7 Nov 2010

Survivor of abusive Children of God cult, Chris Owens of Girls is one cool musician

NOTE FROM PERRY BULWER - September 23, 2009
For any reader not yet aware of this, the Children of God cult in the article below is now called The Family International. For more information about this destructive religious group see this article on this site. Be sure to read the comments section of that article for more insights from survivors, including me.


Living Scotsman - September 20, 2009

The solace of Brigadoon's tartan fairyland made perfect sense to a boy growing up in the Children of God cult, Chris Owens of Girls tells Aidan Smith

MENTION Brigadoon and Scots will react in different ways, few of them positive. They will grumble about how it's made us appear too romantic, twee and kilted in the eyes of the world… that its depiction of a land which awakes once a century sums up our indecisiveness… that you need sunglasses to endure its garish plaids and glistening heather… that none of us is blessed with legs like Cyd Charisse. But for Chris Owens the Hollywood musical is a lifesaver.

Owens is one half of Girls, a pop duo who are very male, very Californian and very cool. His musical education, though, is unusual to say the least. He was born into the Children of God cult, which closed its doors on the outside world. "We had no radio, no TV, no books as you think of them – and definitely no records," he says. "All we were allowed was Movie Night every Friday: nice, wholesome films with a good message. Brigadoon was always my favourite. I must have seen it hundreds of times."

He starts singing The Heather On The Hill, performed in the 1954 movie by Gene Kelly: "Can't we two go walkin' together out beyond the valley of trees?/Out where there's a hillside of heather curtseying gently in the breeze." He laughs when I tell him that some Scots find the film couthie and a bit kitsch and offers to sing the whole musical.

"Young hotshot from the US thinks he's got it all. Visits the Highlands and meets a milk-carrying, bosom-laden young lady. She shows him what he's been missing all his life: true love. Isn't that what we're all looking for? Seriously, I hear what you're saying and I think I know Scotland isn't like in the film. But when I was ten I had to believe someplace was."

Owens is 30 now – a bit old to be a new sensation, but he's got a good excuse for having fallen so far behind – and speaks from beneath an explosion of curls you suspect he's been growing non-stop since the day he escaped the cult 14 years ago. With fellow Girl JR White he releases a debut album next week that is already attracting rave reviews. Life is good, so he's trying to find the positives in the Children of God experience.

"I mean, every teen goes through this, right? Whether it's military school or being prepped for a career you don't want, you live in a restricted fashion." Then he stops. "No, the cult was straight-up strange and scary."

Owens was brought up by his mother, his father having quit Children of God shortly after he was born, and she like other women in the communes was encouraged to take part in "flirty fishing". "Basically they were convinced it was okay to be hookers," he says. "No-one in the cult wanted to work in the traditional sense, so money was needed. We were told to believe the end of the world was coming so we had to live day to day. The women were persuaded it was cool to go with men because they were physically showing these guys the love of God.

"My mum had a lot of horrible experiences. Things were pretty messed up. I'd have to wait in hotel lobbies for her and sometimes there would be violent people and we'd have to run away." Children of God was formed in California in 1968 and its first converts were hippies. "It was extremely separatist," adds Owens. "It believed that everyone besides us was completely confused and bad. The aim was to raise a generation of kids that were not spoiled by the world."

River Phoenix and his brother Joaquin, and actress Rose McGowan, were all members of the cult before they became famous. Jeremy Spencer had been famous prior to joining, as part of the original Fleetwood Mac, and he gave Owens, who was moved between communes in more than a dozen different countries, his first guitar.

Although Owens is keen to sing me more songs from Brigadoon, it should be said that the musical's influence on San Francisco's Girls is not startlingly obvious. Mostly they sound like a punked-up (and pilled-up) Beach Boys. But there's a sweetness, and an old-fashionedness, to the tracks which can probably be traced back to his exposure to old show tunes at the expense of anything modern.

Owens says he enjoyed the singing in Children of God, even though this was confined to Christian songs and even though children's choirs were used to make money for the cult. But by 13 he'd started to rebel. "They showed us this other movie, Lean On Me, about a bad school which turns good. We were supposed to remember the ending but I just loved the stuff about smoking, riding motorcycles, wearing leather jackets and earrings and listening to the radio."

