Forget the cults and drugs, Girls just wanna have fun
With the release of their second album, Girls frontman Christopher Owens wants people to forget his colourful past and just focus on the music, writes JIM CARROLL
THIS TIME around, Christopher Owens thinks it’s going to be different. When Owens and his sidekick Chet “Jr” White emerged in 2009 with Girls’s debut Album, all the talk was about Owens’ exotic back-story: the singer had spent the first 16 years of his life with the Children Of God religious cult and naturally, this topic dominated proceedings.
With Girls’s second album Father, Son, Holy Ghostready for release, Owens hopes the focus will be on the music. For a start, he thinks the new album is a far better musical proposition than its predecessor.
“We didn’t do so many experimental sounds this time,” he notes. “We stopped wanting to sound spaced out and freaky all the time. We haven’t changed as people, but we’re getting better at what we were trying to do the first time around.
“The first album was a heavy, line in the sand record where we were very upfront about what kind of people we were. This time, the depth of the songs and the ideas presented in the lyrics are a lot clearer.”
Owens feels it helps that the new album from the San Francisco group was recorded by a band as opposed to just a duo. “The first album was so stressful because it was just the two of us. This is a recording which was done by a band of five individuals and a bunch of backing vocalists. It’s a band record, whereas the first one was me doing tracks, while JR ran the equipment.
“The main principle was to play around less with the tracks and have them clearer and louder with the vocals more upfront and less effect. For instance, the backing vocals on the first record were coming out weak so to have real backing vocalists this time made such a difference.” Owens thinks fans will dig the jangles, riffs and candy heartbreakers on the new album, though he wonders if the subject matter of his songs often leaves him a little exposed.
“I don’t want to communicate with people and make them feel sorry for me or that I’m desperate or sad,” Owens says. “Some times I’m afraid I will do that, even with these new songs which are also very heavy. It’s a very delicate fine line to be deep and honest and real about sadness and not turn people off.” Aside from the lyrics, Owens has been using Twitter and, in particular, a series of highly personal Twitter essays as another way of getting his story out there.
“When I first started using Twitter, it was an instant way to make quotes, right then and there. I also liked that it couldn’t be edited or changed around. It was also a way to connect with people.
“I did the Twitter essays and they were fine and were very important for me to do, but part of me wondered if I was being too open and showing too much weakness and vulnerability. It was very much in the moment and I have had second thoughts, but the general public response excited me. People weren’t freaked out.”
People also weren’t freaked out when Owens talked about his time with the Children Of God during the last album campaign. “I was surprised a little bit by how much drama it created. I knew it was an exciting story and it was one I wanted to tell. It was also one I didn’t talk about for a long time, except to very close friends, but I was surprised by how that story became the story. To me, the album was an achievement, not my story.
“But it was very therapeutic for me, it felt good and I took advantage of that, especially with the media. I was 16 years old when I left the Children of God and moved from Europe to the United States, which was quite a big deal. I was leaving a very sheltered communal life and a life in Europe for the United States, where I hadn’t lived before, and having absolute freedom.”
When Owens wasn’t talking about the religious cult, he was talking candidly about his drug use, which added to the frenzy.
“There were some interviewers who were genuinely interested in our music, but there were some times when people did exaggerate what happened, especially in a piece in the Guardian. I liked the interviewer and it was a good article, but we would talk to someone for an hour and find that they only printed the stuff about drugs and the Children of God. We expected it, but not at that level.” What was worse for Owens was a sense that he was being portrayed in some quarters as an out-of-control rock casualty destined for an early grave.
“There were even fans I read on the internet saying things like ‘definitely going to see Girls tonight, don’t know how long Christopher will be living’. And that was coming from a good place! I was being careless with heavy opiates at the time and it could have turned out to be the case, but there were times when I felt a little offended. I’m still here and making music after all.”
Father, Son. Holy Ghostis released on September 9