Girls guy Christopher Owens goes solo

Fret not, fans of well-liked San Francisco neo-classic rockers Girls — frontman Christopher Owens may have left the group, but his debut solo release, Lysandre, is undoubtedly the work of the same man who was once looking for love, wished he had a boyfriend and didn’t want to cry his whole life through.

Christopher Owens, at Cabaret du Mile End tomorrow night

Fret not, fans of well-liked San Francisco neo-classic rockers Girls — frontman Christopher Owens may have left the group, but his debut solo release, Lysandre, is undoubtedly the work of the same man who was once looking for love, wished he had a boyfriend and didn’t want to cry his whole life through.

Lysandre, named after a French girl he met during Girls’ first tour, recounts a mostly joyous time in his life and as such, is an upbeat record. It also resembles the prettier side of Jethro Tull, thanks to the inclusion of classical guitar and flute.

Where Lysandre differs heavily from his previous works is in telling a story from start to finish. He’ll be playing the album in its entirety at his upcoming Montreal show.

Owens is a great interview because he’s articulate and descriptive when it comes to talking about his own work, but he’s also not one to repeat himself too much, so if you want a clear reason as to why Girls are no more, you’ll have to look elsewhere. He penned an essay on the album, which serves as a nice accompaniment.

I caught up with him by phone before his show in Detroit on Wednesday.

Erik Leijon: So who is Lysandre?
Christopher Owens: She’s a person I met, a girl that I met on this tour, and the person that I’m talking about towards the end of the album.

EL: Has she heard the record?
CO: Yeah, she has. We played in Paris and she was there. She likes it. I sent the album as soon as it was done, so she was aware that it had been written, and she’s just excited to hear it now. It was something that was written a long time ago, about a tour in 2008 when we met, so it’s nice to finally be able to hear it.

EL: It’s an upbeat record. Were the situations talked about on the album largely positive?
CO: For me it’s a very fun and exciting time to be talking about, and a very positive record overall. Maybe there were a couple of songs more on the sentimental side. I was writing about the first tour that I ever went on, and I was curious about everything and not sure what it was going to be like. I hadn’t really played much in front of people before, so I was wondering how that was going to go, and what people would think about my songs.

EL: On one of the songs, “Love Is In the Ear of the Listener,” you say you shouldn’t care about what people think. Do you?
CO: Yeah, of course, but I’m saying I shouldn’t. Well, I think everybody does, it’s just a very normal, natural conflict that happens. People want to be liked, understood and accepted, but if you’re not, that doesn’t mean what you’re doing is wrong. The point of that song is me realizing I shouldn’t care so much what people think, and it shouldn’t make people change what they’re doing or stop entirely, which can happen. It would suck if what you wanted to write or do in general would was affected by what you think other people want to hear – then we’d all just end up with something other than people expressing themselves.

EL: There’s a recurring guitar part, Lysandre’s Theme, throughout the record. How did this come about?
CO: I wrote that on my guitar before ever starting to work on the album. A couple of months later, when I thought about writing the album, I started to use it as the theme music. I would play around with it, thinking about the next page of the story or song, but then at the end of that song I’d go back to it to think about what the next song would be. I used it to tie the whole thing together.

EL: Were the Girls albums ever written with this sort of narrative structure?
CO: No, they weren’t at all. The first album was recorded over a year as I was writing the songs; some of them have months and months of gaps between them. They were released on seven-inch singles, and when we got signed, we put them all together as an album. Half of the second record was written at the same time, and some songs even before, songs that were on the first record. We were always doing things very scattered — going through my demos and thinking about what we wanted to record the most, which songs we thought were best at the time, but we didn’t write anything as a record, or even thought about records very much. Our second EP was songs we were playing live.

EL: Is the story format on Lysandre something particular, or would you like to explore it more in the future?
CO: I don’t really sit around and write albums: I write songs and I put them away. In the future, I’ll go back to making albums where the songs were written at different times, but I’d like to think about them more as records and pick songs that could go together more than the Girls records did, because I think those records are a bit all over the place. In the future I’d like to make records that are more planned, have more of a point to them. Lysandre is just a very unique idea for me — it’s the only time I wrote out a story that plays out as an album; it’s the only album I know that does this, and people haven’t seemed to take note of it. It was important to me, and it’s the record I feel most happy about. I don’t know if it’ll be the same for everyone else, but it’s something I wanted to do for myself.

EL: Do you feel you captured the emotions of those very specific times in your life on the record? Is it possible to write with how the listener might feel in mind?
CO: I don’t think about that while I’m writing, but for me the standout thing that people have said over the past five years of writing and playing music has been the fact that I do capture my emotions pretty well in my songs, and they feel like they can relate to them. I don’t write Top 20 hits and I don’t write elaborate poetic songs like Morrissey or Leonard Cohen. I write very simple songs about my feelings and I end up connecting with people. A lot of them are younger kids, but I see them at my shows and it’s a real thing — they’re emotionally invested in the music. That’s been the driving thing, the reason why I’ve stuck with it. ■

Christopher Owens plays with opener Gentleman Reg at Cabaret du Mile End (5240 Parc) on Saturday, Jan. 19, 8 p.m., $21.50–$30.45

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