Girls: “I literally have nothing else in the world.”

21.10.09 Words by: Charlie Jones

San Francisco GIRLS’s debut album, ‘Album’, has been one of this year’s best received releases, an album that radiates warmth and sunshine, its dense blend of rock n’ roll, shot through with traces of Brian Wilson, Elvis Costello, and even Spirtualized. For Christopher Owens and JR White, this is about more than just sun kissed paeans to their hometown.

Right now though it’s a grey, wet day in East London, we’re more than 5000 miles and a good several degrees away from their west coast base and it shows. Wrapped in their overcoats and huddled together on a bench outside of Rough Trade, they look distinctly more Withnail and I than Simon and Garfunkel. Cold, hungry and tired, they flew in from the US yesterday went straight to play a gig and have been doing interviews ever since, enough to knock the wind out of anyone’s sails, but if today’s reality isn’t quite the cosseted, debauched rock lifestyle of myth they’re not complaining just yet.

With good reason too, for Owens, raised in The Children of God cult, whose brother died as an infant when denied medical treatment, whose father walked out whilst he was still a child, and whose mother was forced into prostitution to further the cults cause, a little jetlag is a small price to pay for a chance to escape his past and possibly emerge as one of music’s most triumphant stories in recent years.

His exceptional childhood and recent loves and life in San Francisco may have provided Owens with plenty of material to mine for his songs, but before forming Girls he’d never even tried. “I had written music but not as a singer songwriter. I just didn’t think I could do it, never even thought about it. But I was playing with some other people and watched them do it. I saw what they were getting out of it and I wanted that for myself. Also I was playing with someone else, she was the singer and songwriter and I’d write the music. But then she quit the band, and it pretty much forced me, if I wanted to carry on doing this I’d have to take over.”

Floodgate open Owens now reckons he has around six albums worth of material written and ready to be recorded. First things first though they need to promote their debut release, and that means a lot more sleepless nights, missed meals, interviews with strangers in cold countries and jetlag.

“It’s better than flipping burgers anyway” chips in White, who may not have suffered quite such a heartbreaking upbringing, but still has a lot riding on this. “You know how do you go back into normal life after this, what do you write on a job application form? ‘Dear potential employer, before I started a band I was working as a chef, I didn’t really like it, so I quit, went out and played rock music, stayed out late every night for three years, did drugs, and had fun. Please hire me.”

“It’s pretty scary, the thought of trying to go back to that life after spending so much time doing this, so we feel we need to kick some ass and do everything we can to make it work.”

And so far it is, earlier this year playing their first gigs with a full live band the band were the hit at SXSW and after much anticipation their layered, deceptively deep debut has been a hit with everyone from Pitchfork to The Guardian fawning over it.

“We’re happy with it,” continues White,  “you know it’s been finished for over a year now, but we’re not sick of it yet. As with all things you have highs and lows, you think maybe I’d just like to change a couple of things, one week it’s one part, next week it’s something else. But then you sit back and think it’s perfect.”

“This first album, it took a long time. We had a passion for it but we had other things to do, we got lazy, we didn’t have any expectation of an album being out or anything. It was just done for us to put on CDrs and give out. So far though it’s all been positive, it’s been fairly stress free. We’ve got to tour, but hopefully we’ll get to record the second album soon. Right now though we’re part of the machine.

“You make these deals with people” adds Owens,  “‘you can make two albums if you make the money back’ that kind of thing, so you just hope that you don’t get dropped. Even then we could keep on going, but at the same time we’re not independently wealthy, literally I have nothing else in the world, and without that backing you can’t put everything into it.”

For White, the band’s ongoing success means not just an escape from the kitchen but a chance to get the Girls sound exactly right, “So far everything we’ve done has been with some kind of restraints. I mean I like the idea of working with constraints; it forces you to be more creative. It’s why we want to hold on to recording ourselves. Still there were always times when we were recording the album and thought something would be cool, like do we know anyone who plays a trumpet, a trumpet here would be cool. Things like that, having money to spend on resources to make the songs fully realized makes a difference.”

For now though they’re taking things one day at a time, enjoying their success, and just enjoying being a band, for Owen after a lifetime of trials things are finally looking good, “everyone probably wants other things too” concludes Owens, “I may want a family at some point, I may want to write a book, but as far as I can see right now, all this, this is pretty awesome.”

Girls’ ‘Album’ is out now.

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