To say that Brandon Eugene Owens comes from a musical family would be an understatement. His oldest brother, Ikey Owens, was the omnipresent keyboard/production maestro of the greater Long Beach music scene who released music with his project Free Moral Agents and acted as a producer for countless local projects (including the debut album from Fullerton’s Dusty Rhodes and the River Band), then later played on international stages with artists such as the Mars Volta and Jack White. Brandon’s other brother, Aaron Fletcher Owens, was an equally skilled and soulful guitarist, who’s best known for his time with Southern California ska/reggae group Hepcat. (Ikey passed away in 2014, and Aaron followed the next year.)
The youngest of the three, Brandon has upheld the Owens family’s level of musicianship while carving out his own sonic path. He picked up the bass in middle school and was invited to attend the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts as a teenager. During his time there, he thrived as a bassist, earned several awards and even played alongside some of the greats, including Stevie Wonder. “That’s a great school. I mean, it was cool because it was, like, not school basically,” he says with a chuckle. “But that was such a key experience in my life, both maturing and growing up, as well as musically.”
After graduation, Owens attended the New School in New York, where he pursued a degree in contemporary music and film. However, he fell into the world of jazz during his first semester, after being asked to tour with pianist Benny Green. He ultimately left school and went on to perform with the likes of Robert Glasper, Terence Blanchard and Monty Alexander. At one point, he also worked as the bassist and musical director for Lauryn Hill.
In 2010, Owens released an album of 12 indie-folk songs he had written while touring. Some songs from Troubles went on to be featured in television shows such as Grey’s Anatomy, One Tree Hill and How I Met Your Mother.
Despite his solo success, Owens continued working with some of the top names in the music industry. “I work with Terrace Martin, who is a big producer. So I play around and do a lot of things with him,” Owens says. “We worked on [Kendrick Lamar’s] To Pimp a Butterfly record; we did some stuff with Fergie.” Most recently, he has written and performed with songwriters such as Yuna and Snoh Aalegra.
Last month, Owens released his first solo work in nearly a decade. Titled Better Days, the EP is also Owens’ first since the untimely passing of both his brothers and father. “It’s a very personal record for me,” he says. “It was written over the past five or six years. I started getting together a batch of new songs and these are six of them.”
The songs on Better Days deal with both loss and hope. “Ikey and Aaron died five months apart from each other,” Owens says. “So there was a lot of grief and a lot of sadness. And I think within that grief, I started to reminisce about better days and what better days were. That’s why the picture on the cover of the album is a picture of me when I was a kid—just going back to that time when I had that family.”
As much as he looks back on better days, he looks forward to more. “There’s also a lot of hope in the record, too,” he explains. “After my brothers passed, two years later, I had my son, Atticus. So Better Days refers to the past and the present: dealing with grief, love and loss and somehow finding a way to have hope.”
The first song on the EP, “Brightside,” opens with some unmistakable synthesizer playing, setting the tone for the rest of the album. “Ikey is actually playing keyboards on the track,” he says of the tune he started recording years before. “So that vibe is just there. When I play that song, it always really brings me in touch with a very bright side of life.”
Each of the six songs (and two interludes) on Better Days tells a story while contributing to a larger concept. The final track, “Paris,” captures most of the complexities of the EP: “Sometimes I pray for the better days/Oh, but much has changed/Brothers passed away/So I say to my son/‘No, I’ll never leave you/My shooting star/You have my heart.’” It’s this ability to look simultaneously forward and back that makes Owens a top-notch singer/songwriter.
Owens’ abilities as a producer also shine through on Better Days. “I work with a lot of other artists, so I can play a lot of other instruments,” he says. “I’m playing the majority of instruments on there except for if there’s live drums. But all the programming of drums, keyboards and guitars for the most part are all me.” As a result, the songs on the EP span from more stripped-down, folky hip-hop (Owens admits that one of his biggest influences is Beck) to evocative, almost cinematic and lush compositions.
Owens claims that this EP is a prelude to a full-length album that he hopes to record and release soon. Hopefully, he’ll share what he’s working on Friday night at Que Sera, where he’s performing as a part of the monthly Fight Club LBC night.
Fight Club LBC at Que Sera, 1923 E. Seventh St., Long Beach, (562) 599-6170; queseralb.wixsite.com/queseralb. Fri., 9 p.m. $5. 21+.