Christopher Owens is the lead singer and songwriter in Girls, a San Francisco-based pop band. They recently released their fantastic debut, Album.
The recording process for Album was pretty drawn out. How did you maintain your vision for the record?
I would just sort of write a song and record it. I didn’t really think about that. I think they were automatically consistent going in because they were all the first songs I was writing. We just would be working in the same way every time we would record them, and I would have the same ideas ever since the beginning. We weren’t a band when we started recording, so we just took our time. We were just doing it for fun. We did them as the songs would come along, and I guess it took a little longer because we started to play out and stuff. You can’t really record when you’re out on the road. Other than that, we just were recording whenever we didn’t have to work.
Was it ever frustrating?
Things get frustrating when you’re working on limited equipment, things like that. At the same time, it was just so fun and exciting to do that I really didn’t care. It didn’t ever really get that frustrating. It was definitely more fun and exciting than frustrating, finishing a song. It was pretty cool for us.
Do you see your music as regional at all? Pertaining to San Francisco?
I don’t know. I think if there’s anything regional about the music, it’s pretty subconscious. It wasn’t anything that I was really thinking about when I was writing or recording the songs. It was probably there because this is where we live, you know? I’m sure it affected the sound, and it affected a lot of things, but it definitely wasn’t anything we had thought about till after, when people started to say that. I can see that, and I can kind of hear it, but, I dunno. To me, it was just the songs that I was writing, and I guess there is a pretty strong musical theme here and there’s a lot of support from friends, there’s a lot of people making music and it is a pretty cool environment to be in. But maybe we took that for granted and didn’t notice until afterward.
Dean said it was so easy to live, but so tough to get something accomplished.
Definitely. For a long time, we didn’t do anything. It was a new place for me. The main thing I was doing was just meeting people, going out and having fun. For a few years that was a brand new experience to me.
I’ve heard you’re really into Frisbee. Is it Ultimate Frisbee?
No, not ultimate Frisbee. I just like playing around. The idea of playing Ultimate Frisbee kind of sucked to me, all the rules, teams, trying to make goals, and all that, really silly. I just like to have fun with it, throw it, catch it. Let whoever wants to jump in jump in. For me, it’s pretty much like a relaxing, fun sort of thing.
How much do you play?
When we go on tour, we bring the Frisbee and play everyday. As much as I can, yeah. It’s fun to play at night and stuff too.
When we were in New York, we’d just throw the thing across the street. Through the traffic and stuff (laughs). That kind of makes it more fun. We would just run around and do it. There’s also that dangerous fun element too; running up and down the block. I don’t think we ever played in a park. We always played outside of a show venue or something, all the places we probably shouldn’t play. But it’s really fun. It’s fun to see whoever is around play and everyone have a good time.
Did you see the Elvis Costello review of “Hellhole Ratrace”? What was your take on that?
Yeah I saw that. He was pretty right on with his review of it. I think he caught exactly what we were doing, which is cool. I never listened to Elvis Costello, so when people started saying I sounded like him, I was like, OK. I didn’t really know what to say. I didn’t really know if I did or not. Maybe him and I have the same influences or something, but he wasn’t an influence on me.
How do Felt and Daniel Johnston figure in to your songwriting? I know you’re fans of both.
I just look up to them as songwriters. I know that Felt is my favorite band, but I know that I don’t sound anything like Felt or write any songs like Lawrence does, at all. I just think they’re amazing songwriters and it makes me want to be an amazing songwriter, too. When I set up to write a song, I do it in my own way. I look up to them a lot, but I don’t ever try to sound like them. Everything about Felt songs is different from my songs. It’s just the idea of being somebody that’s that in touch with their songwriting and that prolific; that’s mainly what I look up to them for. But I don’t know that I sound like anybody, really. The same with Ariel Pink. Ariel Pink was my main influence to write music and his music sounds totally different from mine. It’s just the idea of writing songs, at all, I got from him, just doing it on your own. He just writes whatever type of song he wants to write and records it however he wants to record it. And that’s mainly what I got from him.
How about Daniel Johnston?
I just like his lyrics. It’s the same thing. He’s just somebody that just started writing songs and became a songwriter at some point, just from the feeling that he got from writing the songs. That’s pretty much what happened to me. When I started to write songs. I discovered that it made me feel a certain way, and I just can’t stop now. And I feel like that’s what happened to him. Other than that, I like how he’s direct and honest and simple with his lyrics. It’s basically conversational lyrics, not poetry or something like that. It’s like he’s speaking his mind. That’s what I try to do, too.
What’s your favorite song that you’ve ever written?
I think maybe my favorite one is one called “Broken Dreams Club.”
I dunno. I just like singing it, really. I like the lyrics in it. When I sing it I feel good. We’ve yet to record it; it’s sort of a newer song, in that way. We don’t play it live or anything. I dunno. It’s still one I feel sentimentally about.
How much of your personal life is in the songs?
