The Growlers' noirish and articulate guitar explorations have been slinking their way onto stereos with a quickness of late. The band's surfers-on-mushrooms reputation belies their industriousness, which includes at least seven records in the last five years, and also the Beach Goth Party, which invites all manner of like-minded acts to converge in Orange County for a celebration of what might be called the musical antithesis of Orange County. The following is a transcript of a telephone conversation with Growlers vocalist/songwriter/founding member Brooks Nielsen.
What are you doing right now?* Layin' on my couch. Just got in at like three in the morning.
Where did you get in from? San Antonio, Texas. We drove straight here.
What did you have for breakfast this morning? Uh, I haven't eaten yet.
What will you have for breakfast? I think I'm gonna hold out. I'm gonna go meet my chick and get some ramen.
What's the best thing that's ever happened to you on tour? Um... shit. Nothing is popping into my head.
How about just a good story. I gotta be careful. I can't tell most of those stories.
Okay. What's the worst? One of the guys got arrested once and went to jail, so we had to play a show without him.
What did he get arrested for? I can't talk about that.
Fair enough. Well, I can, but he wouldn't be happy [laughs].
So you guys play a shitload. Do you have any rules for survival on the road? Yeah, so it's tight quarters, so the main thing is to get along with each other, to respect each other's space. It takes bands a long time to get anywhere near making money and being comfortable, so a lot of them break up before they even have a chance to get there.
What do you guys tour in? A shuttle bus. I bought an old—well, kinda old now—Ford 450 shuttle bus, diesel, and I gutted it, and we built bunk beds, made it a nice, comfy RV.
Where did you grow up? I wandered around a lot, but the majority [was in] Dana Point, California.
What's it like there? It's a small harbor town. Lots of drunk old boat guys, and a small Mexican community, and surfers—that's about it. The surfers are popular there; the football team and all those guys are not.
This new record, Chinese Fountain, seems a bit darker and more self-aware, at least lyrically, than the previous ones. Would you agree, and if so, what do you think accounts for that? Well, I'm an introvert, kind of keep to myself, and unemotional. So writing songs is the only time I actually get to do that. And, I don't know, there's a heaviness, a lot of crazy shit going on lately, and I don't really get that fictional. Everything I'm writing about is directly related to me, or if not me, totally close to me. Or a lot of times, I'm just putting words to what the guys are doing. They don't always notice it, but they write a lot of dark music.
What do you mean when you sing, "The internet is bigger than Jesus and John Lennon"? [Laughs] Well there's that old, controversial quote that John Lennon got in trouble for saying, that he was bigger than Christianity, and I think now that times have changed, the internet has surpassed both.
I read this is your first time in the studio with an outside producer and engineer. Who did you work with, and how did it affect your sound? We got contacted by Dan Auerbach from the Black Keys. So we went out there thinking we were gonna let go, and we kind of ended up getting cold feet. I was afraid the record was going in the wrong direction, and we tried to squeeze too much work in. In the end, we didn't let go enough, and it didn't work out, so we had to shelve it. So we went back to redo it and recorded at [Seahorse Sound Studios in downtown Los Angeles], and it came out a little... not the same. This time we'd decided we were gonna be a little more open-minded, and I'm really glad we did, because it was a nice experience letting someone else take the burden of worry and work.
Who ended up doing that for you? Our manager J.P. has always wanted to produce us, but we would always tell him, "No—fuck you, dad." But this time, he brought it up, and I just said, "You know what, let's try it." He knows us better than anyone.
Please tell us about the firework accident. Well, real recently, my buddy passed away, and he was the one who lit the firework. He always had fireworks. He was a crazy dude. He was always like: "Let's go get some fireworks! I got a guy!" And we'd be like: "It's fucking October. Who has a guy?" [Laughs] Our place was like that. It was a pretty small house, but with a big boat-warehouse-type spot on the same lot. We were always having fireworks and ragers. And the one time he did it, the firework shot straight at the ground and apparently just smoldered there, then later caught fire and spread into our recording studio and caught all that on fire. I was out to dinner, and I came home to, you know, fire trucks and cops, and I said, "Oh shit." And I walked up, kind of in a daze, and then kind of acted like I was a bystander walking by. I don't know if I should be talking about this.
* Time is 2:43 p.m.