Earlier in this year, The Growlers were poised to get a big boost. Longtime fan Dan Auerbach (of The Black Keys) invited the Californians to his studio in Nashville to craft their next album. But after a week in the studio the band ditched the sessions claiming the results were “overcooked.” It was a buzz-kill for the fans, but the group didn’t seem to lose too much sleep over it, returning to California to make their record, DIY-style. The results (the first full length Growlers record in several years), Hung at Heart, is now poised for release. After the jump, Brooks and guitarist/singer Matt Taylor treated AD to a spritely, spirited conversation about this transitional moment in their band’s career. Dig in. . .
Aquarium Drunkard: The Growlers’ forthcoming album, Hung at Heart, recently got pushed back from a November to a January, 22 2013 release, what’s up with that?
Brooks Nielson: Yeah, everything’s getting pushed back, but you know what, it’s fine. We always do things with very little preparation. We just kind of do it and put it out last minute. So to us it’s like, “oh shit, even longer,” and I’m sure to the fans, too. But later on looking back, I think a couple of months won’t matter at all and it gives us more time—and the people around us—to promote it and get the word out.
AD: I liked how whimsical your first releases were—those eight burned-CDR Couples releases you sold on tour. Those were interesting for the listener in that they served as unedited sketches for Are You In Or Are You Out and Hot Tropics.
Matt Taylor: Well, we just took some demos from Hung at Heart and released them on Cassette through Burger Records. A few of the songs that aren’t on the album but we kinda liked. They’re just demos—it’s just like the Couples. Shitty home recordings.
BN: We’ve been jonesin’ to have a fuckin’ new record and our fans our too. They’ve creeped through and found every old recording just to kind of keep themselves from burning out. So that’s good to be able to feed them something.
AD: Is there a stereotypical Growlers fan?
BN: Growlers fans are fucking nuts.
MT: They’re gnarly…
BN: Well firstly, the reviews are funny: “We went to a Growlers show, everyone was wiggling like worms and it was the worst dancing I’ve ever seen and they all look like freaks with crazy surfer hair and chicks with their tits hanging out.” And then around the country it’s a total different breed. At home it’s turned into just… East L.A. Mexican kids and the surfer kids, but the road there’s just every breed. It’s crazy.
AD: Is that a scene that’s happening right now in Costa Mesa? East L.A. Mexican kids and surfer dudes?
MT: No, this is where they come together.
BN: Yeah, we brought them together. We’re like Morissey bringing Mexicans and gays together. I don’t know how it happened but it’s fucking rad, ‘cause we have surfer chicks and sexy Mexis. Beat that.
AD: Can you talk about your living situation in California?
BN: Well, we’re currently homeless right now. But we all used to live in a warehouse in Costa Mesa. That was right near the beach in an industrial, kind of a Mexican area, so we could afford to live right by Newport Beach. We could surf there and still not be in the total super white community. That was good. We had that little nook for 4 years. Got away with it… barely. And got to live there and make music and it was a nice weirdo den. A lot of partying and working.
MT: We used to throw a lot of parties there—for the Couples releases and stuff. Have bands play. It got a little out of hand…
BN: While you can get away with it, you’ve got to do all that shit. People don’t get that. Remembering things later on, Coachella is not going to be the show I think about—although that was an epic opportunity and a great thing to happen to us—it’s going to be thinking about the little weird parties we had…
AD: Brooks, the last time we talked was this past May at a dive bar gig in Tampa. You told me that going into the week that the band spent recording at Dan Auerbach’s studio, you had 70 songs written but that the band hadn’t worked out how to play them.
BN: I was drunk.
AD: Is the band still sitting on a ton of material?
BN: It had been a while (since recording Hot Tropics), so we had a lot of stocked up songs. That was a feat for me, but then everyone else was like, “check out this one, check out this one, I’ve got more…” Everyone was just giving me more and more songs every day.
AD: So everyone writes songs for the band?
MT: Yeah, everyone. I’m always writing loops and stuff…
AD: But the band started out as just the two of you, correct?
BN: We had other guys, but we’re the two longest lasting members. We’re the OG’s.
AD: I saw some internet footage of an early incarnation of The GROWLERS on a TV show in 2006—it seemed like a more theatrical project compared to the present day, road-worn rock band.
