Quirky singer-guitarist Christopher Owens, who fronts San Francisco indie-poppers Girls, worked behind the counter at Caffe Trieste’s dumpy new Market Street derivative when I was a resident of SF’s Inner Mission district a few years ago. With his greasy long hair and dopey expressions, Owens seemed like the unwashed, sleepy, I-don’t-want-to-be-here type of barista. So it struck me as wonderfully odd to see the kid’s face all over the press release that a prominent indie label sent me last year about Girls’ debut LP, Album. I hadn’t heard of the band and was surprised not only to see that the unenthusiastic barista was now a rock star but also to find out that his band’s music is somewhere between enjoyable and brilliant.
Girls (who play the Fox Theatre Wednesday) are a cross between Elvis Costello’s Get Happy!! and Iggy Pop’s Lust For Life, with a whole lot of jangly ’50s rock ’n’ roll making love with the aforementioned I-don’t-want-to-be-here (but please, please look at me and love me) San Francisco scenesterism. The two most memorable songs on Album are “Lust for Life,” a fast-paced party song in which Owens runs through everything he could think of wishing for (a father, a suntan, a pizza, a beach house), and “Hellhole Ratrace,” a whirlpool of a dark ballad that finished near the top of many critics’ “Best Songs of 2009” polls.
Owens was raised in the Children of God cult and claims that having to busk hymns for money all over the world as a child had a big effect on him. His malleable voice can be nearly as deep as Peter Steele of Type O Negative, whiny as Gary Numan, or (as the New York Times stated last year) shaky as Elvis Costello. The young singer admits needing “love and attention” in “Hellhole Ratrace,” and in a recent e-mail interview, he made the truth in that line fairly clear to me. Like Troll 2 or Chad Ochocinco’s mesmerizing autobiography, the results of my correspondence with Owens were so bad they’re unforgettable. Enjoy.
Boulder Weekly: How is the barista-to-rockstar transition, and do lots of people recognize you from Trieste?
Christopher Owens: People do recognize me from Trieste but not so much. Rarely. I mean it was two years ago or something that I worked there. I enjoyed working there and I enjoy playing music, but you know, in both cases, I hate the hours.
BW: How has San Francisco influenced your music and lyrics, and how has being on the road so much changed your songwriting and/or playing?
CO: I’m not affected by being on the road artistically, but I think where we live affects our work. I think any band or writer or painter, photographer, etc. … is affected [by] where they live. I’m not really interested in why though.
BW: The vocals are what attract a lot of people to Girls. When did you start singing and what helped your style to develop? I heard a tinge of Elvis Costello immediately.
CO: I’ve never listened to Elvis Costello, but I have listened to Elvis Presley; it must suck to be a singer named Elvis ever since Elvis Presley. I think if I was named Elvis I would be a stripper.
BW: The music is very ’50s to me, with a coating of San Francisco irony/sarcasm. What music influenced you?
CO: I’m sorry, I don’t know what San Francisco irony/sarcasm is. I like John Lennon, I love Lawrence from Felt. Cass McCombs is amazing to me, Ariel Pink is my idol and role model, Taylor Swift is my favorite and Cassie Ramone is a great great American songwriter. I hope she’s my friend.
BW: Did you finally get a pizza, a bottle of wine, and/or a boyfriend?
CO: All of the above.
BW: Now that it’s 2010, what are some other wishes?
CO: I don’t know, some peace of mind. I desperately want a little girl, anywhere between ages 4 and 9.
On the Bill
Girls plays the Fox Theatre on Wednesday, April 14. Doors at 8:30. Dum Dum Girls and Swayback open. Tickets are $15 to $17. 1135 13th St., Boulder, 303-443-3399.