The past is the past. Life goes on. But what lasting mark do circumstances and occurrences have on you?
Girls’ singer/guitarist Christopher Owens’ experience is pretty singular, by anyone’s standards. Born in 1979, Owens was raised in the Children of God religious cult. By the time he was 16, living in Slovenia, he escaped the cult and traveled to Amarillo, Texas, where he became a punk rocker, which was followed by a stint as the personal assistant to eccentric oil tycoon Stanley Marsh III. After four years, he moved to San Francisco for an office job, and things got weirder when his then-girlfriend turned him on to heroin.
Owens eventually left her and met bassist Chet “JR” White, with whom he founded Girls. Their first album, named Album, was released in 2009, and its follow-up, Father, Son, Holy Ghost, dropped in September 2011. It conjures classic rock’s Golden Age.
“I kind of have the same influences as everybody else,” Owens says. He may have absorbed them differently, though, lapping up music from the classic-rock era onward only after he left the Children of God. “It’s a really heavy experience that I’ll keep with me the rest of my life,” he says, adding that he believes it doesn’t really inform his life experience now. Still, an album title like Father, Son, Holy Ghost sounds spiritually momentous.
“The title references something’s origin, identity and spiritual quality,” Owens says. “To me, music has a spiritual quality—not really in a religious sense—but a very personal feeling I get when I play music.”
Owens’ songs can have a sweeping sense of drama reminiscent of classic rock, yet his lyrics seem very personal, like he is talking directly to a best friend or a lover. “I just write from everyday feelings and try to talk about the way I feel, so it’s best if I keep it really personal and direct,” he says. “And really, the only reason I write these songs is because I think I’m being affected by some kind of feeling, and that’s the purpose: to talk about my experience in life. Each song is very different.”
Girls’ live show is also in tune with Owens’ classic-rock influences. “Our setup is very traditional, because we just play our instruments live in front of you,” he says, adding that a sense of spontaneity is the aim. “I think that makes it kinda fun, because anything could happen.”
If there’s such a thing as a classic indie-rock sound, it’s emulated on Girls’ new record, which is filled with brilliant songwriting and arrangements as though we were entering a new Golden Age of rock, with all the ambition, idealism and range of emotion as the first.
In the song “Jamie Marie,” the speaker consoles himself by saying, “I went and found the modern world.” It’s Owens’ story in a nutshell. “It’s one of those things, that you only realize too late, after you’ve lost the thing; that’s the only time you can realize you lost it is afterwards,” he says. “But the things that I lost are simplicity and myself, in a way. Because I had things pretty figured out in Amarillo, and when I moved to San Francisco, I had to start over.”
As decently as his story has turned out thus far, it’s still bittersweet. “You can’t keep what you had and get something new, as well; you have to decide what you want in life. That’s all [“Jamie Marie”] is talking about,” Owens says. “But it’s also about missing somebody you really love, after you’ve left them.”
w/ Unknown Mortal Orchestra
In the Venue
219 S. 600 West
Saturday, March 17, 8 p.m.
$16 in advance, $18 day of show