MT: Those were just normal outfits man! Just kidding. That was a public access kind of thing—Marty’s Corner. We always tried to look stupid whenever we would go on TV.
AD: Even in 2010, when I first saw you live, you had a percussion player who wore a swimsuit and played the bongos in a beach chair for the entire show.
BN: Warren (Thomas)! He’s the man. He’s doing his own shit again—he’s got a new band called The Abigails. Warren was a great party vibe. Everything was a party. Just getting a slice of pizza was a pizza party.
AD: All things Growlers are pegged to this term “beach goth.” It’s an evocative descriptor and has helped set the band apart in its own sub-genre—how did beach goth come about?
MT: All we did was put that on a shirt.
BN: I mean people were calling us that for so long and then people started bringing it up in interviews and whatever and I was like, “fuck, alright, we’re beach goth!” And you know, it gets annoying trying to explain what your band sounds like. I can’t even do it, you know… so that shit stuck. And whatever, I’ll take it. And then it just happened again. Burger (Records) is like, “hey let’s do a party, it’s called “The Beach Goth Party” to release that demo cassette. Alright. Cool.
AD: So are the songs on Hung at Heart on hung at heart the same ones more or less the ones you recorded in Nashville with Dan Auerbach?
MT: Yeah, we took out a couple and put a couple of new ones in—there’s 15 total.
BN: We actually recorded a lot in Nashville, but we didn’t use all of it. We were going to just use some of it, and then we ended up throwing away the whole thing.
AD: So Hung at Heart was ultimately recorded in the same homespun, DIY fashion as your past releases?
BN: Yeah. I mean kind of. Essentially. It’s just kind of like a mixtape. The ones we liked the most out of what we wrote. But this time we went and made the record and then got to redo it, so we got to play the material a little and kind of work it out a little more—usually we just write something and we’re done.
AD: Brooks, I always thought that the way you sing is a bit rapping—you have a distinctive “flow.” Do you listen to a lot of rap music?
BN: Uh, no. When we were kids. But that’s how I started, freestyle rapping at parties, being a drunk kid. And then someone had a guitar and I was like, “oh I can do that too!” I was more Bone Thugz, Matt was more Wu-Tang. That’s how we roll. I refuse to listen to new shit now, although I’m sure there’s still some underground guys doing cool shit, but that shit on the radio (groans).
AD: Well is there a canon of music—new or old—that everybody in The Growlers is usually down to listen to while you’re hanging out or driving?
MT: Yeah… We all like White Fence a lot.
BN: If Captain Beefheart came on everyone would love it, and I think if the first Strokes record came on we’d all love that too. So it’s all over the board. We’re real open minded. We listen to a lot of pop country on the road.
MT: Yeah we seriously just listen to the radio.
BN: It’s the most ridiculous shit besides rap… or it’s pretty similar.
AD: I think rap and country have a lot in common.
BN: Rap is starting to get into that game. So we’ll see what happens. I think ever since Hootie got in there, it’s going to open the gate for hip hop to just walk in and take over country.
AD: Yeah. And what about Lionel Ritchie?
BN: He’s doing country? Yes! I’ve got to hear that. I love when people make county records. Jonathan Goes Country is a great record. Everyone’s like wait a minute, country’s the most profitable music business there is! I’ll get some boots! That’s what we’re going to do when we’re washed up too.
AD: Is your bus still around? You toured in a decorated bus at one point.
We had two. We killed one, we killed the other. It was something we knew we had to do just for fun to see what the hell it’s like. I guess we liked the Acid Test stuff and we really wanted to do it. But it became an issue, like, a little too hippie… too big of an attraction. “Hey man! Your bus is awesome, can I go inside? You’re livin’ the life!” No… get the fuck outta here, we’re working. It got creepy. It was fun, but I got big kid like really quickly. Once you’ve partied in the bus you’re like, alright dude, we did it.
MT: Yeah… except we did it every night. It worked out ‘cause we had bunks in it and stuff.
AD: RIP. Only when you become the guys with the hippie bus do you really ask yourself if you want to be the guys with the hippie bus.
BN: Plus it was expensive. At first we were winging it… riding dirty. No anything. No paperwork. And that was cheap. But once we had to grow up and get the actual car insurance, it was expensive. The bus started breaking… so I had to park it. I’ll probably turn her into something else. Make it like a cool spot in our new warehouse. Park it inside.
