"This is what I'm talking about!"
Christopher Owens slams his hand down on a wooden tabletop in a San Francisco diner, sloshing chicken soup out of his bowl. The singer-guitarist for Girls, the fledgling band responsible for the year's most captivating -- if not outright best -- debut album, is referring to a moment two years ago, after he and partner Chet JR White posted their band's first song, "Lust for Life," on MySpace. A fan had approached Owens at a Los Angeles show, opening her diary to a page on which she had transcribed the lyrics and elaborately pasted pictures of her and her friends all around them.
Stirred by the memory, Owens straightens up, pulling his dirty-blond hair into a pile on top of his head. "I don't care about your band if you're like, 'It's really cool because it sounds like my guitar is being played by a cat, and I'm squealing and knocking things over, and oh my God, what a blast,' " he says with uncharacteristic fervor. "I want to make music where the person will remember the lyrics, they can sing along, and it has a positive effect."
That's more of an imperative than a desire for Owens. After spending his childhood in an apocalyptic, sexually perverse cult called the Children of God (an offshoot of the late-'60s hippie fringe group the Jesus Movement), he has struggled his entire adult life to reconnect with the world from which he was once so fanatically sheltered. The 30-year-old has lived amid such extreme volatility that he hasn't had the luxury of ironic distance. When he speaks passionately, you believe every word. And when he sings his troubles in a buoyant, beguiling voice, there's not a trace of insincere affectation.
"It's like, everybody has a band," he continues. "It's this thing people do because they think they're supposed to do it, because they want to get chicks or think they're cool. It's not about that for me." Owens pauses and runs a hand -- nails covered in chipped pink polish -- through his long hair.
"It's about finding a reason to be alive."
Read the entire Girls feature in the October 2009 issue of SPIN, on newsstands now. And, to see an acoustic performance by Girls in the SPIN office, click here.