Just by looking at him, you can tell that Christopher Owens, clad in a leather jacket, bell bottoms and a cowboy hat, is far from typical. This San Francisco–based musician and songwriter has quite the biography: he grew up part of the Christian cult The Children of God, moved across Asia and Europe throughout his youth, and finally left when he was 16 to join his older sister in Amarillo, Texas. After nine years there, Owens ultimately moved to San Francisco, where he’s stayed for the past decade.
Initially in San Francisco to become a visual artist, he went to the show of the band "Holy Shit," made up of talented songwriter Matt Fishbeck and psychedelic pop’s darling Ariel Pink. Seeing Holy Shit was a critical moment in his path to becoming a musician, he says; “I don’t think I’ve heard something that’s influenced me in the same way.” He joined Holy Shit shortly after coming into contact with them, began teaching himself how to play the guitar and started writing his own songs within a few months.
Owens later met Chet "JR" White, and ultimately formed a band, "Girls," which propelled them to indie–pop fame with their seminal album, Album. Three years after, Owens made the decision to leave Girls to pursue his current solo career.
Christopher Owen's musical genre is difficult to pin down. Generally characterized as somewhere in the realm of indie rock, he's displayed a ease with reshaping and exploring different sounds. His second album prominently includes a the sound of a Hammond organ playing, not something one ever really associates with rock. But that's flexibility is also what makes him a tremendous, if often underappreciated musician.
Owens’ solo career encompasses three albums: his first release Lysandre, his 2014 release New Testament and his latest album, Chrissybaby Forever. “Out of all the albums I’ve written,” says Owens in regard to Lysandre, “this one is probably the most comprehensive one from start to finish.” Written almost entirely in a single sitting, it tells the emotional story of traveling with Girls on their first tour and falling in love with a woman called Lysandre. In A New Testament, he wanted to “make sort of a country album, without being like ‘okay it has to sound this way or that way’,” and can be seen as a nod both to his time in Texas and with The Children of God in its genre and biblical title. For his latest release, Chrissybaby Forever, Owens says he wanted to make a switch to a more organically curated album. “With the two first ones, there was a big idea beforehand going in and I executed the idea,” he explains, going on to say “[with Chrissybaby Forever] it was just me with someone I really liked as a producer and an engineer, and working together.”
When talking about his music, Owens explains simply: “I’m honest.” His concert lineup contained a wide array of original songs and covers, a cover of “My Whole Life Story,” a song by Matt Fishbeck of Holy Shit, to some older Girls songs, to his recent solo material. Even with the variety, it's the music Owens played represents things meaningful to him. During our conversation, he declared himself against pandering to an audience, which could lead to seeming as disengaged. But, as a musician who has consistently striven toward honesty, it’s also evidence of a conviction to truthfully represent himself.
This same conviction can be seen in Owens’ recorded, music, too. Despite the stylistic nuances and changing lineup of musicians he worked from album to album, from his transition from Girls to solo, each of his works is undeniably him. Asked to reflect on shifts in his music since he first began, more than 8 years ago, he answered: “I think I’m basically still exactly the same.” That’s a rare thing to hear, period. It’s an even rarer thing to hear in the context of today’s music industry that is constantly pushing for different “newer” and “better” sound.
But, Christopher Owens has proven he’s unusual. And this this case, we’ll take his music as it is: vulnerable, candid, and without pretense.
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