I'VE NEVER BEEN on the kind of tour Christopher Owens describes on Lysandre, the 28-minute song cycle he recorded after breaking up his almost-huge band Girls last summer.
"How much time do you have?" I ask.
"I'm not sure," he says, "but there's a call coming after you. I'd have to look at my email, if you want to wait while I do that."
Although there's a glass of white wine on the table in front of me, my phone's in one hand and my recorder's in the other. And so I tell him that I'm happy to wait, because while waiting I will be able to gulp down the wine and attempt to collect myself.
I loved Girls. Owens wrote the songs and his friend J.R. White did whatever it was he did to make Girls Girls. In what turned out to be their final album, Father, Son, Holy Ghost, Owens sounded like Elliott Smith, if our patron saint had figured out how to give just a little bit less of a shit. But it wasn't just brittle and moving. There were these fun, bouncy tunes alongside big, sludgy moments, which, despite the occasional gospel choir, you could totally rock out to. FSHG even passed the Lucky Lab litmus test: Unlike 98 percent of the stuff I put on at work, my metalhead coworkers didn't make fun of it, except for that one really long song where Owens kept singing "love love love" over and over. There was something in his strung-out, wounded voice that felt real.
Owens' debut solo album, Lysandre, tells the story of Girls' first tour, of Owens' sudden fame, and his doomed long-distance romance with a girl named Lysandre he met at a festival in France. The songs are wide-eyed and almost childishly sincere. It feels less like a breakup album and more like finding yourself on a transatlantic flight reading a love letter over someone's shoulder. I would guess that Lysandre won't end up being anyone's favorite Christopher Owens' album, but I don't think that's the point.
"Hello?" he says. "So the next one's coming at 4:30 pm."
Half an hour. I'd better get right down to it. I ask him if he misses playing the songs he wrote in Girls.
"There is nothing in the world that is more a part of me than those songs," he says. "But I don't really miss them yet. I know I'll play them again."
I ask him if the sweetness on Lysandre comes from it being about a long-distance thing instead of something more dysfunctionally day-to-day. "In the past," he says, "on one song I would write about a very difficult relationship ending, something that went on for years and was much harder, and on the next it would be a similar scenario to this album. The thing with this album is it's all just one story."
At some point I tell him I'm a writer. Like, not a music writer, but a writer writer. I tell him I'm on a book tour. I'm not sure what I'm hoping he'll say, but he doesn't say it. "Can you talk about your writing process?" I ask.
"I love to write at home," he says. "The songs pretty much come to me as a whole. Already finished. But that has to be while you're alone. Because if you're getting an idea for a song, and 10 seconds into it someone starts talking to you, it's gonna be gone."
Aside from his having been raised in the Children of God cult, which contributed to the death of his brother, probably the most dominant storyline about Owens involves his addiction to opiates, and the role that drug use plays in his songwriting process.
"I've definitely found them useful," he says when I ask about drugs, "but I've also found myself wishing my drug use hadn't been turned into such a big deal. I've come very close to ruining my life. I would hate for kids to think that sounds cool. It's not what I want to be remembered for. But I think there's a reason so many artists use things like that. It helps you open up."
I've been staring at my wineglass for the past 20 minutes and finally realize that there's a sip or two left. I think back to what Owens said about losing a song if someone interrupts you 20 seconds in, and it occurs to me that if I cut the interview short, who knows, maybe he'll come up with something before the next call.