photo by kyle cassidy
Owen Lyman-Schmidt was born in D.C’s Columbia Hospital for Women, 87 years and 337 days after Duke Ellington. Raised on the songs and stories of WPFW’s Nap ‘Don’t Forget the Blues’ Turner, he studied jazz bass for five years with the incomparable Pepe Gonzalez, aiming to grow up as big as Howlin’ Wolf and as bad as Charles Mingus. For a half decade he walked that path until one day, hitch-hiking across Canada with three harmonicas, two spoons and a voice that could be heard over traffic, he realized his travelling life had outstripped his instrumentation. Retreating to the woods of Maine with a mandolin and a head full of ideas, he began writing the music that would become the solo project Owen and his Checkered Past.
Around the same time, down in Philadelphia, Bobby Szafranski was evolving past the guitar, shedding strings and dropping whole steps at a time. After working his way through the low end of a couple projects, he joined the psychedelic-swagger band Mountjoy as ‘Lead Bassist and Auxiliary Whiskey-Swiller’ where he further tuned his four-stringed voice.
By 2013 Owen’s itchy feet and thirty-three year old diesel Mercedes had taken him fifty thousand miles down the road and left him in West Philly. On the way he’d added a suitcase kick drum and a whole range of musical influences from spoken word poets and anarchist punks, to blue yodelers and old-time fiddlers. Mountjoy was dissolving and Bobby was looking for a new home where he could flex his unique melodic style of bass. Owen’s rough edged mandolin and baritone growl were just the right fit and they launched into the task of rewiring Owen’s ever-expanding list of songs for a new two-person-five-instrument arrangement.
Out of this collaboration emerged Driftwood Soldier, a child with old eyes, blinking in the dim light of a barroom stage. This is not some nostalgic reproduction of an imaginary past or a feel-good celebration of a rosy future. It’s a bittersweet love song to an imperfect world, a lullaby that leaves you bleeding.
Their 2015 full length debut, Scavenger’s Joy, was a warning shot across the bows, a powerful introduction they chased up and down the East Coast, through living rooms, corner bars and back alleys. With the 2017 Blessings & Blasphemy EP the duo manage to be both unpredictable and consistent, delivering an intricate story of oppression and faith that thunders and whispers. Find Driftwood Soldier, wherever you can.