They’re all like that. I don’t really ever sit down and write a song about something that hasn’t happened. It’s all very realistic stuff, either about the way that I’m feeling or about somebody that I’m writing a song to, or something that’s happened. It’s all pretty simple, straightforward stuff. But none of it’s fictional. It’s all real, real stories or real people that I’m singing to or writing about.
Ever break away?
I dunno. I never really think about it. Anything could happen. I know that life changes quite a bit all the time. I wouldn’t be surprised if I was writing a Broadway musical about Macauley Culkin or something like that.
Would you do a “Home Alone” musical?
(laughs) Yeah. But it wouldn’t be about the movie, it’d just be about being lonely.
I’ll pitch that around. We’ll be millionaires.
Are you taking to touring?
Touring isn’t exactly…it’s not all fun and games. It’s pretty hard work if you’re away from your friends the whole time. Your whole life changes. But it’s fine. I don’t have any problem with it; it’s just different. Some people aren’t cut out for it. Our guitar player quit on this last tour so we’re starting over with somebody right now and we’re going to leave in two or three days on the next East Coast tour. It’s something you have to deal with. People are going to quit and you have to find someone new. It’s just a lot of rehearsal, a lot of traveling, staying focused. You generally spend the whole day working towards something that generally lasts about a half hour. I guess it’s just a testament to what that half hour is. I probably wouldn’t do it if I didn’t get anything out of that half hour. It’s obviously something cool enough to make me willing to work the whole day for it.
The notion of a "studio artist" doesn't really exist anymore.
I think it’s a luxury if you can record and not have to tour. I think that’s kind of an ideal; it would be really nice. I wouldn’t cut out live shows completely because I think live shows are fun. I guess there is some kind of goal in working towards not having to do a five week tour anymore. People don’t sell records anymore. That’s what the world is right now. If you don’t want to have a day job, your new job has to be touring. That’s just the way it is. If I had some career that was really fulfilling, maybe I would just work my day job and record at night still. But the only jobs I was doing were just service jobs, real mundane. It wasn’t anything I cared about. I’m much happier working on something like this.
Is it hard to be working on your creative project the entire time? Not being grounded in the “real world.”
I don’t know how creative the tour is. Just playing the same songs every day. For me, it’s really not that creative. But for me, having the day job of being in the music industry, I sort of look forward to when I’m at home where I can write and record. One of my friends was saying to me the other day (they were trying to complain about their life) and they were like, “Well you don’t understand. You’re being fun and creative all the time.” And I was like, that’s really not that true. It’s not that much fun to go on tour. It’s definitely not that creative. You’re buckling down and doing something that needs to be done in order to do those other things that you want to do.
Have you worn out any songs?
I’m still pretty connected. I don’t have a disconnect from any of the songs yet. I guess one of the things is we’ve had to change the lineup so much that it becomes different all the time. That keeps it fresh. Anytime you go on a tour, by the end of it you start to feel a little bit crazy playing the same songs over and over again. I feel pretty good about it. I’m pretty good at realizing that you’re playing in front of an audience that probably hasn’t seen it at all before, so you just have to think about them and present it in that way. The fact that they’re just seeing it for the first time. It’s a bit like being on a Broadway play or something. It’s the same show every week. You just have to think it’s a different audience every time. If you start acting like you’re bored, then the audience is going to pick up on that.
What’s the most fun you’ve had doing Girls?
For me the most fun is getting to meet the other bands you play with. You will play several dates with one band and you travel around with them and you get involved in their life, and you see them as people. For me that’s the most fun. It’s a strong bond. They become the friends that, if you were at home, you hang out with the same group of people. There’s other bands that replace that on tour. They become your family. To me, that’s been the most rewarding thing so far.
What’s your favorite Elvis song?
I love Elvis. He has a song called “They Remind Me Too Much of You” that’s my favorite of his. I also like the gospel songs a lot. I just like everything he did: the country stuff, the early rock and roll stuff. It’s all good. I like how versatile he was and I liked watching his journey, becoming the biggest pop star in the world and juxtaposing that with his personal life. Him as a person and him on the stage. I think it’s fascinating, what the world does to people, puts him on the pedestal. But there he is, going through a divorce and struggling with drugs. Feeling like he doesn’t have any friends. I think all of that is pretty fascinating.
I really like From Elvis in Memphis. Do you like that? Do you like the films?
I like the film of it. I like the films. I like the Elvis character. I probably would lean more towards documentaries and live show, it’s a little more interesting. I just think the Elvis product is fascinating, he became this like, Ken Doll.
Can there be another Elvis? Can there be another Beatles?
I think there could be. There have been people that have come close…I think there will be. It really hasn’t been that long. Things are usually pretty spread out over time. I think Michael Jackson was as big as Elvis, and he was pretty recent. I think it just takes time for somebody that big to come along.
Think you’ll do more porn videos? That’s where the real money is.
(laughs) Yeah. I dunno. It was fun for us to put that out. I think that’s maybe one of the most bold things we’ve done so far, is release that. And release it in a way that’s so matter of fact. Every artist nowadays makes sex tapes. I think it’s pretty cool.