By that stage he was living in Slovenia, but walked out and made his way to Texas to live with his sister who'd escaped earlier. In Amarillo he fell in with a punk rock crowd and was taken under the wing of millionaire philanthropist and prankster Stanley Marsh 3, best known for the Cadillac Ranch public art exhibit. "He was my first father-figure. We liked the same music – him because he was old, me because I'd come from this weird place. If I've got an optimistic outlook on life now, it's down to him."

Owens' positivity is obvious. It extends to his reluctance, where possible, to criticise Children of God, though this may be because his story is deeply fascinating to everyone he meets and he's getting bored of repeating it. But then he talks of the friends from the cult who have committed suicide. "They've been dropping like flies," he says.

He had an older brother who died of pneumonia, and says he learned later it was the cult's belief the followers didn't need hospitals which precipitated his father's decision to walk out. "I know Dad now: he plays country music in Kentucky and the last time we saw each other he gave me a sitar and purple sunglasses. And I don't resent Mom for keeping us in Children of God. For the record, I love her. It was difficult for her; the cult was telling her what to do. But she left the year after I did and now she's happy doing refugee work."

All in all, a remarkable story. "Yeah," says Owens, "almost as remarkable as the story of the land that only wakes up once every hundred years and everyone's wearing kilts and dancing all day long. Now I can't wait to see Scotland for real."

Album is released on 28 September by Fantasy Trashcan records. Girls play Captain's Rest, Glasgow, on 13 October, and Sneaky Pete's, Edinburgh, the following night.

This article was found at:



Member of San Francisco pop duo, Girls, is a survivor of notorious Children of God cult, a.k.a. The Family International


  1. Christopher Owens on the Children of God and His ‘New Testament': “It’s My Own Take on Pop”

    By Shane Barnes, FlavorWire September 26, 2014

    The video for Girls’ “Hellhole Ratrace” was released in June of 2009, throwing the band’s frontman, Christopher Owens, into the indie-rock spotlight. Owens was perhaps too willing to talk about everything in his early days, detailing his time spent in the Children of God cult, his since-kicked opiate habit, and his years spent with the late Amarillo art pioneer Stanley Marsh III. Girls had three excellent, critically acclaimed releases — two full-lengths, one EP — with influences that ranged far and wide: surf music, old-school country, King Crimson, Randy Newman, Felt, the Everly Brothers, and somehow others. And then, citing “heartbreak” from the band’s constant turnover of members, Owens called it quits in 2012.

    But he didn’t stop making music. In 2013 he released Lysandre, an odd, under-appreciated ode to the ’70s that features recurring refrains and instrumentation that brought to mind Donovan rather than the shoegaze fuzz of his early Girls work. Now, with his latest release, A New Testament, Owens has put on his boots and his ten-gallon hat to produce one of the year’s best country and gospel albums, and it’s from a guy who, in his own words, can’t make a country album. Flavorwire spoke to Owens as he was prepping for his current ongoing tour in support of the new album, out September 30 via Turnstile.

    Flavorwire: Did you set out to do anything particular with A New Testament, or did it just kind of veer toward the gospel and country side of things?

    Christopher Owens: Definitely. The idea was to make an album that explored the influence country music had had on me. I love country music — classic, traditional country music — and it’s something I’ve liked for a long, long time. And it’s something I felt was already in my songs already, it wasn’t too far of a stretch. If I just changed a couple of instruments, I can kind of sound like that. I wanted to show the things I love while giving a modern take, you know?

    Yeah, even with Girls, the country was always underneath everything else.

    I’m glad you said that, because I’ve had a lot of people calling me up and telling me it took them by surprise. And I thought, we’ve always done it. We just didn’t do it so explicitly. This is just the first time that I’ve decided, “OK, this is what we’re going to do.” And with the Girls stuff, the first album had to be what it was.

    And the second one, the EP, Broken Dreams Club, was songs that we had been playing live but hadn’t recorded, so we didn’t know exactly what we were trying to do with them, sonically.

    And then, for a band’s second full album — or third record, whatever you want to call it — it’s time for them to make a big statement. So we went big on there. So, for Girls, there wasn’t really time to do a country record. It would’ve been too soon to do it as a second album.

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  2. I feel like now I can kind of get away with.

