Who: Christopher Owens, lead singer of Girls, the hottest pop-rock band to come out of the Bay since Green Day (we said it!).
Years in San Francisco: Seven.
Neighborhood: Upper Haight.
Current Gig: After spending years partying among San Francisco's Mission District garage-rock elite (think the likes of Thee Oh Sees and Ty Segall), Owens decided to take a stab at producing his own stuff -- and we couldn't be happier he did. Since forming Girls with pal Chet "JR" White in 2008, the duo has exploded onto the international music scene with moody, catchy tracks perfectly composed for college radio stations everywhere. HuffPost SF named last year's Father, Son, Holy Ghost, the sequel to 2009's critically-acclaimed Album, one of the top five Bay Area records of 2011.
We managed to catch Owens post-Coachella and pre-summer festival circuit to hear the story of how he came to be in the big city. Over hot toddies in a cozy North Beach bar, the stylishly sullen songwriter explained why, after living everywhere from Slovenia to Amarillo (he grew up in a traveling cult, but don't bother asking him about it--"I'll sound like a broken record"), San Francisco remains his favorite place in the world.
What brought you to San Francisco? I probably knew less than the average person knew about San Francisco; I had never been here. I just was living in Amarillo and I wanted to get out of there, so my New Year's resolution was that I was going to move. I really didn’t look anything up, didn’t know what I was doing at all. I just drove here. I just thought I would see if I liked it. And I liked it right away.
Where did you end up? I rented a place on Craigslist before getting here, so I just drove straight there. That was in Glen Park. It was a Chinese family’s house and I lived in the upstairs bedroom. I was around their family a lot--it wasn’t like renting an apartment in a building. I’d eat with them. They basically took care of me.
Did you get a job? Within the first few weeks I was hired to be the purchasing manager at a knife store in San Mateo. It was an office job, decent pay. I worked there for like a year. I learned a lot about knives.
Were you making music already? I was doing this instrumental project with my laptop on Garage Band with one of those little midi control keyboards, instrumental techno-type music. But I was the only one who heard it. It wasn’t serious; I didn’t consider myself a songwriter at all. It was just something I would do in my free time.
So how did you make the switch into forming a band? I’d always played music; I knew how to play music and I liked music. But I didn’t know anybody, so that was a big reason why I wasn’t in a band. One day I was walking in Dolores Park and there was a girl there and she started yelling at me from across the park to come over. So I was like, okay, cool, I wanted to be meeting people. She told me to come to a party with her. I hadn’t met anybody yet or been to any parties, so this was very appealing. And then I started to date her.
This is the woman you've described as "the most popular girl in the city"? Yeah. And I right away realized that she was very active. She knew the city and lots of people. It was kinda perfect for me. I got to meet a lot of people; she showed me around. It was like getting into a whole new world.
How did that lead you to making music? One time she was playing this tape she had that I really liked. It was her friend’s band, called Holy Shit, from L.A. A few weeks later they were coming here to play a show, and of course, we went. And I became really good friends with the guy from that band, we just connected right away. I ended up played guitar in Holy Shit for about a year or so, then I started to write my own songs.
Was your first show in the city? Yeah, it was at Café du Nord. It was just a couple months after we started recording.
What's your favorite venue to play in town now? The Swedish American Hall. I like that room. It’s my kind of place. The atmosphere is really cool.
And least favorite? Maybe The Knockout or something. It just has a bad sound system. It's frustrating because it's cool to play a small place like that; people are packed all around you and it’s fun and it feels like a party. But then when it sounds bad it's really annoying.
Where do you go in the city to find inspiration? I really like Golden Gate Park so I was happy to find a place to live near there. I go to Golden Gate Park probably three times a week and just walk for hours. It's a great place to go to think and write and hang out.
Any other spots you like in your neighborhood? I try to avoid the whole Haight Street thing. It's for tourists and if you live there it's just like going to the mall every day. If I take a walk up and down that street once every month or so then it’s cool; I’ll go into Wasteland or Amoeba. Amoeba is one of the greatest places in the city. We’ve played there for both record releases.
What's your favorite view? I really like looking down from the very top corner of Dolores Park where you can see the downtown city skyline.
Do you have plans for a third album in the works? Oh yeah. When you get so many offers to play shows, it's hard to schedule out the time to record. But basically as soon as possible. As soon as we can find a little break. We just have to start saying no to people. There's always something you don't want to say no to.
Check out some of Girls' greatest hits in the video slideshow below:
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