by Jacob Sprecher
Drop the almost non-existent sub-genre of beach-goth on your average music fan and you’re likely to get the following response: “What the fuck is that?” Well, what it’s not, is Bob Smith drinking Cabo Wabo in a string bikini; what it is, is the acid-tinged musings of five Costa Mesa-bred sand hounds called the Growlers. Since the band’s primitive inception in 2006, los Growlers have been pushing musical waves of surf-addled psychedelia to the forefront of an ever-burgeoning California scene. Led by the nasal croon of frontman Brooks Nielsen, the Growlers are unarguably a different flavor when standing affront the surf status quo. Their beach-goth locution speaks directly to the band’s ability to convey darker themes and musicality behind strong pop melodies and rhythmic stylings that beseech dancing at all times. With two full LPs and a never-ending volume of home recordings floating through the ether, the Growlers are currently putting the wraps on their third full-length, which found them in Nashville under the production guise of Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys. Slowly making their way to SXSW and Coachella, the Growlers will be stopping at Origami Lounge on Sunday, February 26th. Synthesis caught up with Nielsen for a chat as he and the gang were trucking to Vegas.
You guys have a pretty prime date coming up with Coachella and all.
Yeah, that’s good. For the people that aren’t exactly sure what the fuck you’re doing and just see that you’re poor, they kinda get excited—“You guys made it!” And for us it is some satisfaction. We work hard, so it’s cool to get a little bit of recognition.
For the new record, I read that you wrote literally 70 songs before pairing it down to 19. Did you really write 70 songs?
I mean, some of it the guys just kinda had stockpiled, but during the time everyone just kinda gets into the idea of making a record. And having the time off, there’s nothing else to do except surf and make songs. Everyone pumped them out and I just kinda locked myself in my room and wrote and sang.
I take it you guys are a pretty tight-knit group beyond the band itself.
In the morning we go surfing together; drinking together at night; living in the bus together; everything.
I’d say a trademark of the Growlers songwriting would be your penchant for taking an up-tempo song and abruptly cutting the tempo in half, in a sense swinging it. Did you stick to those guns for the new record or explore new space?
We’re never really sure exactly what’s going on. But we still have the same approach to rhythm, with different speeds so anyone can dance to it. Hot Tropics we wanted to just pick all the dark songs and make a little gothic album—this one we kinda went the opposite way. There’s a lot of happier songs; not as many in a minor [key].
There’s a certain ramshackle quality to all your recordings prior. Did you stay with that formula or go for something more glossy given the equipment was at your disposal?
I made it very clear that we didn’t wanna get to far away from that. We used old equipment, which we find to be superior and love. But it’s definitely a more clear, bigger sound. Because we’re amateurs; we’re poor; our lo-fi recordings were [made] basically because we wanted to do them ourselves. I think next record we’ll probably go back to that and just continue building our studio. But it’s nice to go into the studio and have other people do work for you.
Did you lay this one to tape?
No. We tried to, but we had 10 days to do 19 songs and at that rate I don’t think it would have possibly worked. But we’re gonna mix it down to tape. Everything else—plate reverb, tape delays, analog equipment, tube amps.
Did you have to come out of pocket since without a label ready to put it out?
Yes. I mean Dan made it very clear from the beginning he wasn’t there to make money. He broke us a deal. We would have just had to laugh that one off [otherwise]. He’s great.
Do you strive to make your lyrics cryptic?
Yeah I don’t put very much thought into it. I try to do it really quickly and not go back to it. Once I dive into it, you can get in that mindset [where] you’re being poetic and whatnot. But I always try and pull myself out of there, like “Oh I gotta say ‘tits’” or something. Otherwise I’m kinda bullshitting. The way we speak and the way we live are very salty.
As dark as some of the lyrical content of your music is, I’d also guess that you’re something of a jaded romantic. Is any of that floating around in there?
Me, I seem to be very chill and everything, but when I start digging in and thinking and dreaming and trying to think of other people around me that are very emotional, like my father, that’ll come out. I don’t know. [The songs] are not always for me, they’re not always about me; there’s endless possibilities. But I really like to hear what people think I’m talking about ‘cause they’re usually way the fuck off [laughs].
Your harmonies aren’t totally conventional; they’re a little abstract, if you will. Where do you draw your influences?
It’s just from not knowing. I’ve been reluctant to learn things musically, because I’ve found it to be an advantage of mine. That I don’t know what the fuck is going on. I’ve just been kind of winging it, freestyling it, and a lot of really cool, pure things come out of that. As far as singing, I can’t really take direct influences, because I don’t really know how to.
In a vein similar to Black Lips, you guys have earned the rep of a party band both on and offstage. I see that as a good thing. Would you agree?
It’s weird. I guess the musician world, when you get into it, you realize that most of these people are trained musicians that are pretty square. So it’s nice when you’re on the road and you meet other bands that are salty and party. When people take themselves so seriously I have a real fuckin’ problem with that. I can’t hide what we generally like to do which is, you know, party with each other and experiment. And have a good time. Because otherwise this business can really quickly get really fuckin’ lame.