MT: Crash it into the wall.
BN: Make it a guest bedroom. Put a Jacuzzi in it, you know… I had a dream that I rented El Caminos that had hot tubs in the back that pulled up to your party. It was kind of sick.
AD: Does that business exist?
BN: No. I mean, it could happen. I don’t have the time but it’d be a pretty cool move.
MT: “Here she comes! Hop in the back! 5 dollars.”
BN: “Alright. I’ll pick up the El Camino tomorrow… no peein’ in it!”
AD: Let’s discuss a couple of specific songs. What’s the story behind “Gay Thoughts?”
BN: I’d like to make some shit up to make it more interesting—it was “Bad Thoughts” and I changed it to “Gay Thoughts,” maybe joking? I don’t know, but then it immediately made sense as like… a really good song for gays. And then I got the idea that we could make a really good gay video with it, and I kinda went with it, and it snowballed into something where, you know, we play San Fran and there’s a lot of gays who show up and start tellin’ me how much it means to them. That’s kinda cool how it worked out though, right? It’s a fun one to play around the country, because you get in the right area and think, “they’re not going to like this,” and then all of a sudden they’re going off to that song more than any other and it’s like, OK, cool, they handled that one very well. It’s a serious song and I sing it seriously.
AD: I imagine one can read into that song a few different ways. But maybe there’s an argument that a song like “Gay Thoughts” normalizes singing about homosexuality for a band full of straight dudes…
BN: We’re from an area where we grew up saying “gay” and “fag” a lot. There’s other bands I see doing it too, like The Black Lips, and they get a lot of shit for it, and we have before and I understand why we shouldn’t be saying it and stuff, but that was a hard habit to kick, you know? “Hey, that shit’s gay. Don’t be a fag.” Even though I grew up around cool gay people and there’s never a homophobe bone… So this song has fully redeemed us. I think we can still say gay now.
AD: I guess so… if you feel like you’ve earned it. What’s the story behind the “Hashima” song (aka “Drinkin’ the Juice Blues”)?
MT: That’s a Tinariwen cover! I heard that band and I didn’t know they were a modern band or anything. Shits so good! It was crazy.
BN: So what happened was my chick’s boss gave me some CD of 60’s Turkish music and that was on there and I was like, “dude! I got this old shit and nobody’s heard it. Let’s cover this song… Well fuck, we can’t figure out what they’re saying,” so I’m like, “well let’s make up words.” And through that process we found out it was Tinariwen and they were a current band. I didn’t even think they had come over to tour here yet, but now they are and they should because they’re fucking killer. I found a bunch of other bands that sound just like them and have similar revolutionary stories…
MT: Kind of like Wu Tang Clan where they all kind of like branch off and do their own shit but it’s all like the same shit you know? It’s kind of weird covering a band that’s still around. I saw them play, and the best part of the show is just them walking offstage. They just picked up their guitars and strutted off with their heads back all cocky. It was so rad.
AD: Tinariwen’s great. I wonder what life is like for them…
BN: It’s nice. They’re like cartoon characters, they have the same outfit every day.
AD: Maybe The Growlers should go play at that desert festival.
BN: Where is that?
AD: In Mali.
BN: Mali… California?
MT: Is that a new town that used to be called Ecstasy?
AD: Yeah… No, actually there’s this festival in the Sahara Desert and a bunch of those Tinariwen-related bands usually play there every year. Sometimes American bands play there too.
BN: We just show up and cover “Hashima?” Yeah, I’d like to hear what they think about that, because those are the most ridiculous lyrics I’ve ever written. They’re like… “fuck this guy!” I bet the song is actually a heart-felt, really serious…
AD: So assuming The Growlers don’t go to Mali, what’s coming up next? More touring or is the band going to take a break until the album comes out?
BN: With all this shit getting pushed back, we got a little confused. This stuff is supposed to be so pre-planned that you just live by the calendar, you know what you’re doing a year ahead from now. We’ve never gotten to that point. We’re always behind schedule. But we’re planning out January now, we’re going to do a full US tour. April, we’ll be going to Europe for the first time heavily—we’ve done the UK slightly—and then come back and tour our asses off all summer with the new record and then back to Europe in the fall. words/a spoto