The Growlers: Dichotomies of the Beachy and Gothic

Music Features

A transatlantic email instructs Brooks Nielsen to find a quiet place to sit. He and his band The Growlers are in Oxford, England, about two hours before showtime and quiet is, well, a relative term.

I think Nielsen is sitting backstage, but I can’t really hear him too well. His internet connection keeps going out, and as a result, our Skype conversation is a bit stilted. Something that sounds like a garage door opening clangs and groans, and Nielsen is quite obviously surrounded by people—band mates, friends and staff, I presume.

“Fuckers,” he grumbles, while trying to stifle a laugh. Apparently I missed the joke.

Throughout the entire interview buildup and communication breakdown, Nielsen is impossibly chill. No question fazes him or even seems to impress him. His demeanor presents a study of contradictions congruent with his band’s lazily psychedelic vibe. It’s why the term “beach goth” that originally started as joke encapsulates the band so impeccably.

“I dunno. [We were] living in Long Beach and we had just started. We were making dark songs and kinda surf music with lots of reverb…and right away I was trying to sing about death,” Nielsen mumbles.

“I was hearing songs come out of the band that were very dark, sonically. It was making me think of different things from growing up. I had a Catholic mother who talked about the devil, and it was memories of that. It’s not a subject I’m afraid of. Through all that I was writing dark songs being a surfer and having a surfer sound and people started calling us ‘beach goth.’”

Likewise, The Growlers’ new EP, Gilded Pleasures, shares a similarly dichotomous backstory. The contradictions arise in the lackadaisical feeling of the music compared to the rules band members set for themselves in creating it.

Nielsen tells me that when he and the guys were presented with an option of scrapping together a bunch of old demos and releasing an EP of rarities as a tour-piece for their current U.K. and upcoming European trek, he spat, “No, fuck that.” So in just two and a half weeks, Nielsen, guitarist Matt Taylor, drummer Scott Montoya, bassist, Anthony Braun Perry and keyboardist Kyle Straka wrote and recorded the extensive nine-track Gilded Pleasures EP. Starting with what Nielsen claims was around 12 songs, The Growlers then narrowed it down to what made Gilded Pleasures and recorded it with Kyle Mullarky (The Grand Elegance and the Abigails) in Topanga Canyon, Calif.

“Yeah, we always pack ‘em too much,” he admits. “I understand people have short attention spans, so we give ‘em short little records. But we see extra space as wasted space, so we fill them with as many songs as we can. We keep deadlining ourselves to make records. We’re like, we get off tour and then we go back on tour so we have three weeks to make a record.”

So when I ask why they do this to themselves, Nielsen bluntly responds, “In a way, it still is a job. I treat it that way, too…People need it in order to get shit done.

“I get motivated by work because when you work and put your heart into things, you get results.”

And yet, the silly, dopey side of the band still emerges, as someone in the background obviously hears my question and shouts, “It’s a game!”

As for Gilded Pleasures, the EP itself tries to feign ambivalence (which stands in stark contrast to their strict deadlines), is often quite funny and occasionally feels inaccessible, much like my conversation with the nasally voiced, slightly aloof frontman. The EP comes just a month after the Not. Psych! EP was released in Europe (with a mostly identical tracklist) and the band’s third studio album, Hung at Heart, which dropped at the beginning of the year. The Growlers’ trebly reverb and delay give the band a psychedelic air, most noticeable in “Pretend I’m Gay,” a hilarious ditty propelled by bouncy, Beatles-esque percussion. And lead single “Humdrum Blues” opens with a bumping bass riff while the upbeat “Tell It How It Is” has twangy guitars mirroring the verses’ vocal melody.

But Nielsen avoids delving into inspirations or heady analyses for Gilded Pleasures, electing instead to talk about the process and location. “It’s very simple,” he says. “It’s like most Growlers stuff. It was a nice time working with Kyle. It was very efficient and smooth. We weren’t sitting and waiting around. When you’re taking a break, you’re in a beautiful spot. It was just a nice atmosphere because when you do a record like this, you feel very rushed, so if you waste too much time on one thing, you miss out on being able to mix another song or do whatever. It’s a rushed record, but I don’t hear it when I listen to it.”

I agree. Gilded Pleasures sounds pretty cohesive and I tell him so, my voice peppy and awkward. This seems to have pacified the Growler, his voice gravelly and worn. He breathes affirmatively and drawls, “gooood.”

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