    Something about this album — the country influence is there, plus the soul stuff, but it’s definitely a pop album. If this were 30 or 40 years ago, it would be all over the radio.

    Yeah. It’s like when the Beatles covered that Buck Owens song, you know? It’s not country, but it’s got that influence. They weren’t even intending to make a country song. They can’t. And in that same way, I can’t. It’s my own take on pop. I really believe that pop is just country, R&B, and Broadway hits all mashed up and made very short and accessible for everybody.

    You listened to that kind of stuff in the Children of God, right? Did that have a direct influence on the sound of this album?

    Well, the country influence you’re hearing on this record — the actual stuff you hear — is all stuff I’ve gotten into later in life. To be honest, the stuff I listened to in the Children of God — when I heard the Everly Brothers and stuff — it was really only about once a month, or once every six months. Typically we didn’t get much of that music at all. We only had our own music, which was very religious music that the adults wrote.

    But every once in a while they’d have a dance night where they would put on a group of cassettes called “My Old Favorites,” which was our leader’s. And it was a bunch of oldies. And I mean from before 1950 in most cases. Those were deemed OK to listen to on special occasions. And those oldies were very close to country.

    Do you remember any of the songs on there?

    Oh, gosh. Stuff like “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” or “Love Me Tender,” a couple mop-top Beatles stuff — definitely not the psychedelic Beatles stuff. Patsy Cline. It couldn’t be too negative. It had to be just right. I’ll always remember those songs from “My Old Favorites,” and I think they did give me a taste for the oldies sound. A very simple sort of a pop song, which I still have a strong place for.

    You tweeted that Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone” is a “touchstone of perfection.” Do you ever worry about proclaiming your love for pop music in such a public way?

    That song to me is just a classic. I don’t think American Idol has really produced another knockout like that. It was just a really special thing. And I was feeling a little nostalgic.

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  3. On the last album you said that if BeyoncĂ© or another huge pop singer had covered “Love Like a River,” it would’ve been a huge hit. Do you feel that way about any of the songs on A New Testament?

    I feel like “Oh My Love” should be a classic. To me it’s one of the best songs I’ve ever written. Somebody should cover that in a couple years and let it be on Top 40 radio, and I would be over the moon.

    I feel really strongly about a lot of our songs. They have a kind of classic quality that I feel like, if they could just enter the sort of general public’s subconscious, it would be part of pop culture — whatever that means, if it were in a movie or if somebody covered it — I think that would happen. They could be hits. Back in the day there would be one radio station or one Ed Sullivan show, and you could play a great song like that and the world would start to sing it. Now, it seems kind of impossible. I would need a little help with that, I think.

    I heard in an interview recently that Randy Newman is one of your lyrical heroes. When did you first get into him?

    Well, like a lot of people my first real exposure to Randy Newman was I think in that movie Antz—

    Toy Story!

    Oh, sorry! Toy Story, that song (singing), “You got a friend in me, you got a friend in me,” and I came away sort of unimpressed. But in 2007, when I really started to write lyrics for my own songs, I heard “I Just Want You To Hurt Like I Do,” and I thought, “This guy is just a fucking genius.” And he helped me realize that when you’re writing a song it doesn’t have to be “Bohemian Rhapsody.” It can be like, “I think it’s gonna rain today,” over and over. It’s just the right balance of being a smart-ass and also being very genuine.

    He sort of opened a door for me, and made me feel like I could do it. You know, that song I wrote, “Jamie Marie,” on the last Girls record was a direct sort of homage to Randy Newman.

    What was your inspiration was for the aesthetic of all the promo materials for this album. It’s a very, uh, distinct look — I don’t even know how to nail it down.

    I don’t work with a stylist or anything like that. I just kind of have a photographer come in and I know exactly what I want. I tell them what to do, I trust myself. I kind of just wanted everything to be warm and have a certain romantic aspect to it. I try to have more specific visions for these albums.

    A lot of people will go through their whole career and do the same thing. You know, James Taylor has been James Taylor for 25 years. I guess that says something about me, I do little looks. I wore a suit for the last album, now I’ve got cowboy hats and boots. There is a side of me that it’s certainly a playful guy. And why not have a good time while you have this opportunity?

    Right. Not everybody gets to come out with an album people pay attention to.

    Exactly. And, as they say, we only live once.

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