Now back with “Honesty,” the first single off his upcoming EP Las Virginia, Owen is showing a previously unseen side to his artistic self. Dark and brooding with a thrumming synth line, the R&B-inflected track utilizes Owen’s silky smooth vocals, morphing the song into an all-out lover’s lament. The lover is a guy who Owen is, obviously, quite smitten with. It’s someone he’s hooked up with before and wants to get closer to, but the beau can’t seem to give him the kind of honest attention Owen craves. “You're not home, all alone/ Wishin' you would make some time for me,” he sings. “Why you only call when you ain’t sober?”
Billboard caught up with Owen to discuss “Honesty,” his upcoming EP La Virginia, and how his life has changed since coming out years ago.
We haven’t heard from you for about two years. What have you been up to?
It's been a minute indeed! I've been in the studio a lot, working on my upcoming EP, Las Virginia. I wanted to take some time to really reflect and write what I wanted to say. I've had a crazy journey … I released my first EP over five years ago now. And then Idol happened and so many things changed for me. I toured around the world and performed in so many different venues and festivals. But now, this is like the next phase, my next chapter.
And you got engaged during those two years, too! At a Demi Lovato concert, no less.
Honestly, that was the best day of my life. It was a total surprise, too. Shane and Demi put that together, and I was just mind blown. I don't know what can top that! So that's also been going on in the last two years. Building and moving and joining our lives together has been really, really wonderful.
Have you set a date yet?
Not yet! We gotta get through this coronavirus crisis first.
Agreed. So let's talk about “Honesty.” What is the track about?
“Honesty” is the core song of my new EP. It reflects dichotomy -- honesty versus dishonesty, the yin and yang. I wrote it in Tokyo, Japan, and I was initially writing about a past romantic situation, if you will. Not really an ex, it wasn't that official. But I realized after a while, it seemed like I was reflecting my own insecurities in the song, like I was writing about myself. So "Honesty" brings everything together. It’s what I want to say in this next phase of my life and of my music.
Your last single, “Gold,” was a much more upbeat, traditional pop song. “Honesty” has a more soulful, deep vibe. Is this change conscious? Will this be the kind of sound we should expect from Las Virginia?
The truth is, I love pop music, but my sound has evolved. I've got tons of R&B and hip-hop influences to tap into, which is what was in me anyway. I grew up singing gospel and soul, so it's in the roots of who I am as a singer. I still love the pop sensibility. And I love combining the two.
But "Honesty" and Las Virginia were created from memories and experiences of mine that I was too afraid to share in my past music. So my sound now may seem new, but in a sense, it’s not new at all. It's still who I am, it’s just more of who I am. You're going to hear me, you're just going to hear another side, another side to where I am musically, and where I have been, before Idol and all that. I started off as a songwriter and I'm getting back to who I am as an artist. Now I'm showing my perspective.
Aesthetically, your visuals have gone through changes in these past two years as well, as if your inner queer art angel is tearing its way to the surface. In these uncertain times, how can other queer people champion themselves like you are now?
We all grow and change over time. I think that's inevitable and I think embracing that is important, and has been extremely important for me. I'm excited to continue to freely express myself, because the more I embrace and learn about myself, the more confident I feel. And hopefully, that inspires other people to do the same thing, express themselves however they want to, regardless of where they’re from or what other people think about them.
You know, I came out to Billboard in 2016. Things have changed drastically since then. I've been happy and healthy for the past few years, really growing, making mistakes doing stupid s--t and learning from it. I keep moving. And I still have a good time, I live, but now I’m being true to who I am. And hopefully, it shows!