Last month I met Girls before the band's Electric Ballroom show.
Christopher Owens is the nucleus of Girls, subject to his own chaotic quantum laws on the quest to write the perfect bittersweet pop song. Two albums and one EP into his late-blooming music career, he’s getting close to nailing it as well, but not without the assistance of various capable electrons, orbiting at a distance yet integral to Girls’ atomic substance. Chet 'JR' White is credited by Owens as someone who “helps record” the songs, but listening to their facetiously titled debut, Album, as well as this year’s acclaimed follow-up Father, Son, Holy Ghost, it’s obvious that his input has alchemical results on the deceptive simplicity of songs like ‘Hellhole Ratrace’ and ‘Vomit’. After recording the first album themselves, the gaps have been filled for a full touring band, right up to that second album pop cliché, a shimmy of backing singers.
I meet Owens on a dark evening when the clocks have gone back, just as the band finish sound-checking for their sold-out show at Camden’s Electric Ballroom. He slopes into the dressing room holding a vile-looking cup of greyish milky tea, his bleached hair hanging half up, half down and flopping round two very pale blue eyes. He adopts that slightly sniffy, louche air that Californian bands carry with ease, but now and then he’ll become more engaged and set those blue eyes right on you. Wearing the indie uniform, unchanged since Cobain, of blue jeans and flannel shirt, he’s curated his grubbiness right down to the fingernails, baby blue varnished and chipped, though not dirty. His teeth are surprisingly un-American, like an old picket fence out of joint, but somehow this gives him a real edge that orthodontically conventional indie bands miss out on. I think about whether he was maybe banned from having a dentist as a kid.
Because Chris Owens, as everybody knows by now, grew up in a Christian cult. His baby brother died because of the cult's anti-medicine beliefs, and aged 16 he ran away for good. But now his relationship with his mother is on the mend, as you can hear in the handful of songs he's written about her – ‘Forgiveness’ and 'My Ma', an especially lovely track on the new record that’s somewhere between the Flaming Lips, George Harrison, Cat Power and the finest AM radio fare of ‘70s interstate journeys.