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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Girls' Christopher Owens: 'I Hate To Say I'm in a Band'

Posted By on Thu, Oct 14, 2010 at 8:30 AM

Girls' JR White (left) and Christopher Owens (right)
  • Girls' JR White (left) and Christopher Owens (right)
San Francisco indie-rock band Girls got national attention almost immediately. 
he release of yearning, grainy pop songs such as "Lust for Life" and "Hellhole Ratrace" -- made before Christopher Owens and JR White had even formed a band -- 
saw glowing praise on sites like Pitchfork. (Owens' backstory -- he grew up in a cult, and later ran away to became a teenage gutter punk before finding his way to S.F. -- likely helped.) Their lauded 2009 debut, the 
damaged, druggy, and gorgeous Album, sent the fledgling band on a world tour that only ends this Friday, with a hometown show at the historic Fillmore.
We spoke with main songwriter Christopher Owens about his stint as a child model in Japan, the band's upcoming EP, his goal to write a song as good as "Love Me Tender," and which San Francisco taqueria most commonly satisfies his hunger for carne asada.

I guess I owe you an apology for a blog post I did about a photoshoot you did in France -- on which, I believe, you commented. Or someone claiming to be you commented. ["You creeps" was the operative phrase in the comment.] 

No, that was me. [laughs] 

So I guess I am a little creepy. Tell me what happened. 

It's what always happens. We were just loading out and [people from WOW Magazine] were there. They took my picture. The main thing was that I didn't want people to think I was modeling.

Why not?

Well, because if I was, it should have been much more special than that. If I was a model then hopefully it would be for something cool.

Would you ever consider modeling?

I kind of think I have. There was one time my mom took me to a modeling agency in Japan and they were really happy to have a little American kid. I did like a week of [modeling] skiing outfits, sunglasses, and jeans -- all kinds of American things.

Did you enjoy it?

Yeah, I liked it a lot. [But modeling] in a serious way, it would have to be -- maybe if I became friends with some serious designer or something. But I wouldn't just put on Levi's and say, 'Check it out, 501s.'

I don't know, the LaCoste polo [in the magazine picture] looks kind of cool.

I like it as like a casual outfit, but not as like a statement.

So which fashion label would you want to model for? Maybe we can make this happen.

I really have no idea. I really don't know that much about fashion.

Your comments for that piece were interesting, too -- describing yourself as a "writer."

When we do [travel] visas and stuff, or anytime somebody asks me what I do, I hate to say I'm in a band. I just think that's -- it doesn't really describe what's going on. 'I'm in a band' -- it's like yeah, who isn't? I like to think of myself as a songwriter -- and this is more like a goal: I want to be remembered as a great songwriter. I think I've just started, and I've written some okay songs. But in the future I'd like to -- there's something called the Great American Songbook. I know people don't add songs into there anymore, 'cause that's all old school stuff. But I just want to write something that good, and something that becomes that well-known. Not necessarily just well known, because [Lady] Gaga is well known, but something that becomes a part of people's lives in a sentimental way like those songs did. All those songs, they're so American. They're such a part of American culture and history. That's my goal. The band could fold up tomorrow, and I'd say, 'Okay that was fun' -- but I'd still keep trying to write songs.

What song of yours comes closest to that?

Songs that we haven't recorded yet. But as for recorded songs, there's a B-side called "Solitude," which I think is pretty good. "Lust for Life" is pretty -- that's kind of alternative rock -- but on the classic side, I have written a few, but we haven't recorded them yet.

Are those going to be on the next Girls record?

Yeah, I imagine. Well, the next record that comes out has already been recorded. There's some other good songs [on it], but still not what I'm going for yet. There's a song that says a lot -- it's almost like a Bob Dylan song. Then there's a song that could do well on the radio, but still good. But [it's] not really a song like "Love Me Tender," that the whole world starts singing.

That's an interesting goal for someone in your --

It's very frustrating, because all those songs are very simple. It's kind of like a Jackson Pollock painting. Every good painter then looks at that painting and goes like, 'What an asshole, he just threw the paint on there.' But he truly did create something revolutionary and something that will stand the test of time forever. I listen to Elvis Presley say 'Love me tender, love me true, all my dreams fulfilled, for my darling, I love you and I always will," and I think God, what an asshole, I say stuff like that all the time.' It's not about who can be the smartest, it's about who can not only be the most genuine, but be the most simple in a way.

So these new songs -- when are they coming out?

The record we already recorded between tours is coming out within a month. It's not an album -- we thought, let's just record something quick, like an EP or something, because we didn't have a lot of time off. But then it turns out it's like this 45 minute, six-song record, which is really, really good. So it's kind of it almost feels funny to call it an EP, because EPs seem sort of half-assed usually. But it's a really great record. It'll be cool.

And Friday is your first time playing the Fillmore?

No. I played the tambourine with Thee Oh Sees, who were opening for Yo La Tengo at the Fillmore. But our band has not even played at all there, much less headlined. It's pretty awesome.

Where do you usually like to see shows in S.F.?

I'm usually the most at the Knockout, which is cool in an intimate, casual kind of way. Then just everywhere -- the Hemlock, Cafe Du Nord, and the Elbo Room.

Did you expect the first album to be the hit it was?

When we first started recording the songs, I didn't expect anything more than to show maybe my closest friends, maybe 20 people, and have them pat me on the back. [But I] put 'em on Myspace, and then everything completely changed. All of a sudden, everybody was really excited about them. By the time we played our first show and started talking with people about releasing an album, then we knew. I knew, the day this album comes out, it's' going to have an impact. People aren't going to ignore it. We could possibly make something that just stands with the rest of the great albums. And I know it's not like Let It Be or anything, but it's probably as good as a Sonic Youth record.

Do you eat Mexican food like everyone else in San Francisco?

Yeah, of course.

What is your favorite place?

I like to get one carne asada taco, one grilled chicken taco, and one marinated pork taco. I usually get them -- if I walk down my street, I'm pretty close to what's it called, [Taqueria] Cancun? That's right by the Knockout? I usually go straight there. I used to live on 24th and Mission, I'd go to El Farolito all the time. But I always sat there going, 'Why am I standing there in this line for 20 minutes?'"

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Ian S. Port


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