CHRISTOPHER OWENS at Virgin Mobile Mod Club (722 College), Friday (January 18), doors 7 pm. $20. RT, SS, TM. See listing.
When I try calling former Girls frontman Christopher Owens, I get his voice mail, which sounds like it was recorded after staying up all night crying. It probably wasn't the best idea to ask him if the message's tone was intentional; he isn't a musician prone to self-parody, although at times his intense earnestness makes it hard to tell.
"Uh, I don't know," Owens says quietly. "I haven't listened to it in a while."
To be fair, his awkward pauses and depressed mumbling make sense when you consider that a typical interview day for him involves an endless sequence of journalists probing him about his childhood growing up in a cult, why he broke up his critically acclaimed band, the criminal charges against his former mentor and whether he's still doing drugs. It must feel like a therapy loop some days.
Demeanour aside, Owens is actually in a pretty good place. His new solo concept album, Lysandre (Turnstile/Fat Possum), about falling in love during the first Girls tour, has been well received by critics and fans despite the fact that its smooth folk-pop vibes are miles away from the ragged guitar rock that garnered Girls so much hype.
"I've been pleasantly surprised. I expected people to realize that the album was well made, but I was also prepared for a lot of them not to like some of the music or the idea behind it. I haven't experienced any of that. It's very encouraging to head out on tour knowing people are actually into the idea behind the record."
And it's a good sign that he's looking forward to touring. During his days with Girls, he often said he preferred recording to life on the road. Unfortunately, the economics of the modern music industry mean that few artists have the luxury of spending much time in the studio any more. Maybe if there hadn't been so much pressure to get Girls on the tour circuit, they might have recorded more than two great albums before imploding.
"The only thing I found difficult to deal with regarding the hype surrounding Girls was that we went out to fill a demand without having become a band first. In the end, when the band really needed to be strong on its own and it wasn't, there was nothing to keep it together."
Does he feel that Girls ever became the band that he and his former collaborator JR White originally imagined when they started the project?
"There were a couple times, yeah. Early on we almost had a pretty good lineup, and then two of those people left. Around the recording of the second album it was looking more like something was going to happen, and once again another two people left. I don't really know why. It's usually for their own reasons, and not something I can judge. For whatever reason, the band just didn't seem to be something other people wanted to commit to on the same level."
As gloomy as that sounds, the experience seems to have shown Owens that he has more freedom to chase his vision when he doesn't have to worry about the rest of a team. He might not have the rock band he once dreamed of, but being on his own is turning out not to be so bad.