You’ve probably seen the X-rated video clip for “Lust for Life”. The ‘penis as microphone’ image is something you really don’t recall seeing in pop videos these days, either then or now (and feel free to correct me if I’m wrong). As vague and internet-search challenging as calling your band Girls is, Christopher Owens and Chet “JR” White are both neither, and are, so to speak. Universally lauded upon release, Album, became one of the most talked about records of last year, full of Californian pop harmonies and hazy guitars, drugged up vocals. Chris Berkley of 2SER’s Static spoke to Christopher Owens of San Francisco’s Girls.
How’s the day to day taking it’s toll on you guys on the road in Girls?
It’s pretty good on this trip but we’ve had more hectic trips before and longer than this one. Just about three weeks. We’re in the van a lot and that’s ok. The shows are going well, so it helps.
Does it feel like you’ve suddenly invited the whole world into your own private universe, going out on these tours, there’s so many more people interested in Girls now?
Yeah, it definitely feels that way. There’s been a huge reaction to the album and to the story of the band and it makes sense to me. It’s been a pretty good reaction, so we’re happy to meet people. But it does feel like a lot of attention all at once. It’s something we’re not really used to but we’re having fun with it so far.
It’s not too hard to take compliments on a daily basis, then?
It’s nice. It keeps the morale up.
Did you and JR record the Girls album in a bubble or was that a collaborative exercise as well?
We recorded it at home just the two of us, we had a couple drummers come in and play on some of the tracks because we needed someone who could play the whole drum kit, but most of them we just did alone, it was very private, at our own pace. We took time with each song and made it exactly how we liked it. Which is cool because it was before anybody was paying any attention. We weren’t making anything where we were worried about what people would think of it. It was all for us and we had the pleasure to make an album we all really loved.
Was making the Girls album like a getting to know you exercise for the pair of you, or had you actually known each other for a while before you started to make the record?
Well, we knew each other for a long time, for about four years before we started making the album, but we hadn’t played music together before and we hadn’t been playing much music with anybody else either. I was playing guitar in a band that was basically my favourite band but it wasn’t my music, so it was a learning process. We pretty much learned how to record the album as we were recording it. I learned how to play a lot of things I hadn’t learned how to play before. It was pretty much guitars before this. We tried out a lot of new stuff and it was really exciting.
So the two of you met on non-musical terms then. You were friends first and then the band came second?
How did the two of you cross paths, because you yourself, from what I understand, had a pretty nomadic existence. You’ve lived in Puerto Rico, Europe and Asia, so was it a miracle that you actually found each other?
Yeah, in a way. No matter where I’ve been, I’ve always met cool people. It’s something I like to do. I’m very interested in people and what they do and making friends, but we just met through other friends. I moved to San Francisco, and didn’t know anybody and just started to make friends. JR was just somebody was at the same parties and at the same shows I was at. We pretty much instantly became friends, but it was a while before it became a working relationship.
How important was that location to Girls? The looseness of San Francisco seems to have informed some of the songs. Do you think location is important in the sound or a band’s identity?
Yeah, I think it definitely is. No matter where it is, it’s important to each band separately and it wasn’t the thing we thought about when making the album at all, but now that it’s done and now that we go on tour and stuff like that, we definitely realise that we have a lot of the elements from where we live in our music and the way we approach the band and all that, so I know it’s important, I just didn’t know that when we started. It was probably a self-conscious thing.
Is there an element of role-playing in your writing. In “Lust for Life” there’s a character narrative. Do you think there’s an element of outside yourselves in Girls?
Well it’s all very personal stuff I’m writing about that’s real experiences I’ve had that’s real stream of consciousness from my experiences, but I do like, just in the delivery and the style and the sound, I like to show influences and take on characters for the delivery of the song. As far as the writing goes, it’s all very personal. It’s not very thought out, it’s just the way I’m feeling in the moment.
Did you do much editing in terms of the writing, then? People want to believe you’re living out the rock and roll excesses described in your songs and put forward. Were you conscious of revealing too much?
You know, I didn’t look at it that way. I knew I was revealing a lot, that was sort of rewarding about it all. Talking about personal feelings was something that made me feel a lot more interested and attached to the whole thing. I really wouldn’t know how to do it any other way. It’s a medium that you can use that helps you say or do things you wouldn’t normally do in every day life.
Are you kinda starting to regret admitting about drugs and partying or anything like that? Does every second person want to ask you only about that?
I don’t know. I don’t regret talking about it, but there are times when people put too much focus on it. I just think it’s one element out of many that are part of our lives. I don’t know, I don’t like to regret talking about anything, but I guess when it becomes something like a label people begin to stick on you, then it feels weird, you know?
That said, it feels like you worked out how to push a few of those buttons as well. You’ve done that XXX-rated video for “Lust for Life” so it must be fun, here and there, to do that and get reactions.
Yeah, it is fun. I think it’s great. I think it’s one of the most fun things about having the band. Getting to push the envelope and be honest about the aesthetic and the things that are part of our lives, and maybe, I feel like in general, we’re not that different from most people. Maybe if we talk about things, and are honest about things, it will take the stigma away. I feel like most people have similar experiences in their own lives.
Yeah, I’m definitely for more gay porn in film clips…
It almost seems that Girls is a whole package like that. It seems you put as much of yourselves in the film clip or the artwork as you do the music. Between you and JR is it really a hands-on package thing for Girls?
Yeah. Definitely. We keep a pretty strong control over the aesthetic and what we put out, and we work really closely with friends that we know who are on the same page as us. There’s a kind of community we’re involved in, but they’re all sort of our best friends, we know we’re all coming from the same place and wanting to put the same things out. It’s sort of curated by us.
First broadcast on Static on 03/12/09. Static can be heard on Sydney’s 2SER (107.3 FM) and via the Internet (www.2ser.com) every Thursday evening (AEST).