Q&A: The Growlers’ Brooks Nielsen on tossing quarters into a ‘Chinese Fountain’
With gruesome make-up, women’s wigs and costumes fit for a Halloween bash, a quick YouTube search of The Growlers will demonstrate the mad theatrics that the musical group often brings to a live show.
Known for its restless work ethic after releasing four LPs and five EPs in the last six years, the genre-bending musical group from southern California effortlessly lace together psychedelic vibes and surf-rock into a signature groove. Last year, they worked in the studio with The Black Keys’s Dan Auerbach on their third record, 2013’s Hung At Heart, but creative differences led to them self-producing it. Since 2008, they’ve released five EPs and four LPs including this year’s Chinese Fountain.
Before stopping in Eugene for a show on Oct. 14 with openers The Garden at The W.O.W. Hall, Brooks Nielsen, lead singer/songwriter from The Growlers, spoke with the Emerald for a brief interview.
How do you manage to be so productive and write so much new stuff?
Personally, it’s from when I grew up, I was expected that from my folks. I watched them work super hard to make sure that we could live by the beach. In the later role as The Growlers, it was instantly just calmly asking ourselves, “Do we want to do this? Are we going to be a band?”
It came down to being able to do a really strong schedule. We got into the mode of being able to write with very little time and very little money early on, it’s kind of the only way we know how to.
It’s easy to tell that Chinese Fountain is a more polished record than Gilded Pleasures or any of the previous albums. Is there a reason you guys wanted to clean up the fuzz?
I think we deserved to be in a studio like that. It’s kinda fucked up, but for such a long time we had no money and just had to buy crappy old equipment and try and record that way.
I like the garage sound, but it was never an idea of ours, it was what we had. It’s fun to do, but some people are like, “Oh, they changed!“ I’m like, “The fuck? You want us to stay in an old warehouse I used to live in forever?” At some point, we have to do what the rest of the industry does and go into an actual studio with real equipment and real engineers and play with the big boys.
So you guys recorded in a different studio?
Everything was done at home and then we did one record in an analog studio with Mike McHugh. That was at the end of Mike McHugh’s studio days. He was too junked out and it made it really difficult on us to make that record. We attempted it with Dan and that one didn’t work out. So we did one at Kyle Mullarkey’s own studio. This was the first time we went into a real studio with real engineers and got to leave with a product.
I read that working with [Black Keys frontman Dan] Auerbach didn’t work out because it was too clean sounding.
Kind of. That was just an immediate copping-out on the full explanation. It took some time to realize how much of it was my fault. I was just frustrated. I’m the young and dumb one. I came in with too many fucking songs and another time we had to learn the songs that day and put them in order and record it right after that. At the same time, we’re partying until 4 in the morning every night and it was just too much work for everybody. I don’t think I nailed it there. As far as through the mixing, yeah, I didn’t like the way it was sounding but it started before that. I just kind of blew it.
On “Chinese Fountain”, *the Internet is bigger than Jesus and John Lennon / and no one knows where we’re headed* Was this taken from the infamous John Lennon interview?
What happened is [guitarist] Matt [Taylor] went over and said, “I’m going to go write a hit.” And I’m like, “That’s so funny, I’ve never heard you say that before.” We were taking a break and we came in afterwards and we were like, “Let’s hear the hit, dude.” He played it and we were like, ‘That’s a fuckin’ disco jam.”
I wanted to go in the direction to take it away from the disco and I did it by referencing the changing times that I definitely don’t feel like we’re a part of, with the smartphones and the Internet. Before we went to record, I thought, “This is a cheesy line.” I feel like that because someone in the band would be like, “I don’t know if they’re going to like this song,” and I said, “Who cares if someone doesn’t like it? They won’t know who the hell John Lennon is and whose fault is that?”
It’s me trying to be funny again but in the end, I’m being silly.
Where do you get the ideas for what you wear on stage?
It’s hard to say. Some of it’s like, mostly from boredom. When you’re doing something and there’s so much monotony and almost every night is similar, it’s the same reason we end up drinking too much all the time. We always have that perspective because we don’t take ourselves too seriously and that’s a big problem in this industry.
We’re on the road, crawling across the country and running into these things like, “Oh my god, what’s that on the side of the road that someone threw away? Pull over. Grab it. Put it in the bus. Let’s bring it on stage tonight.”
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The Growlers will play with openers The Garden at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 14 at The W.O.W. Hall. Tickets are $8 in advance, $10 at the door. Doors open at 7:30 p.m.
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