InterviewsPaul Stokes

Q&a Girls - Growing up in cults, making pop porn and releasing new album

InterviewsPaul Stokes
Q&a Girls - Growing up in cults, making pop porn and releasing new album
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Christopher Owens has had quite a life. The 32 year-old Californian has gone from growing up in the infamous Children Of God cult, fronting San Franciscan four-piece Girls. Following the release of Girls' second album Father, Son, Holy Ghost in September, Al Horner caught up with their singer to hear all about the record, his upbringing and making porn out of pop videos. How the devil are you? "I'm good, thank you very much. Quite well, in fact."

The new album feels like an intensely personal snapshot of your life. Was it a conscious decision to be so candid? "Yeah, it was. It's extremely personal. In terms of the actual music and instruments, not so much - the musical elements aren't very inspired, inventive or modern even. It's not even all that different to this [gestures to hotel muzak playing in background]. All of that is just a backdrop - it's the lyrics that are entirely personal, entirely exclusive to my experience of the world. What you have, really, is a very personal and bitter pill encased in a lovely musical sugar-coating. I could very well just be a poet. I just don't think I'm smart enough or have a good enough vocabulary to do that. But yeah, my cup runneth over and all that. I'm just trying to get things off my chest, you know?"

Your personal history is quite remarkable - you should have no shortage of things to write about... "Yeah. The crux of it is I grew up in this weird hippie cult. I was there until I was 16. That was kind of the start of it. I could go on..."

Does it frustrate you that people are so preoccupied by the fact you grew up in Children Of God? "It's not really frustrating, it's more... interesting. It's like seeing yourself as a fictional character. People are always hungry to know more, and that kind of interests me - the whole process of that. I think it all comes back around to the music in a way, so it's fine."

The title of the record has obvious religious connotations. Are you still coming to terms with religion after your unorthodox upbringing? "It's actually quite detached from all that. It's a title that comes from Catholic and biblical culture - not some very fine-tuned catchphrase from a hippy cult. It's nothing particular to my upbringing. This is a household phrase, you know? The fact that it's religious, ok, you have a point there. But really it's not actually meant to reference religion at all. It's a conceptual title. It's meant to reference the origin of something, the identity of something and then the spirit or soul of that same thing - all in the same thing. Like in one album."

There's a song on the new album called My Ma. What's your relationship with your mother like now? Do you resent her for the cult, particularly as you weren't allowed to listen to music from outside the group growing up? "When me and my sister left the cult, my mum stayed - she was alone. We've never had any hard feelings. Even when I was very angry and hurt and ashamed about what happened to me growing up I was never mad at her. There's never been any angry exchanges. I like my mum a lot, but there was something robbed from us. Our relationship was flawed, as is anyone's though, you know? The song is just acknowledging that I'd like her in my life more. I do wish we had a better relationship."

There's quite a diverse spread of sounds on the album. Who were the main musical touchstones for the album? "Randy Newman was a big one. Ariel Pink is another major influence. But the best possible finished product would not point to its influences very clearly. I mean, I love Michael Jackson but at the same time I'm not going to go and steal ideas from him. You just try to absorb what makes them great. Hopefully that comes across on Father, Son, Holy Ghost."

You've gone through eight band members since Girls started. Will you ever settle on a fixed line-up? "I wanted from day one to have a real band but it has just not worked out. It's actually a real point of frustration for me. There are specific people I never wish had left. I wish we had been the same four or five people from the beginning, that we could have matured together. I've never had a problem with anyone that has left. You just find people play in two bands. They don't want to tour. Things like that."

One of the video for your song Lust For Life (not the one above) was essentially DIY gay porn. How did that come about? "The song is two and a half minutes long so the idea was to go to our friends' houses and play Lust For Life on a boom-box and let them just do what they want. Most people just danced and sang along with the songs. But my friend Seth and his boyfriend Alexis... well, they didn't bother putting clothes on and eventually started hamming it up for the cameras [laughs]. We thought it was a beautiful moment so we kept it in. The label made a clean version and tried to sneak it past us but we made sure the proper video came out. I think it was a very beautiful thing."

For more and to hear music head to Myspace.com/girls