The Growlers are slowly embracing change
Brooks Nielsen doesn’t mind suggesting that, despite all appearances to the contrary, he’d probably make a pretty good drill sergeant. For that, you can credit his father, who went out of his way to teach his son that there is a right way to do things and a wrong way.
“He was a fountain builder, and I worked with him for about 10 years,” says the Orange County–based frontman for the Growlers, on the line from his hometown of Costa Mesa. “During that time I heard ‘Wrong!’ a lot. Like ‘You mop before you sweep!’ I catch myself doing that to other people, even though back then I’d be thinking ‘Mop before you sweep? That’s just stupid.’ ”
Suggesting that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree, Nielsen has increasingly found himself thinking that it might be time for someone to step up and steer the Growlers in a new direction. For the past six years, the five-piece has taken a determinedly Sominexed approach to business, releasing deliciously druggy records that draw equally on shambling garage pop and psychedelicized country. Think the Black Angels righteously stoned on the Meat Puppets’ seminal Up on the Sun and you start to get the idea.
Quite infamously, Nielsen and his laid-back conspirators have refused to budge from this approach. That was made abundantly clear last year when the group announced that it was scrapping an album recorded with heavy hitter Dan Auerbach. The Black Keys singer-guitarist is a major fan of the Growlers, to the point that he agreed to produce the record that would eventually be released as Hung At Heart. Initially thrilled as they were about that, Nielsen and bandmates ended up worried that their songs sounded too digital, subsequently heading back into their own studio and doing everything all over again on run-down analogue recording gear.
“We’re slow to grow,” admits the singer. “We’ve never really had a plan. Anytime anyone has tried to get involved, we’ve been like ‘Forget it—we’re going to do it ourselves.’ But that’s changing. We just went and recorded in Mexico City—we were like ‘Let’s find a studio and do something with some Mexicans.’ So we went in and worked with a guy, Camilo Froideval, who is a classical pianist.
“This guy was like ‘Let’s try this—you can tell me if you think it sucks,’” Nielsen continues. “It was the first time I’d ever sat with someone doing vocals—I’ve never been taught how to sing, or had any advice. This guy was like ‘We can do some harmonies.’ A whole new world opened up.”
Based on the Growlers latest, the group is already headed down a path where change is something not to be feared. The band’s next EP, the due-in-November Gilded Pleasures, is being billed as an outing designed to simulate “R&B making out on mushrooms”. That makes the band sound like it’s suddenly discovered ball-hugging jump suits and Conk-sculpted pompadours. But fans will be relieved to hear that—even if Nielsen’s singing is a little clearer and more soulful—the Growlers still sound pretty much like the Growlers, which is to say pretty fucking great, especially if your daily pot consumption includes at least two full bowls of Flying Burrito Brothers–brand bud.
Still, to listen to Nielsen, there’s always room for improvement.
“I want this band to have more singing and more grown-up tunes on the next record,” he says. “I want things to evolve and change. I listen to old recordings of myself, and they are kind of hard to stomach.”