The searchers - Page 2

From Slovenian cults to S.F: classic California rock goes pop — and reaches timelessness — on Girls' debut, Album
Photo by Spencer Hansen

"There wasn't really anything in particular that drew me to San Francisco," he says. "I made a commitment that I was gonna leave Amarillo on New Year's Day in 2005. All my friends moved to Austin, which I thought was the lamest thing in the world. I wanted absolute change. I wanted to totally reinvent myself and leave all those people behind."

Shortly after he landed in the Bay Area, Owens was asked to join the L.A. band Holy Shit. "I only played in the band because I was totally obsessed with Ariel Pink and Matt Fishbeck," he says, referring to the band's underground-hero founders. "I started to write these songs to impress them and to vent my feelings, but the main driving force was that I wanted to be like them so much. I kept thinking I'm gonna make something that's gonna blow their minds. I wanted to make something really classic that everyone could say they liked."

And that's what he did. Owens wrote dozens of songs inspired by his friends, ex-lovers, and San Francisco itself, and recorded them, guided by White's keen ear for grandeur. After scrapping song takes recorded on a four-track, the pair spent money on a proper tape machine and used only a few microphones to keep Album crisp and clear.

"I like big, amazing sounding records," says engineering wizard and bassist White, who counts Wrecking Crew bassist Carol Kaye as an influence. "I hate lo-fi music. Early on, people would call us lo-fi and I would take it kind of hard. We were just attempting to make the best-sounding thing we could with what we had — as good as any big record that had a lot of money put into it. I always like records that are made under some sort of duress. I think those records are great, if you can hear it. When I hear ours, I can hear the moments that go along with the music."

With Album, Owens and White edge closer to timelessness than any of their San Francisco contemporaries. While much of the city's rock scene is embroiled in a hot and noisy love affair with psychedelic garage music, the boys of Girls have come up with something different: classic melodic songs for a restless soul in search of freedom and purpose in this whirlwind world. It doesn't hurt that behind Owens' lyrical pearls one discovers lush and unadulterated arrangements and majestic Wall of Sound-esque moments.

Album's magnum opus, "Hellhole Ratrace," is a plaintive hymn about the urge to cut loose and live. It starts off with simple guitar strumming, which in turn is soon immersed in a mesmerizing swell of buried organ work, slow hand claps, and trilling guitars that elevates it into an anthem. "I don't wanna die without shaking up a leg or two /I wanna do some dancin' too," sings Owens. "I don't wanna cry /my whole life through /Yeah I wanna do some laughin' too / So come on, come on, come on, come on and dance with me."

This year has already been one hell of a ride for Girls, which now includes guitarist John Anderson ("He's the best guitar player I've ever played with in my life," says Owens) and drummer Garett Godard. The group has been on tour nearly constantly for several months across America and Europe. For a pair of nomads like Owens and White, it seems like the perfect gig, at least for now. Both harbor dreams of being thrust into the canon with the rest of the greats, and that reality may not be so far off.

"I want to write a song that's as good as "Let It Be" or "I Will Always Love You." I want to write a song that everybody in the world knows," says Owens, glancing at his bandmate.

"I just want to be one of those bands that becomes culturally ingrained, one of those bands that's unavoidable," echoes White.

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