The SoCal so-called “beach-goth” outfit the Growlers' current tour leads them straight to Lollapalooza, where they're the first band to play on the Red Bull Soundstage Friday afternoon in Chicago's Grant Park. The band -- vocalist Brooks Nielsen, guitarist Matt Taylor, bassist Anthony Perry, keyboardist Kyle Straka and drummer Scott Montoya -- has been together since 2006. But until very recently, the Growlers was just a way for five dudes with boring day jobs to blow off steam in their free time.
“We just started touring two years ago,” says Nielsen, the Growlers' main songwriter. “Before that we were just sitting in the warehouse, making music and surfing. We're not rolling in the dough or anything now, but we all quit our day jobs and we're just steadily touring, slowly building it up and doing this thing for real.”
The Growlers kicked into overdrive in 2008, when they accidentally launched the “Couples” series. “We started out thinking we would just do a couple songs,” recalls Nielsen, “which is why we called it 'Couples.' But then we thought, 'Hey, this is lame, nobody wants a CD with just two songs on it.'”
"Couples" ended up taking on a life of its own. The idea was to record eight albums in eight months, then self-release the albums. They began writing songs at the beginning of each month, and by the end, they had put out a full-length packaged in handmade silkscreen covers, and had organized a record release warehouse show.
“It was so much work,” says Nielsen. “It was good for us to prove to ourselves that we could write that much music, and we realized we work really good under pressure. We didn't have a label or anything, so we figured we'd put the flame under our own asses. Looking back, I think we could've been easily doing an album each month right up until today.”
The plan worked. The success of the eight installments in the “Couples” series led to two albums released by the Los Angeles label Everloving: 2009's “Are You In Or Are You Out?” collected 18 of the best recordings from “Couples,” and 2010's “Hot Tropics” featured 10 new studio recordings.
The band's most recent release is a tour-only 7-inch, with a lead-singled called “Uncle Sam's A Dick.” “When we played the song in D.C., everyone was probably upset because we were talking shit about their daddy,” jokes Nielsen about the tune, which captures the band's acid-soaked, doom-laden and freaked-out psych-rock sound. But The Growlers aren't sticking it to the man for no reason -- there's a story behind it.
“I was never really unhappy, but we've always just made dark music. I guess I just always tried to write 'cool guy songs' or 'drug songs' or something like that."
“The band's poor,” says Nielsen. “I'm poor, and I got slapped by Uncle Sam with this fine for throwing a cigarette out the window of a car. It was a park ranger at Huntington Beach. He wasn't even a fucking a cop! It was a whole ordeal; I had to go to court and everything. It really set me back.”
The Growlers' next album, which was recorded with Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys (also playing the Red Bull Soundstage at Lollapalooza on Friday), is finished, but they're currently on the market for a label. “Sometimes I feel like this album's cursed, but hopefully it will be out by October,” says Nielsen. “It all has to do with timing in the industry and blah, blah, blah. It's more grown-up than anything else we've done. I wrote a lot of love songs for it, which is something I haven't been doing for the last few years. It's less dark and drone-y, and happier.”
“I was never really unhappy, but we've always just made dark music,” he continues. “I guess I just always tried to write 'cool guy songs' or 'drug songs' or something like that. There's also a lot of humor. I have a problem with taking things too seriously, so none of the songs are too lovey-dovey. Who knows, maybe I'm getting wiser with age.”
Follow Elliott Sharp on Twitter @ElliottSharp for more music news and other assorted opinions.
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