Last year was a momentous one for San Francisco band Girls. Still riding the high from their critically fawned-over and publicly adored sophomore full-length album Father, Son, Holy Ghost, the duo was at the height of its career, playing sold-out shows and reveling in buzz-band glory. Then in July, frontperson Christopher Owens announced via Twitter that he was leaving the band, leaving press and fans alike slack-jawed with surprise.
Owens wasted no time moving into his new career as a solo artist – putting to bed any hopes that Girls’ disbandment was a temporary misstep. This January he released Lysandre , a tight-knight album of autobiographical material from his first tour with a band. It’s a story full of first loves: girls, boys, fellow musicians, and far-off places. He'll perform songs off the album this Sat/23 at the Palace of Fine Arts.
Lyrically, the material is very similar to Girls’ music — it’s hyper personal, extremely relatable, and endearingly vulnerable. The band’s retro-pop vibe is also still intact, but with a twist. Lysandre is a mixed bag of genres, jumping from lounge jazz to ‘60s folk to renaissance-style flute, but the album sounds like one unified piece, with each song blending into the next, all in the same key.
I caught up with Owens to ask him a few questions about life, love, and San Francisco:
San Francisco Bay Guardian You’ve said that the autobiographical story on this album benefited from a retrospective viewpoint. Has the experience of writing and touring with this story forced you to spend time rehashing old memories? Has it helped you gain closure?
Christopher Owens It's not really something I needed closure on, closure was something I had already found. It's just a story that I enjoy telling because it was a very meaningful time for me. I learned a lot about myself and a lot about life during [that first] tour. I think maybe just listening to [Lysandre] would give all the insight one would need.
SFBG As you’ve gained more experience as a musician and as a performer, have the feelings of excitement and fear — which you articulate beautifully in Lysandre — faded at all?
CO Those are feelings that don't really ever go away, at least for me. Of course I've gained a little more confidence…But with each new thing I release I try to give a little more of myself, so I continue to put myself in a open place and that keeps it fresh and interesting for both me and the listener. I don't really want to find myself in a place where the music is boring or old news. I like the fact that I'm talking about things in my songs that make me feel a little exposed. I think it just means I'm giving something of value.
SFBG Are you still in contact with Lysandre? Has she heard the album?
CO Yes, and yes. We've always been friends and she heard the album before anyone else... besides those of us that recorded it. I believe it's something special to her.
SFBG Not only is 'Lysandre' one interconnected narrative, in a way it’s also one big song that never deviates from the key of A. Did you find this freeing or limiting? Do you think that in your future work you’ll do more concept albums?
CO It was just a structure for me musically; it certainly wasn't limiting. There is a lot of variety within the music... It just ties the songs together a bit. I haven't written anything else like this so I think it's a pretty unique project for me. I obviously don't know what the future holds. I enjoyed making this album a lot, so it's possible I could do other conceptual albums, but as of now I don't have any plans for any others.
SFBG 'Lysandre' is a love story about many things. Obviously it’s about a girl, but it’s also about places. How much does your relationship with San Francisco influence your music and your style as an artist?
CO I don't know, people have been asking me that for years. It's no secret that I love San Francisco and feel very at home here, but, music is inspired by other music, and by very personal feelings and things that happen in my life. I don't know if it would sound any different if I lived some place else. I just know that I'm happy here, so, I'm sure that helps.
SFBG What does it feel like to be a part of such a vibrant music scene? Is there a sense of camaraderie with other San Francisco musicians?
CO My work is something I do alone. I do have a lot of friends here who are in great bands, but we all play very different types of music. There's not much getting together to play songs or record or talk about music…I would like that, but it's just not something that's happened much lately. I think we all love and support each other, but it feels like music is something that we work on very separately, and even privately. Hanging out is more of a time to just have fun and talk to each other about other things. That could also be different for others…I'm a bit of a loner, to be honest.
SFBG What are some of your favorite SF hangouts? Where do you take visitors to give them a sense of the city?
CO I honestly never have visitors, ha! My family doesn't come here and my friends are mostly from here. I love the parks though— Golden Gate Park is my favorite. I spend a lot of time walking around aimlessly. I love North Beach and the Castro, I love to just walk around alone, to think, look at this beautiful city and enjoy it. I lived in Glen Park for a year when I first moved here and I love to go back there. I love it all. This is my favorite place in the world, and it's just my home, that's all. I feel at home here, at peace.