“Oh god, I’m so lost / and I’m here in darkness / and I want to see the light of love / I’m looking for meaning in my life”—“My Ma”
Judging by his press, Christopher Owens is a damaged individual mired in his own post-cult existence, making music solely as his escape from his tumultuous earlier years in the infamous Children of God community. With the release of his band Girls’ 2009 breakthrough debut Album, it appeared as if Owens’ conflicted, religious turmoil and his heartrending pop songs were inseparable.
But the man I recently interviewed seems to have made sense of it all, both personally and musically. The San Francisco band’s sophomore album Father, Son, Holy Ghost is testament to that.
On Album, Owens’ songs were the despondent, cathartic cries coming from the sense of loss that followed his departure from the Children of God (aka The Family International). “It was something that was difficult for me my whole life,” says Owens. “Without even trying to be difficult or bad or anything, I just didn’t believe in God or Jesus. I didn’t believe in anything that was being taught to me.”
He’s since come to grips with his background, candidly speaking about it his past struggles with his faith. You can hear it in his voice as he discusses the rationale behind his religious beliefs. “I believe since people all sort of live together and work together,” he says, “that calls for a lot of things, like honesty and good morals and manners and all that stuff. I think there are good elements to religion, but I just don’t believe in all the hoopla. I don’t believe in God. I don’t believe in creation. So, that’s something that’s plagued me my entire life, just having those views.”
Despite the title Father, Son, Holy Ghost, Owens has neither tried in the past nor continued to make his music about religion. His latest 11-song collection, rather, offers a take on music’s spiritual effects instead of alluding to his personal history.
“Father to me represents where we’re coming from,” he says. “We all have a father. Son is who you are, and then holy ghost is your soul. But if you think of it as an album, the album itself has an origin—it is what it is, it has its own identity and it has a spiritual quality, so that’s why I like the title.”
This spiritual understanding is a relatively new thing for Owens. The debut was a raw endeavor, showing his open wounds marked with sadness, loneliness and heartbreak. What Album may have lacked in refinement was balanced by its full, unabashed range of emotions that overcame the sonic imperfections. While its noisy, lo-fi nature emerged out of necessity, the musical vision was heartfelt and powerful.
This time around, Owens and his musical partner Chet “JR” White gave the songs proper treatment in the studio, capturing the sound they’d always envisioned for Girls. “[It’s] the way we would’ve liked to have done the first one, but just didn’t have the means,” Owens affirms.
You can hear the difference between records almost immediately, starting with the rolling floor toms that introduce the Beach Boys-inspired opener “Honey Bunny.” It’s not just the drums, but also the warm guitar tones, vocal clarity and driving bass lines that stand out. Thanks to bassist/producer White, every element resonates clearer than its predecessor.
“There’s a loud organ, there’s loud backups, there’s loud guitar, but there are less tracks than on our first album,” Owens says. “On our first album, we tried to make it sound bigger by doing lots of tracks, but on this one, the only thing we changed was having less tracks and turning the volume up on those tracks. And really what it does, is make it sound like its more filled out and bigger.”
Father, Son, Holy Ghost’s sonic approach mirrors Owens current outlook. The noisy haze is in the distance and looked back upon with a refined perspective. “It’s about carrying on,” Owens explains in regards to the record’s opening track. “If you’re lonely for example, it’s about carrying on and not just resigning to yourself to being lonely, but acknowledging the fact that there’s people everywhere, and you never know what’s going to happen. Somebody might be just around the corner.”
As Owen delves into greater detail on his views of music and spirituality, he summarizes both as they intersect over the course of Father, Son, Holy Ghost.
“It’s more interesting that at the end of the day, we feel the same way—we all relate, we want to be free of all the bullshit,” Owens concludes. “Aside from that, the music’s just really good.”