Q&A: Christopher Owens Opens Up About “Lysandre”: “You Have To Make The Music You Want To Make”
By Cynthia Orgel; Photos by Ryan McGinley on March 22, 2013
Some simple research on Christopher Owens—the singer/songwriter of former indie rock project, Girls—will tell you that he is a Harry Potter fan, an avid stamp collector and one hell of a whistler. You will also find out rather quickly that Owens released his debut solo album, the modern minstrel-esque Lysandre, this January. As of last night in San Diego, West Coast fans now have the chance to hear Lysandre live. Tonight, Owens will perform in LA at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre, presented by Origami Vinyl and Goldenvoice.
Last week, we caught up with Owens upon his return from Europe, to talk all about Lysandre, the epic setlist he has in store for fans and an innate self-consciousness that lingers, regardless of how many records he releases. And yes, we had to ask about his shampoo.
I noticed that you watch a lot of movies on your flights, based on your Twitter updates. You give very concise film reviews, like in one word or a couple words—probably just because it’s Twitter—but if you had to critique your album in the same manner, what would you say?
I would say it’s ‘Great.’
I would have to agree with you. So you’re no stranger when it comes to openly writing tracks about specific people. In your Girls discography, you have songs like “Laura,” “Jamie Marie,” “Lauren Marie,” and “Alex.” But with Lysandre, it’s an entire album centered around one person. That must have been more mentally intense to create, huh?
Well, it’s not really about one person, to be honest. It’s an album about a tour, and she’s not even around until the end. I guess to answer the question, it was about the same as any of the other songs, but it was a different process. It was a challenge to try to write the story of the tour.
I was listening to a BBC interview that you had recently, and you mentioned that there are seven musicians who contributed to the various instrumentals on this album, and they’re all coming on tour with you. What has it been like to have so many people join you on this project of yours?
They’re all great people, so that’s nice. It’s cool that they’re the [same] people who recorded on the album because I haven’t really done that before. It’s nice to go out and play a show that’s exactly what you recorded, with the same people.
Have you worked with any of them before?
Yeah, I have. A few—half of them before—but also, there were times when Girls was up to eight people as well, so I guess it’s not like a shock or anything. I’ve had some experience with that amount of people. It’s been a really good experience because everyone has a lot of fun together. You don’t always get that. Sometimes you have people who don’t like to be on tour, or they can be moody or whatever. When you don’t have that, it’s just really awesome.
When I listen to Lysandre, I can’t get over how frequently you use “Lysandre’s Theme,” yet you incorporate it in a different way every time. Is this the first piece of music that you came up with for the album?
Yeah, it was.
Was it just something you couldn’t get out of your head, so you decided to weave it throughout the entire record?
Kind of. I just took the approach of going back to that for each song. It kind of keeps them all very close to each other. They’re all in the same key that way, and [now] they just sound more like one another.
You seem very comfortable in your music videos or in the silly videos you upload, but in your songs, you often express self-doubt. With a song like “Love Is In the Ear of the Listener"—where there's a ‘Hey, you have a right to be judgemental’ kind-of-thing going on—is that something you constantly remind yourself, in order to put your creative projects out into the world?
A little bit. The album’s about the very first tour I did, so the song is dealing with playing shows and singing your songs for the first time, so I guess it was stronger back then. But it is something you have to remind yourself of; it does come back from time to time. It’s something I can still relate to now, for sure. It’s not to the point where it gets in the way or anything. It’s just kind of a natural self-consciousness.
When you say, it doesn’t ‘get in the way,’ what about when it came to the making of Lysandre? Did anybody’s opinion really matter to you, or was it just something you had to create and put out?
For the most part, everybody around me was equally as excited and supportive about working on it with me. I guess maybe [in regards to the time period] after the album comes out, you can read reviews and those can be very opinionated. But it doesn’t really matter. You have to make the music you want to make.
And it feels like you do that every time, which is probably why people relate so strongly to your work. I remember a top comment on one of your [Girls] videos was ‘This song made me cry the first time I heard it.’
I’m glad other people connect with them. It’s definitely a reason to continue.
Your album is just under 30 minutes, but when you tour, your set is clearly going to be longer than that. What other material will you be working with?
We play the album as the show, and then as an encore, we play—five, I think?—songs that influenced me from a very young age; songs that made me want to start writing songs.
Do you mind me asking what shampoo you use?
[laughs] I don’t mind you asking at all, but I don’t really have one. I kind of just use whatever’s around. F