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My name is David Nathan Garrett Owen although I was called Garrett from birth. My parents liked the meaning of David Nathan (“Blessed Gift”) but preferred the sound of Garrett (which, by the way, means “powerful with spear”). Although born in San Antonio, Texas, I spent less than three of my first 20 years in the United States. In turn, my folks were pastors, missionaries and church builders. Eventually, they earned doctorates in psychology and became regional therapists for a large network of missionaries in Latin America. Their vocation resulted in unique childhoods for my younger sister, Claire, and me.
My earliest memories are set in Tanzania (largest of the East African countries) but when I turned 8, mission work took us to Kenya. At 10, we left Kenya and returned stateside to Mandeville, Louisiana, so my parents could complete their graduate studies. Three years later, with fresh certification as psychologists, they were called to Quito, Ecuador which became home for the next six years. With that background, it shouldn’t be a mystery why my first music EP is titled, “Slightly Foreign.” I didn’t retire my “preacher’s kid” credential until I was 19 and returned to Texas to find my own way. Ten years later, I’m still scuffling and working to make music full-time while my sister Claire is a missionary with a husband and raising her baby in East Africa, not far from where we were children together.
As kids, we crossed the Serengeti Plain probably 30 times traveling between Tanzania and Kenya. I have an early memory of riding on the luggage rack of our Nissan Patrol, vast clear skies above me and antelope running to my right and left. When I was 4 or 5, I remember Dad yelling from the front seat to roll up my window, the one I’d lowered to examine more closely the lion standing next to our car.
Not all areas were primitive. Nairobi, Kenya, for instance, isn’t the mud huts that many people imagine. Although not slick and modern by American standards, it was a thriving, densely populated city with its own identity. On the other hand, Tanzania was rural and our house in the middle of nowhere. In many ways, these preschool days in Tanzania were the most idyllic time with my sister – lots of climbing and hiking, picking mangos from trees.
Slivers of African memories often wedge their way into my lyrics, albeit often softened or exaggerated for dramatic effect. Consider “Sad Eyed Son” -- yes, I really did (accidentally) drive my bike off a (six foot) cliff and break my nose (in one place) and an arm. At its core, all art is based on a “true story.” And by true, I mean the version we carry in our head and heart. The one that can lift or crush your spirit with equal capacity.
Some suggest that your upbringing explains quirks of personality like my shyness, a tendency for introspection and streaks of perfectionism. Maybe. I’m not so fatalistic as to believe our earliest experiences necessarily determine the arc of adult life, but my slightly foreign childhood never leaves my music or me.