By Johnny Griffith
“Still waters run deep” is an old cliche that suggests beneath a calm demeanor, lies a more complex picture that can be full of passion and inspiration. The same can be said about Owen Tiner. While it’s easy for him to be labelled as a teacher simply because that’s his most visible aspect, beneath the exterior swirls a myriad of descriptors: father, husband, Aggie, coach, musician.
Tiner graduated from Mineola ISD in 1998 and moved to College Station to attend Texas A&M. In 2007, Owen relocated back to East Texas to become a teacher and coach, and he currently teaches in the Canton area. In what I’m sure he would describe as his most successful aspect, he is a loving husband and devoted father to two girls.
However, there is this other aspect as well: musician. Tiner has always harbored a love of music, and it has manifested in several forms over the years. Most recently he has been playing solo gigs around the area in a more subdued manner, focusing more on the substance than the show.
We recently caught him in between classes to chat for a bit:
Johnny: You’ve been performing music in East Texas for a while now. When were you first drawn to music?
Tiner: I don’t think I can really pinpoint a specific time. Music was always “there” from as far back as I can remember. My mother’s side of the family are all fairly musically inclined. She and her sisters grew up in East Texas performing in a little trio; my aunt Sandy played piano for the church I grew up in. They all sang in the choir as did my sister, cousins, and I. Southern Baptist churches teach kids music and even a little music theory very early. Dad played in a band in college and was an avid concert goer, and his musical taste was all over the map. I’d hear 3 Dog Night, The Beatles, Don Mclean, Johnny Cash, Beethoven, and Johnny Mathis in a single afternoon. But I really got hooked when I discovered playing the guitar and bass (taking lessons from the legendary John Defoore) and found this whole world out there of music not on the radio. Wow! And you can go see these guys around here!
Johnny: What were some of your influences early on that shaped your musical direction?
Tiner: My influences are about like my attention: I’m constantly drawn in a thousand directions. That’s now, but the beginnings were classic rock and blues guys, I guess. From Led Zeppelin, the obligatory Tom Petty, Allman Brothers, and Stevie. Then I went through a country phase of a lot of Dwight Yoakam and Willie. When I started making my own music, it was largely artists that were exceptional with lyrical content in addition to the music such as Dylan, Mclean, Counting Crows, Tom Petty (again), and later, Whiskeytown, Tom Waits, Uncle Tupelo, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Todd Snider, Fred Eaglesmith, Son Volt, Reckless Kelly, The Old 97’s, Rodney Crowell; how much time do we have here? Sometimes, I sound more like a fan of music than a musician.
Johnny: How would you describe your music now, and how has it evolved over the years?
Tiner: I’ve definitely gotten softer. I played in the Texas/Red Dirt scene (I think that’s what they call it now) in the early 2000’s in a band that was a lot more rock and roll than “Texas Country” for a while. Long hair, loud, and smokey. Our music got a lot better over time. More developed, I guess. I picked up the mandolin and harmonica along the way, and we started doing some more musically intricate stuff. More than just banging guitars. It was more focused. I started playing with other groups some, and in song swaps and things like that with members of my band and with guys that weren’t in my band. I really liked that “unscripted” and unrehearsed atmosphere a lot. I felt like I got to connect with people and other musicians on a much deeper level. I met a mixed bag of “proper criminals” during that time; some of which I still play with now. Slowly, my “rockin’ red dirt” stuff wasn’t as appealing as say Lyle Lovett, Robert Earl Keen, and the Avett Brothers. I started to dig the banjo, sing high harmonies, and I started picking up and writing stuff that I wouldn’t have tried in my other band. I was having a ton of fun! That original band came to an end, but I kept on playing with other people as much as six nights a week.
I was terrified going solo acoustic in the beginning. I’m a people guy. Someone to give and get back from on stage. When it’s just you, that’s a bit more difficult. It’s scary if you don’t have a large fan/friend base that’ll come see you all the time. I had already graduated from college and wasn’t really plugged into the school anymore, and therefore solo gigs were something I tried to avoid, although I did a fair amount of them. After moving up here to East Texas, I certainly would consider myself a solo acoustic guy. It just kind of happened that way.
Now, I think I’d describe my music as Americana singer/songwriter or “back porch” music. Woody, acoustic music with a little mischief attached.
Johnny: Are you primarily a solo act, or do you collaborate with other musicians regularly?
Tiner: Primarily solo acoustic now, although that is changing some. Not in the form of a band but because I am playing mandolin, etc. with other groups and artists a little bit. I’ve found it keeps me learning, engaged, and more excited and eager.
Johnny: How much original music do you typically try to work into a set?
Tiner: Always tricky, right? It depends on the venue and the time I have to play. Three hours is a lot of music. But even the cover stuff I do doesn’t seem to be recognizable to a lot of folks in this area. I try to do songs that fit with the stuff that I’ve written so it feels a little more seamless. I’m not the guy that does a cover for the sake of just doing the popular song. There was a time, but I do throw in a “Dock of the Bay” or “7 Spanish Angels” to make it all right, though.
Johnny: Do you typically play in the immediate vicinity, or do you get the opportunity to travel?
Tiner: I do travel but not very often and usually to places where I’ve done very well in the past or with good friends. I stick to the general East Texas area currently. I did plenty of travel when I first started.
Johnny: What are some of the challenges of balancing the passion for music with the responsibilities of being an “adult?”
Tiner: I’m a husband and father first, a teacher second, and a musician third.The cool thing is that you can usually mix two of those at a time. Having time to write is still something I struggle with. Being a school teacher keeps me young, however, and gives me plenty of inspiration to write.
Johnny: What have been some of your best memories on stage and off?
Tiner: I’ve been privileged to play with a lot of big names over the years and a few sold out places, always loved that. But some memories that stick out are playing at Luckenbach with three of my best friends in front of an incredible crowd. Doing a song swap with Susan Gibson at the Houston Rodeo BBQ area to a crowd of like four people. (Sounds a lot less cool than it was.) The Mucky Duck in Houston. Oh, and totally getting blown off by my future wife after a show because she “wasn’t gonna be that girl.”
Johnny: What do you have in store for the rest of the year and beyond into 2018?
Tiner: I’m taking a little time off in October to recharge and rework a few things. I will be recording before the end of the year, and that’s exciting. Next year, I think you’ll see me playing a lot more with others than this year.
Johnny: What’s currently queued up in your playlist?
Tiner: Robbie Fulks – Fare Thee Well, Carolina Gals
Catch Owen Tiner at an upcoming show near you, and check him out online at facebook.com/owentinermusic.