Ikey Owens of The Mars Volta
Mars Volta’s Ikey Owens gets busy with the Korg M50
By Laura B. Whitmore and Malcolm Doak
Mars Volta is at the top of their game. They just walked away with a 2009 Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance for the song “Wax Simulacra.” And they were named rock music’s “Best Prog-Rock Band” by Rolling Stone magazine in 2008. With slots slated for the Bonnarroo Festival, Ireland’s Oxegen Festival and Scotland’s T in the Park, this summer is sure to be action packed.
But all this isn’t enough for Mars Volta keyboardist Ikey Owens. He’s psyched about another project that has his attention, Free Moral Agents, a group he put together in 2004 that has developed into an ongoing creative outlet. Ikey took a few minutes to catch up with us….
Hey Ikey! It’s been a little while since we’ve spoken. So, bring us up to speed on what’s happening with The Mars Volta as well as your band Free Moral Agents.
I’ve been concentrating on Free Moral Agents live show. We’re trying to make some leaps on my off time. I’m also producing a band called Mode. The Mars Volta is going to be touring this summer in the United States and in Europe.
I understand that Free Moral Agents started as a solo project and then you brought in other musicians to fill up what is now a permanent lineup… How do you balance your position with the other musicians?
Free Moral Agents is a true collaboration. I’m careful to make sure every musician’s personality is present on my recordings; even though I produce and direct all the records.
I know you’ve been using your new M50 quite a bit lately. Any favorite features, functions, sounds?
Every time I get a new Korg keyboard, I come up with a whole new way to look at sound design. I love the tape delay setting. You can stack so many sounds and effects; plus the string, horn, and organ patches are amazing. The organ patches are almost as good as my CX3 [Korg’s tonewheel/drawbar modeling organ]. I’ve been using it in Free Moral Agents, but I’m going to be traveling with it this summer for sure.
Have you had the chance to use it on any recordings yet?
I’ve been doing a lot of recording with the M50. I’ve been using it to layer acoustic horns, strings, and woodwinds. Also, Free Moral Agents have been doing a series of live recordings, and I’ve used it on a lot of the mixtape stuff I’ve been doing with different emcees.
You have a bunch of Korg gear now- what are your live setups like for Mars Volta and Free Moral Agents?
In addition to the M50, I’ve got a couple of microKORGs [synthesizer/vocoder], a microX [TRITON-powered synthesizer], my old TR [TRITON-engine workstation] (which I use with TMV), my CX3 (which I use with TMV) and my TRITON [Workstation/Synthesizer]. I like to rotate the synths in and out over the course of the tour to keep things from getting too stale. I rely on the TR for my clav sound.
Anything else you’d like to let everyone know about?
Free Moral Agents are releasing our first single on our new label “Chocolate Industries” in the next couple of weeks. It’ll feature a remix by Tony Allen (drummer for Fela Kuti, The Good, The Bad and The Queen). Also we’ll be on tour in the Pacific Northwest in early April. And check out Mode as well!
Photo Credit: R Laananen