits he took a blow when the name change was official.

“I am proud of myself, that I started a new thing and wrote a whole new set of songs that kind of developed a new project but, starting over is rough,” he said. “It was very humbling to be like, ‘Oh, all those people who liked my music don’t know what my new band is now, and I am just totally starting over.’ It was my livelihood and it was scary I felt like I was quitting a job and then starting my own business all over again.”

Despite the struggle for recognition once more, Ashworth settled back into the lo-fi scene, releasing two albums under Advance Base featuring collaborations with music friends planning a new tour across the country. This time around, as opposed to booking a Casiotone tour which used to leave him on the road most months out of the year, Ashworth says he is mostly focused on the opportunity playing in front of friends and strangers alike. Though some Advance Base recordings are done with a band, Ashworth has since reverted back to touring solo, finding travel cheaper and guilt-free as he doesn’t need to ask his bandmates to find a baby sitter or take time off work for months at a time.

“In recent years I’m a little more settled in and I enjoy being home a little more,” Ashworth said. “I go on tour now and it feels more like a vacation… instead of that just being my entire life of just being a stranger on the road.”

MORE INFO: Catch Advance Bases on July 24 at Make.Shift or check him out online at advancebasemusic.com. 

Published in the July 2016 issue of What’s Up! Magazine