The West Coast has long been the storied wellspring of dreamy pop music. In San Francisco, Christopher Owens (formerly of Holy Shit) and Chet “JR” White are Girls, working in the tradition of their beach-bound predecessors (circa 1960), fine-tuning surfer melodies nuanced by the sex, drugs and rock’n’roll ethos and offset by sobering heartache and its consequential depression. But girl-inspired angst wasn’t the incentive behind the band’s name; haphazard and arbitrary is sort of their shtick. “We just thought it was cool,” says Owens. “We didn’t think about it very much. I had a band called Curls.”
The title of their debut record follows suit. “We just didn’t give it a title,” Owens chuckles. “We just called it what it is.”
The release of Album has drawn critical praise from music bibles, including a 9/10 rating from NME and a cheeky 9.1/10 from Pitchfork, while their party boy personas and atypical histories, specifically Owens’ childhood induction into the Huntington Beach-based cult Children of God (fabled for its brand of sexual liberty), have brightly flavoured their newsworthiness. Asked how this past has shaped his music, Owens shrugs, “I’m influenced by a lot of stuff since I’ve left Children of God.”
As suggested by the tired eyes of both Owens and White, with such acclaim comes an extended touring schedule to build on the buzz. In either a smart move by True Panther Sounds, the label for the indie band, or from raw ambition on the band’s part, Girls is nearing the end of a rigorous Euro/North American tour for Album. Having missed their one Montreal date due to “passport issues,” the band arrives in Toronto to play a one-night, sold-out show at the El Mocombo. The sound check alone is enough to convert any non-believer.
Starting off with a lonely guitar riff from The Ventures’ “Walk Don’t Run,” the band ends with “Hellhole Ratrace.” From Owens’ first lyric, the entire club stops momentarily, completely absorbed in the music.
I catch up with the band afterward. Judging from the contrast between past interviews and today’s face-to-face, the band’s success and exposure has also taught them a smidge of media savvy, specifically to avoid excessive talk of drug use.
Drugs almost seem blasé to the two now. Asked what recreational snacks they indulged in during the recording of Album, each seem almost bored by their reply. “Whatever we could find,” Owens says. “Probably anything you could imagine.” White, assuming a more responsible stance, clarifies, “Yeah we did … I mean not …well, we weren’t needle junkies.”
Only a few short months ago, the duo talked freely and openly about pills and Fentanyl patches in their interview with the Guardian newspaper; today, the boys are reticent —White rubbing his chin and Owens his forehead, both seeming annoyed and exhausted by having to sit down with journalists — sombre, and, one assumes, very sober. This side of the band suits their sweetly despairing music, as well as the MySpace link to the pills identifier on www.drugs.com (found under “official website”) speaks to the purported Girls’ mantra.
Tousled, fidgety and self-consciously cool, Girls have a sound and a myth to move you.
GIRLS – Hellhole Ratrace (Album, 2009)
GIRLS – Lust for Life (Album, 2009)