Turn Ikey Up!

A couple of days ago I received some of the worst news in a while. Isaiah “Ikey” Owens died in his sleep in Mexico. What? I couldn’t believe it. My favorite keyboardist and one of my biggest influences of all-time, gone. Someone who I grew up with and who molded my music views and tastes. I still can’t believe it.

About ten years ago my mother moved my brother and I back to Lyndhurst. We spent the last two and a half years living in Connecticut after my mom decided to start a new life after the divorce. I don’t remember a lot of what I did while we lived in Connecticut. We separated from the rest of our family and I didn’t have a lot of friends who lived nearby. In Lyndhurst, everyone was a five or ten minute drive away. I spent a lot of days at my grandmas house or sleeping over at my cousins. My best friend, John, lived right across the street. It was a radical change that I wasn’t ready for in my young adolescence.

I spent most of my time in Connecticut here.

My primary interests were sports and cartoons. Besides sleeping or eating I was likely playing street hockey or soccer or watching Cartoon Network. I liked music, but I didn’t love it. I listened to whatever the rest of the kids were listening to. Z100 and KTU dominated my music tastes until a commercial came on while I was watching some show.

The song “Inertiatic ESP” by The Mars Volta was blaring and an image of Omar and Cedric, afros and all, flashed on the screen. It was a Tower Records advert. It piqued my interest and I didn’t understand what I was hearing. I did some research and found out who it was an listened to the groups debut EP and album.

Fun fact: I was convinced Cedric was a woman.

The first song of off Tremulant, “Cut That City”, was a tour de force. I couldn’t’ve imagined anything like it in my thirteen-and-a-half years. The bridge. The sound of the organs. That’s the first thing I remember. The sound of the organs and keys that Ikey was playing. I couldn’t believe it. My headphones didn’t feel like headphones. The music wasn’t coming out of them. I became encompassed by the sound. The experience was only rivaled by the first time I listened to “Castles Made of Sand” by Jimi Hendrix. But that’s another story.

Before I knew it, music became my new drug. I was looking everywhere for a new fix. The Mars Volta opened me to a whole new world. One day was Can. The next, Pink Floyd. Then King Crimson, Yes, Rush, Hendrix, Zep and on and on. I was in love with Omar. He, along with Jimi and Paul McCartney, were my idols growing up. Left handedness looked cool for once.

Of course there was also Cedric, whose sweeping falsetto took my breath away. I also dug the sound of Jon Theodore and Flea chugging along on De-Loused. But it was always about Ikey. He made the sound. He defined that sound for me. I read more about him. I found out about Long Beach Dub All-Stars and I recognized Sublime, who happened to be a favorite of my oldest cousin. Then came De Facto and his side projects. Even though I played guitar and did some singing, my eyes and ears were always drawn to those keys.

I had gotten into TMV right before the release of Frances the Mute – a period considered the bands peak. The group was much smaller the songs more dynamic than later albums. Ikey’s role began diminishing. Fans began chanting, “turn Ikey up!” and I did too. At first it was a joke, but it wasn’t fun. By Octahedron, Ikey was gone, although it wasn’t confirmed until 2011. I was heartbroken. I cursed my idol, my Elvis, Omar. The engine was gone. The last link to the original Volta sound was gone.

Years passed and my interest in Volta waned. I wasn’t into it anymore. But I still cherished the moments. The first time I put “Frances” on in my mom’s car, when I downloaded a shitty 64-bit “Amputechture” rip and when “Bedlam” leaked. I was happy to hear Ikey was still working. And later ecstatic when I had heard he was working with Jack White. He needed to be on a stage with people watching and listening. He always looked so damn happy. He reminded me of Ronaldinho smiling as he ran circles around his opponents. I’ll never forget seeing him live at Hammersmith and Roseland. I regret not seeing him more and I’m depressed now knowing I’ll never have the chance to see him again.

With the advent of new social media platforms it was a lot easier to connect to people who seemed untouchable. Ikey was one of those people to me and meeting him on Instagram and talking to him was awesome. I never sat down with him. But what I learned through our back and forth was that he was a sweet man who just wanted to enjoy life. And I looked up to that. I still do. And I always will. I miss you, Ikey. If there is a Heaven, I hope God turns you up.

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