It’s no leap to call Girls indie rock’s latest Cinderella story. The San Fran two-piece, consisting of singer/songwriter Christopher Owens and multi-instrumentalist/producer Chet “JR” White, have received more than their fair share of blogosphere buzz in the past few months, due in part to their stunning debut release, Album. The record is Owens’s first songwriting effort to date and comes chock full of swirling, ’60s-style guitar lines, understated drums, and vocals that fall somewhere in between Bobby Darin’s and M. Ward’s. In between all this throwback pop, Owens dishes out depressive lyrics about ex-girlfriends and sad scenes that still manage to stay positive and sound upbeat, making for a record that plays like a startlingly intimate look into Owens’s personal struggles. So much so, in fact, that Album was never even intended for public consumption.
“We didn’t even want to play shows or have a band,” explained Owens recently via phone. “But after we put up the first song on MySpace, it was just nuts. People in other countries were trying to book us shows and put out our album and help us make records. It was cool, it was just really unexpected. So when we saw the reaction we thought, ‘Maybe we should just do it.'” It wasn’t long after that the duo were playing shows around S.F., and later signing a record deal with Matador subsidiary True Panther.
“Now we’re trying to just make sure as many people hear it as possible. I would never want to be in a band that’s just, like, a hobby or something,” Owens continued. “I would record as a hobby, but I would never be in a band as a hobby. : If somebody told me, ‘Look. No one’s ever going to listen to anything you record ever again,’ I would still do it just to listen to it myself. I enjoy writing and recording a lot.”
Despite Owens’s sleepy voice and bewildered take on his current situation, it’s easy to catch the glimmers of conviction in his statements. When asked about the media’s seemingly unending desire to dub Girls a “drug band,” Owens reflects silently, and then says his piece:
“I think it’s kind of silly. I think it’s just something that people did,” he ruminates. “Everybody I know does drugs, and it’s not like we do a lot of drugs in a crazy way, it’s just a normal thing. We just mentioned it a couple times and people latched onto it. But there’re a million things we’ve talked about, and it seems like only a few catchphrases make it through the filter. : But I guess that’s what they’re looking for, so who knows. I don’t know. I just try to look at the big picture and think that by the second album that stuff won’t be being talked about anymore. : Everything gets out of control very fast nowadays. It’s like Chinese telephone or something.”
Internet-fueled misnomers aside, Girls seems well on the path to great things. Spin has already dubbed the duo the “best new band of the year,” and Britain’s The Guardian recently hailed Album as a “modern classic.”
On the home front, Owens is continuing to write and record alongside White, and feels good about the new material. “The album is only about a year old, you know? So in the big picture, I haven’t changed that much,” he says of his current work. “It’s kind of the same, it’s just different. When we play live we’ll play half new songs and half songs off the album, and it’s not like, ‘Oh, whoa. What’s that other weird shit they’re playing?’ It makes sense. It still goes together. I am writing a reggae album, though, and we’re not playing that live yet-that will be pretty weird.”
“Yeah, yeah. We had a Bob Marley CD in the van on tour, and I basically realized that I feel like Bob Marley songs-they’re almost like country songs or something. Listening to the words and melodies, it’s just like pop music, and I just thought it was cool. Then I had this fantasy where me and JR would fly to Jamaica and hire a reggae band and JR would record and I would sing over it.”
In addition to his Rasta aspirations, it’s Owens’s love of pop music that perhaps rings truest in conversation. Unlike so many of his fellow indie darlings, Owens embraces the mainstream market with open arms and unabashedly high hopes.
“From the beginning, I remember one of the first things I told JR was that I wanted to be the kind of band that you do hear on the radio, that any sort of age group could feel like they could be a fan of. I’m interested in making pop music. : I’m not really interested in preaching to the choir. There’s no point in thinking, ‘Oh you like cool music and I like cool music, let’s all just sit here and act cool together.’ I want to play good music for everybody.”
Girls play an all-ages show at Muddy Waters Cafe (508 E. Haley St.) this Sunday, December 6, at 8 p.m. with openers The Morning Benders. For tickets and info, call 966-9328 or visit clubmercy.com.