San Francisco’s Girls self-titled debut of 2009 garnered widespread acclaim based on its fancy-free and free-love attitude that offered irresistible pop gems bathed in x-rated video clips (“Lust for Life” anyone?). Sex and pop, what more do you want out of music these days? For their sophomore album Father, Son, Holy Ghost, the Girls duo of Christopher Owen and Chet “JR” White have upped the songwriter stakes to put together an album that’s impressive straight out of the blocks, from the rolling surf riffs of “Honey Bunny” to the epic Pink Floyd psyche-pop of “Vomit”. Static’s Chris Berkley spoke with Girl’s JR over the phone in the midst of a very suspect (if you’re to believe what he says) video shoot.
You’re in the middle of doing a film clip, huh?
Yeah, we’re doing a video for the song “Honey Bunny“, which I think is going to be the first single, even though “Vomit” came out before.
“Vomit”s already got a film clip as well, so you’re racking them up…
Yeah, I guess so. We want to do it, and the label sure doesn’t mind.
From past history of Girl’s film clips are there any penises on display in this one?
Lots of penises. Basically what we did is we casted the whole bands penises and put little moustaches and painted eyes on and stuff and we’re acting out scenes with our dicks.
I can’t wait to see it. This is obviously all part of the roll-out of the Girls album, which is pretty on time for exactly two years after the debut. It’s a pretty prolific work-rate you guys have got going on.
Yeah we started the recording of this album on the anniversary of the band basically, February 14th, Valentines Day.
Oh really, so you have a band anniversary?
Yeah. Well, of our first show, yeah. It worked out that it’s Valentines Day. I kinda do that with all the anniversaries of my life. I try and line them up with holidays as I have a really bad memory.
And do you and Christopher give each other flowers on band anniversary day? What do you do?
Yeah. But no, it sorta goes by without much notice to be honest. After the fact we realised it was the anniversary of the birth of the band when the record was begun.
It’s a pretty good work rate you‘ve got going on. Not only are you into the second album, you’ve got the mini album last year. Does it feel good to get this body of work together?
Yeah, it feels great. Definitely when you’re playing live and you’re touring for 9 months out of the year it’s great to have more and more songs to choose from. It’s a plus to getting more recorded material out there. I think if it were up to us, both of us would just work in the studio all the time and increase the output even more.
You really seem to have honed your craft these past couple of years. Did surrounding yourselves with the band to tour the first album sort of change the dynamic as well, from just being you and Christopher?
It would change the band a lot, and sometimes because people wanted to move on, sometimes it was personality things. This time we kinda started the record with a whole new band. We came out of a hell of a lot of touring with a specific band and when most bands do that, the smart thing to do is keep that band before you go in the studio but we kinda flipped that and decided to get rid of everyone except for our keyboard player and get a whole new band. It was a fun process. It makes the band feel fresh definitely. It’s not necessarily something we want to do every time though.
Did it mean that you had a break from the music you’d made before to going into this new record? Did it feel like you were making this fresh start?
In a way it makes you look at the older stuff in a different light when you’re playing with different people and their interpretation of it as well. Definitely it feels like the band has moved on a little bit, getting farther away from what we did on the first record. But that said I actually still enjoy playing the early songs. There’s a definite difference between the new stuff and the old stuff when we play it and I appreciate the old stuff as much as I appreciate the new stuff.
For this new Girls album you worked with an outside producer for the first time. You got this guy Doug Boehm. Did you do that with much trepidation, because you had always been the one that had the hands on in the studio?
With Doug, the intention was he was just going to be the engineer. We chose him because he had worked on a lot of records that were part of my childhood — he worked on Beck’s first record. My whole view of what Los Angeles was in the 90’s when I was a kid, Doug basically worked on those records that formed that view for me. It was kind of a cool thing. Definitely my role wasn’t played down but Doug’s experience doing records over a long period of time and working on bigger records came into play where we felt like he had invested enough of himself in it to deserve the co-production credit that we decided after the fact. He kept the sessions moving much better than I could do it, you know.
He’s also got a bit of an Australian connection as well. He’s done Powderfinger and The Vines records, so if he’s got the Australian dollar touch, you guys might have a hit record here.
Yeah, he’s done a lot of Australian records he was telling us, and The Vines record he did with Rob Schnapf is a great, big sounding record.
This Girl’s record is a big sounding record too. The songs seems to have gotten bigger and more epic. I guess the nature of the new Girls album probably hinted at on the song “Carolina” from last year but did you guys decide to draw the songs out and really go for it on this record?
The big embellishment on this record is using back-up singers on parts of some of the songs. I think when we went in originally we had intentions on taking it farther, so I think it shows a little bit of restraint in some sense. I’m the one who’s always trying to pull back and use less guitars and create space. My view is we did hold back, and spent a lot of time making sure things sounded big and clean, making the sounds and tones more immediate.
Father, Son, Holy Ghost is a very fearless record. There are a few nods to some of your icons on that record. The female wails on “Vomit” sound like Pink Floyd. They are big songs.
Yeah, definitely. That’s kinda where that came from in a sense, letting her go. That came from an amazing back-up singer by the name of Makita that we worked with in Los Angeles. After we tracked the basic back-ups on that song it got to the point where I wanted her to just riff, I wanted her to, we would say, “take it to the church”, take it to the dark side of the moon, you know? That song definitely has that influence in it. Those influences a lot of the times are found halfway through the process, you realise as you’re working the song it’s going some place and as we see those parallels with other music, or create homages to other things, it’s not something that starts out when Chris writes a song, it’s not something that starts out early in the production process. Usually about halfway or three quarters the way through we start adding the nods.
Another great nod on the Girls album is “My Ma” which has got that George Harrison-esque guitar solo in the middle of it.
(laughs) Oh yeah, I love that solo. That’s probably my favourite song on the record.
Definitely, but also there’s no tongue in cheek or pastiche to what you guys do. It seems very sincere these nods.
Yeah, I mean it’s all we have. It’s not really a joke.
Do you think a lot of bands fall into that trap though, of trying to ape their heroes and end up just covering them?
Yeah, a big thing I do if I work with another band too, for putting away stress for young bands, is realise what those things that are that make your band your band. Like the way you do things that are different that change the result of your record. If you go on trying to do something or sound like something there’s always a filter which is the people in the band. The more you get to work you start to notice what kinda makes your band your band. The weird little things you do within your working process. This is our third sorta record and we’re very aware of those things. We really relish in them and those are the things that give our music a signature sound.
And so does that mean you’ve read descriptions of bands these days being Girls-esque? Is that a phrase where other bands are being compared to you now?
I don’t know, that’d be pretty cool though. I hear it, though I don’t think it’s necessarily intentional. Like our first record came at a time where a lot of people were trying to do similar things. I hope so. That’d be cool. I wanna be that band that some older brother or sister plays to their younger siblings and says “this is cool, you gotta listen to this”.
Interview broadcast on Static on 15/09/11. Static can be heard on Sydney’s 2SER (107.3 FM) and via the Internet (www.2ser.com) every Thursday evening (AEST).