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Article: An Evening out with Girls

By ; May 6, 2010 at 12:01 AM 

written by guest writer John W.

Even though we like to deny it, we all grow older. At some point, it’s just not that much fun anymore to dress up, go out and get drunk. There seems to be a defining point in each person’s life where the individual realizes that the entertaining aspect of self destruction – you might call it his “innocence” – is lost forever. The places of youth, the clubs and venues where we spent the best nights of our lives, suddenly seem bleak and shallow, derived of their meaning, leaving only hedonism and mindless entertainment.

One of those places of adolescent grandeur and nostalgia is the Magnet Club. During the mid of the last decade, it was not only one of the few places that actually played good music, but also the best venue in town. In front of an audience of 200-250 people, The Arcade Fire, The National, Mando Diao and These New Puritans played intense, explosive sets that for some held the power to change a lifetime. But times changed, good bands weren’t booked anymore and the CD collection of the resident DJ didn’t change a whole lot in the last five years. Inevitably, the club lost all charm it once had, and in its latter days became the source of obscure jokes about its underage clientele.

It makes perfect sense that the last band to officially play a gig before the club shuts its doors and re-settles to another location, is California based Girls. Because let’s face it – there was no other band as vital when it came to sing about adolescent traumata. The life story of lead singer Chris Owens has by now been well documented, with some critics of the band even complaining that their sudden success roots lay in how the press stylized Owens to a martyr.

Owens himself isn’t quite the traumatized inner teenager that some make him out to be. Sitting lavishly on a red leather sofa in a hotel lobby, he’s very thoughtful during the interview – one can’t help but be reminded of the slackers of the early 90s and their heroes, such as J. Mascis or Beck. And he’s happy with the current tour – so far, every single show has been sold out, and the response of fans and critics has been remarkably positive.

”I don’t have any problem talking about my life.” Owens answers when asked if the publication of his life bother him. “It’s just, people ask general questions all the time, and I don’t know how I’m supposed to explain my entire upbringing. I don’t mind talking about it, but then at the same time it’s like, “Do we really want to get into that?”

Last year’s self-titled debut was a breath of fresh air, that reminded of the fact that not all bands had to delve into psychedelic experimentation to come up with something heartfelt and catchy. “I think those bands are great an cool”, Owen states when asked about a potential link to avant-pop musicians, “but I think we’re a pretty straight forward act. My idol, the person who made me want to make music, is Ariel Pink. I think he’s the most amazing songwriter alive. He’s a modern genius. But we’re not that kind of band. I think my songs are more like Country or Elivs Presley songs.” Later on, asked about the sudden success of the album, he remarks “All I care about is writing a song, that everybody in the whole world is going to sing back. Just something simple and good.” When making such statements, Owens comes off as a modest and honest person, and he can only be applauded for not becoming arrogant. After all, his bands music (in contrast to that of Animal Collective or Deerhunter) was picked up into the rotation of various mainstream radio stations.

Although not as inventive as his idol Pink or other contemporary indie-pop bands, songs like “Lust for Life” and “Laura” prove the bands ability to prodce brilliant pop songs, that are both reminiscent of early-’60s-Beat, Shoegaze, Jangly- and Sunshine-Pop. It has often been emphasized that Owens songs feel closely connected to those of Paul McCartney, Brian Wilson or Elvis Costello. As I mention those names, Owens smiles, and explains to me that there are always two sides to a genius: “All the early Beatles stuff was them singing other peoples songs they were admiring. They were watching Buddy Holly and Elvis, and they in return were watching others. To me basically, people like Wilson or McCartney – 50% of their success is being smart and working hard. But 50% consists of being enabled by other people. The Beatles got big because they were good, but another part of it was that they had enough money and people backing them that they could stop touring and go into the studio and do all this. Essentially, we’re just people writing songs. My goal is to get those opportunities that they had, and if I do, I will make something worthwhile.”

Another inspiration of note is that of various Shoegaze and Brit-Pop bands; Owens mentions Spiritualized and My Bloody Valentine as a strong influence, and the widely used promo-shoot sports the singer wearing a Suede shirt. “Suede were the first band that I started listening to after mainly listening to punk rock. It was the first time I embraced this kind of clean production and the way he was singing, the lyrics – this kind of more “romantic” music. Before that I was only listening to aggressive music. I don’t think we’re as good as Suede yet though, but that’s sort of what we’re going for.”

The intimacy is also something that continues through the artwork and visuals of the band – the cover-mosaic, made out of 4 photographs, is directly linked to something Owens describes as sort of a visual diary, where he combines four photos of things that influence his life. The videos are shot by two friends of the band, with various friends and not much of a concept. With so much intimacy, I wonder how the 30 year old actually is able to perform on stage. Once again, Owens smiles: “Most of the time, I close my eyes.”

And it’s true: during the short (and very much sold out) show, Owens hardly looks at the audience. The audience in return seems to have a strange connection to the band – there’s hardly any movement, yet now and then people start to sing along entire songs (such as “Laura” or “Lust For Life”). And as the band goes into an extended feedback-heavy closer, it once more becomes apparent what makes Girls so successful: Owens manages to combine his story with those of his fans, and delivers a (probably) universal message in its most simple, raw form. When Owens sings “I don’t want to die / without shaking up a thing or two”, he echoes an entire generation, and a sentiment that will always be reborn with all the future generations to come, long after the roses on the cover of Girls will have withered and the club has shut its doors.

The evening ends with a short chat with the manager in front of the club. Girls seem to get bigger and bigger, selling more and more tickets – a phenomenon for a guitar-pop band from San Francisco. “This place here,” he asks “is something special though right, with this being the last show and all?” and as a friend and I are all recapitulating our own history with the club, there’s one thing that I’m sure of: even years of now, I, and everybody else, can come back to Girls and still find the same emotions as alive as they were when I was young. Clubs may close and people may age, but the music and the message of the band’s debut album will never grow old.

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