Ten Musical Projects Ikey Owens Made Great

David James Swanson
Ikey Owens on October 11 in Mexico City, performing with Jack White. More photos here.
By: Bree Davies When Isaiah "Ikey" Owens passed away last week, the musician and producer left behind a massive legacy. Most recently the Long Beach, California native was on tour playing keyboards and piano with Jack White -- but he was also a member and founder of Free Moral Agents and was known for his role in seminal rock group the Mars Volta. Beyond his big time projects, Owens had also produced and played on dozens of records in his career, including respected local acts like Long Beach Dub All-Stars, Pocket Lent, Teen Heroes, Dusty Rhodes and the River Band, and loads of others.

But still, there was so much more -- Owens had been an integral part of the third wave ska revival in the '90s, worked with hip-hop, noise and R&B artists, toured the world with pivotal rock acts, all while continuing to play with and produce up-and-coming bands. His resume is pages long, but we've compiled just ten of the pieces of music you may not know Ikey Owens contributed to for your listening pleasure.

See also: Ikey Owens Was Long Beach's Ultimate Sonic Wingman

Piano on Saul Williams's "Black Stacey" from Saul Williams, 2004, Fader Owens played keys on this 2004 Saul Williams track, an instrument that dominates almost as much as Williams' own voice. Owens also plays on "DNA" off of 2007's The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust!, a collaborative effort on Williams's part with Trent Reznor. Williams was also friends with At The Drive-In, who went on to become the Mars Volta -- of which Owens was also a member -- and opened for the band on a leg of its 2003 tour.

Producer on Gravy Train!!!!'s Hello Doctor, 2003, Kill Rock Stars Before Seth Bogart a.k.a. Hunx of Hunx & His Punx branched off and became the Hardly Art superstar he is now, he was in an early 2000s electro pop group Gravy Train!!!! The Oakland group recorded its first full-length, Hello Doctor, with Ikey Owens. It's a raunchy, sexed-up dance record with a dirty sound that speaks to Owens's versatility as a producer.

Upcoming Events

Keyboards on Free The Robots's "The Eye" from Ctrl Alt Delete, 2010, Alpha Pup Records Another example of Owens's unmistakable playing style, this Free the Robots track gives way to the organic and wild sound he was able to bring out of any keyboard. Free the Robots is of Low End Theory fame, a Los Angeles club night that has birthed a diverse scene of musicianship including big names like Flying Lotus and Daedalus.

Owens was often spotted at Low End Theory, also collaborating with resident DJs Nobody and Nocando, and playing the Wednesday night party with his own band, Free Moral Agents and Crystal Antlers -- a band Owens has played with and produced since the Long Beach group's early days.

Producer on multiple Crystal Antlers recordings, including Crystal Antlers EP, 2008, Touch and Go Crystal Antlers hail from Owens's hometown of Long Beach, where he was an active member of the music scene and lifelong resident (until just earlier this year when he moved to Nashville.) Owens was not only a producer on Crystal Antlers's recorded work, he was often a member, playing shows and jumping on tours with the band.

Member and co-founder of Look Daggers A veritable Long Beach supergroup, Owens helmed this hip-hop band with Los Angeles MC legend 2Mex. Though the two were incredibly busy with so many projects, they found time to cultivate a following and multiple recordings.


Keyboards on Reel Big Fish's "Beer" from Turn the Radio Off, 1996, Mojo Records There's no talking about Owens's incredible musical legacy without speaking to his role in ska's third wave revival in the '90s. He played on high school pals Reel Big Fish's breakthrough record, contributed to recordings by the Hippos and Sublime's Second-Hand Smoke (and makes a cameo in the band's video for "Wrong Way",) and so much more. His own first band, Pocket Lent, was part of that scene too and he played in beloved Long Beach power-pop band, Teen Heroes as well as being a member of the Long Beach Dub Allstars.

Two great compilations exist -- Take Warning: The Songs of Operation Ivy and Hey Brother... Can You Spare Some Ska -- that heavily feature Owens work as a musician on multiple tracks, as well as the latter's inclusion of RX Bandits's (formerly Pharmaceutical Bandits) song "Teen Idol," the first track Owens ever produced.

Owens's own band, Free Moral Agents, was the backing band for Sage Francis on the 2010 Li(f)e Tour Free Moral Agents began as a solo recording project of Owens, but eventually fleshed out as a full band with Mendee Ichikawa as lead vocalist. The band has an impressive discography on its own, but in 2010 the group joined renowned emcee Sage Francis as his backing band. Owens and Francis remained friends and though they hadn't seen each other in four years, the rapper wrote recently that the old tour comrades reconvened on the East Coast just last month to catch up and talk music.

He was a member of the Mars Volta-precursor, De Facto After At the Drive-In broke up, Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodríguez-López formed live dub band De Facto. Owens was a member -- sometimes joined by fellow future Mars Volta studio band member John Frusciante -- performing at many DIY spots around Long Beach.

Owens was a member of Kelis's most recent backing band As part of Kelis's revolutionized sound, Owens was an integral part of the singer's backing band as well as her recent studio work. Owens was also able to work alongside his own brother, Eugene Owens, who played bass in the band.

Producer of In The Parian Flesh (self-released, 2013) and Agua Amarga (Lollipop Records, 2013) by Wild Pack of Canaries Like many musicians who Owens ended up working with, Wild Pack of Canaries grew up listening to his multiple musical projects before working with him. Owens produced music for the band as well as contributing keyboards and vocals to some tracks and had just recently finished working on a yet-to-be-released solo record by Wild Pack's Rudy De Anda. The band's Matisse Ibarra also created the cover art for Owens' band Free Moral Agents's 2014 Japan-Only release, Chaine Infinie.

See also: Ikey Owens, Long Beach Legend, Dead at 38 Ikey Owens Was Long Beach's Ultimate Sonic Wingman [Photos]: Remembering Ikey Owens

Follow us on Twitter @ocweeklymusic. Like us on Facebook at Heard Mentality

Upcoming Events

Sponsor Content


All-access pass to the top stories, events and offers around town.

  • Top Stories


All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >