The Growlers: Drinking whiskey, tripping out and getting weird for a living.
The Growlers is something like that dream in which you’re walking down a stormy California beach, tripping on acid. A quintet from Costa Mesa, Calif., this group nonchalantly turned the modern psychedelic genre on its head.
The band formed in 2006, when lead guitarist Matt Taylor and front man Brooks Nielsen started playing around with psychedelic sounds and infusing their experimentations with lyrics. They added Scott Montoya on drums, Anthony Braun Perry on bass and Kyle Straka on keyboards and guitar to round out the band. The five members don’t take themselves too seriously: They exude a natural goofiness, and the band’s name is a slang term for a shit—as in, “I’ve got to take a growler.”
Its sound is 1960s-era California beach rock crossed with psychedelia—heavy delay and reverb most definitely included. Through this blending of genres and the darkness of its lyrics, The Growlers found it had invented a new genre, what came to be known as “beach Goth.” Lead singer Brooks Nielsen explains: “At one point I wanted to write about death because I didn’t hear anyone doing it, and I thought it would be an interesting thing to do. I think it’s an important thing to talk about, so I kind of went for it.”
Not that any member of the band looks Goth. They’re all into bright colors, wigs, costumes and making each show a theatrical production. At a show, one member may wear a Hawaiian shirt with boots made to look like bear claws, while another may be in a sparkly shirt and tighty whiteys.
“My goal is to entertain, at the end of the day,” Nielsen says. “Yeah, I want people to hear the music, but at the same time it’s got to be fun, and it’s got to stay interesting for me because it’s the same thing night after night. If I don’t try to get weird with it, we get bored quickly.”
Not surprisingly, Growlers fans emulate the band and are equally weird—if not weirder.
“For the most part I don’t know what the hell they’re on. They dress goofy and dance like crazy. And they stick around. I make myself very open, I don’t hide in the back room, so I’m easily approachable, and I get to meet all the weirdoes first hand. It hasn’t gotten too dangerous yet.”
As far as plans for the new year, there is a lot on the Growlers’ plate. A new album, Hung At Heart, is slated for release Jan. 22, after almost a year in the making. Where other bands often take years to put out albums, one year turns out to be a long time for the Growlers.
“If I had my way, we’d be putting out records monthly, not one every year,” Nielsen says.
Part of the reason for the delay is that Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys had started as the album’s producer. While The Growlers and Auerbach got along well, in the end the collaboration didn’t stick and all of the recorded material was scrapped.
“I think we may have jumped the gun there,” Nielsen says. “(Auerbach) was going in a direction that would’ve been good for us, but it was more of a radio sound. It was borderline. I had to take it back and keep it rough.
“There were things happening that I didn’t want. We were being assholes about the thing until it was over, going ‘Ah, I don’t like it, I’m sorry.’ I think it just happens sometimes when people collaborate, it just doesn’t turn out right in the end.”
So the band re-recorded the album on its terms, in true Growler fashion.
“There’s some weird dark stuff on there,” Nielsen says. “But I would say it’s happier, cleaner. It’s a little bit different from the other stuff. We experimented with some of the music we haven’t really messed around with, some funkier stuff and some more obviously country stuff.”
Country psychedelia sounds odd, but for a band this stubborn with its sound, it may work. Not that the band members would notice.
“We kind of just show up, drink a little, make the set list and go for it,” Nielsen says.
The drink of choice for this hard-partying psych band?
“Whiskey. We all drink whiskey. I don’t drink beer. I like to drink to get drunk and not just have a drink.”
But he avoids reminiscing his stories from the road.
“I don’t remember them, you know?” he said. “It’s kind of hard. It’s like if you want to walk into a record store and buy a record, but you forgot every record you were thinking about buying.”
We know the feeling.
1. The Growlers - "Camino Muerto"
2. The Growlers - "One Million Lovers"
3. The Growlers - "The Graveyard's Full"