Quirky singer-guitarist Christopher Owens, who fronts San Francisco indie-poppers Girls, worked behind the counter at Caffe Trieste‘s dumpy new Market Street offshoot when I was a resident of the Inner Mission. 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 a prominent record label sent me last year promoting Girls’ fabulous 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 is a cross between Elvis Costello’s Get Happy!! and Iggy Pop’s Lust For Life, with a whole lot of jangly 50’s 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 best 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. And there’s really not a band song in the bunch.
“I’m all alone with my deep thoughts,” Owen sings in his incredibly malleable voice, which can be nearly as deep as Peter Steele of Type O Negative or whiny as Gary Numan. Owen admits needing “love and attention” in “Hellhole Ratrace,” and in a recent email interview he made the truth in that line fairly clear to me. The interview was so bad I didn’t want to get paid to print it any of the newspapers I write for – so here it is for your amusement.
Adam Perry: 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.
Perry: How has San Francisco influenced your music and lyrics, and how has being on the road so much changed your songwriting and/or playing?
Owen: I’m not effected [sic] by being on the road artistically, but I think where we live effects our work. I think any band or writer or painter, photographer etc… is effected [sic] where they live. I’m not really interested in why though.
Perry: 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.
Owen: 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.
Perry: The music is very 50’s to me, with a coating of San Francisco irony/sarcasm. What music influenced you?
Owen: 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 song writer, I hope she’s my friend.
Perry: Did you finally get a pizza, a bottle of wine, and/or a boyfriend?
Owen: All of the above.
Perry: Now that it’s 2010, what are some other wishes?
Owen: I don’t know, some peace of mind. I desperately want a little girl, anywhere between ages 4 and 9.