Christopher Owens can’t help but look a little vulnerable as he drags on a cigarette outside the Starbucks in Liverpool Guild of Students. It’s been a dream of mine to interview or at the very least meet him since hearing Girls’ debut LP Album and I concede I haven’t been quite as nervous before an interview for a long time. He considers every answer he gives and is no way patronising. I didn’t expect anything less from the man who produced such exquisitely honest and subtle tracks as Vomit and Substance. His new album New Testament sees him remain just as honest and just as candid on tracks like Stephen and it’s a pleasure to find out he’s very similar in person.
TE: So Chris have you ever been to Liverpool before?
CO: Yeah, a few times, with Girls but I haven’t been in a while.
TE: So what are your impressions of the city?
CO: You know, to be honest, I know very vague things – I know it’s close to Wales, I know all about the port, the Beatles and the Red Devils. That’s about it. I know that Barca just got Suarez from you guys (laughs).
TE: So have you been following Barcelona closely this season?
CO: Yeah, it’s actually been really interesting. It’s really interesting to watch Messi turn into more a playmaker, rather than a goalscorer, and he seems to be enjoying doing it. It’s a shame when you see someone asked to do that and they clearly don’t want to but he’s kind of doing it on his own. Neymar’s blossoming and I think Suarez is going to fit. At first I didn’t but I think it’s going to be good for him as a person to play there, like I think he’s going to feel like he needs to keep himself in check more.
TE: Ariel Pink’s new album Pom Pom is out this coming Monday (17th) what is your opinion of the songs you’ve heard?
CO: I like it a lot, I got to hear the whole thing actually and I like it a lot. It’s my favourite one for a while now.
TE: More that his Haunted Graffiti albums?
CO: Well, they’re all Haunted Graffiti albums really, but yeah, I mean I’ve liked everything he’s done, don’t get me wrong, but, for me, this is a return to something I liked a lot more. Picture Me Gone is a beautiful song.
TE: Quite heartbreaking.
CO: Yeah, yeah, very much so, but so clever too. He’s a lot more clever than I am, we can talk about the same kind of feeling but he’ll do it in a clever way because he doesn’t like to just say it. I’m more like – this is how I’m feeling. It’s really interesting to me to see other people’s approach to that
TE: I remember a while ago you spoke about the prospect of new Holy Shit material appearing. Have there been any further developments?
CO: Well there was the one single and I’ve heard about two albums worth of stuff. It’s just that Matt [Fishbeck] needs to find people to help him put it out on a label end. There’s a lot of artists that talk about him, promote him – he’s playing with me next month in LA – but on a label side, somebody needs to step in and help him put out a new album.
TE: It’s extremely difficult to find his stuff online, besides the album on Spotify (Stranded at Two Harbours) it’s not got that much exposure. I only really heard of it through you and Ariel Pink, but Stranded at Two Harbours is absolutely brilliant.
CO: That album changed my life.
CO: Yeah, there’s one song on there called My Whole Life Story and there’s a chorus in there – ‘Let everyman sing his tune’- that’s what made me want to write my own songs because that’s what that song is about.
TE: Speaking of your own songs, you spoke recently about how, moving on from Girls, not much has really changed in regards to how the whole process of making new albums works.
CO: True, everyone in my band right now was in Girls at some point.
TE: Is it somewhat frustrating to not receive the same hype as you did with Girls?
CO: Very, it’s extremely frustrating. In general things are very frustrating for me right now because I feel like I’m not accomplishing what I want to do. You know, it’s a shame, but hype matters – it can make or break people. I’m – this is gonna sound really cheesy – I’m too legit to quit (laughs). So I’m gonna keep going. For example, I made the dream album I wanted to make, I’m going on tour with seven musicians, it’s very expensive and without hype you still have great people showing up – still half the room shows up and they’re all there because they really want to be there and that’s great, that’s a good feeling. But, I know that if the room was full my label gets scared, I don’t get scared, but they do and, in turn, that makes me scared about the future. At the same time I’m not too worried about it, it’s just I’m kinda climbing uphill right now and it’s frustrating because I don’t understand why. I love what I’m doing a lot though.
TE: Is it affecting your writing at all?
TE: Could give you something to write about in your third album I suppose.
CO: (Laughs) It could, it could. I don’t know if that would ever motivate me. Ariel might do something like that, he’s a little more into that.
TE: You must be looking forward to your UK tour though.
CO: Well today is cool because this kid Corey Bowen is playing with me, he’s playing the whole UK tour and I’ve never met him. He’s a guy from Middlesbrough I met on Twitter so it’s a big mystery. A lot of people will send me things on Twitter like ‘here’s a link to my music’ and I’ll listen to it but most of the time, it’s nothing personal, I don’t respond. With him I was immediately like this is really good and we just kinda chit-chatted back and forth and then when the tour came up I was asked if I had anyone in mind for opening so I sent him a DM on Twitter asking him like ‘do you play live?’ and he was like ‘I could?’ (laughs). So tonight’s a highlight for me cos I get to see him for the first time and I don’t know what it’s gonna be like. I know I like his songs so I’m looking forward to that. I’m looking forward to tomorrow cos I get to see my penpal. I have one penpal that I actually write letters with and he’s from County Durham and we started talking just cos his name’s Philip Swan and he sent me this really clever thing about Daniel Radcliffe which was just unique enough where I was like ‘this guy’s really cool’ and it turned into postcards and then letters. He’s coming to the Glasgow show so I’m looking forward to that cos I see him probably one a year.
TE: You don’t really hear about people having penpals these days.
CO: Yeah it’s rare. It happened also on Twitter.
TE: You’re very social media active?
CO: Yes and no, these are kind of my two things that have happened on Twitter.
LW: Do you think the internet’s changed the industry in that sense, cos obviously people aren’t buying as many records as they used to and people aren’t going to shows, but you’ve met your support act through the internet so how do you think it’s affected the industry?
CO: It’s wonderful really. I mean for Girls we were able to do what we did because of MySpace. The fact that people don’t buy records is a problem because everything relies on touring. When I do things like take seven people on a tour and spend all the budget – I don’t lose any money but I haven’t made any money and the label’s not happy because this is now the only source of revenue. If you get lucky somebody might put your songs in a movie or something which hasn’t happened for me yet. There are obstacles but there are enough opportunities to balance it out. I’m in no place to complain about the internet because I wouldn’t be doing this at all without it.
Interview and words: Tom Edwards