Ryan McGinley Talks To Girls

The Artist Gets Intimate About Tattoos, Hair and Underwear With Girls Guitarist Chris Owens

Blissed-out San Francisco duo Girls wowed critics last year with their debut LP, Album—a haze of warm guitars, chanting vocals and reverb-loaded percussion. It also won them a fan in the form of artist-photographer Ryan McGinley, whose exclusive film of the band performing at this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival debuts today on NOWNESS. Here McGinley talks to the band’s guitarist and songwriter Chris Owens, who is a former member of the Children of God cult, an unapologetic fan of Harry Potter and defiantly not a hippie.     

Ryan: What’s life like with short hair?

Chris: I’m just more conscious of my face.

What made you want to cut it?

One, I had really bad hair. I’m not sure if it was because I didn’t take good care of it or I didn’t have enough vitamins, but it was really thin and brittle, and it stayed the same length for about two years without cutting it. It was just breaking off at that point. Another reason is because of various press articles. 

Like what?

People writing things like, “druggy hippie drop-outs, make band.” I’m none of those things. I know where every single thing in my room is at all times. I’m organized. I’m not a slacker.

What kind of underwear do you wear?

It’s very typical men’s white short underwear. I don’t like to do laundry on tour so I buy the packs of dollar underwear, and then I throw them away instead of doing laundry.

Do you wash them before you wear them?

No, just straight from the factory. [Laughs.]

Can you tell me about your new EP that’s coming out in the fall?

Yeah, it’s awesome. [Laughs.] I want to call it Think Big, which is a reference from the John Updike book, Bech at Bay. It’s about a writer who has had a really successful book, and everybody’s wondering what his next thing’s gonna be, and he decides to call it Think Big, because he wants it to be a big deal.

Is the style of music different? Is it slower, or is it harder?

It’s mixed. The first album was pretty much just me and JR [the other half of Girls] playing on it. This one has a dozen people on it.

Can you talk about your tattoos a little bit? What was the first tattoo you got?

The first tattoo I got was this phoenix. I got that on my own, and then I started to do something really stupid, which was to get tattoos to fit in. The first friends I made when I moved out on my own were hardcore punk kids. I felt like in order to fit in I needed to get tattoos, and also it was exciting for me at the time. I like that I have a “mom” tattoo.

Are you close with your mom? Are your parents still in [the Children of God] cult?

No, my dad left a long time ago and my mom left right after I did. I’m close with my mom, but not in a way where we talk all the time. 

Is she proud of you?

Yeah, definitely. 

That’s cool. Does she tell you?

Yeah. My dad is definitely proud. I didn’t meet him till I was 23. He’s a country singer, and he’s been playing in bars in Kentucky his whole life, so he’s just really stoked; he’ll come out to shows every once in a while.

What does the tattoo on your hand say?


From Harry Potter?


Just because you love her?

Yeah, I really like her. [Chuckles.] It seems silly to talk about. It’s not even so much about Emma Watson, it’s the character, and it’s not even the book character, either––it’s Emma Watson as Hermione, and I like that it’s a film that’s preserved forever. 

Have you read all the Harry Potter books?

Yeah. I got them all on tape. There’s this really cool theatrical British guy [Stephen Fry] reading them, and he’s doing all the voices—it’s awesome. 

Can you describe your style? I feel like I always see you wearing high-waters.

Yeah, I like them. I don’t know why.

Do you always wear khakis?

I’m wearing them more often now. I had one pair that were my favorite pants. They got worn out and I had to throw them out. So recently I went and I found them at Neiman Marcus. I got them in the boys’ section because the adult ones are too big. So these are like the 14-year-old boy ones.

So you’re wearing kids’ khakis? That’s a good style tip.

Yeah, they’re pleated. [Laughs.]

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