Brooks Nielsen knows exactly what he wants, but he’s justnot very good at expressing it. The Growlers frontman is calmly sat on a leather stool in the lobby of Rotterdam’s Hotel Emma when we sit down for a chat, just ahead of a sold out show at the neighbouring Rotown. Last year, he and his band encountered a whirlwind year which saw their home studio burn down ahead of releasing new studio album, Chinese Fountain. Read on for more from our chat with Nielsen.
Last September, fourth studio album Chinese Fountain saw The Growlers rise through the ranks as their infectious brand of Beach Goth made its way through the musical stratosphere. The record is one which was marred by discussions of love, depression and loss. Shortly before recording was due to begin, a stray firework ensured that the bands home studio in California all but stayed standing. It was this, plus the death of a close friend, which sparked much of Chinese Fountain’s substance. “Matt (Taylor, guitarist) had some stocked up guitar licks and riffs. Him and I locked ourselves in a room for two weeks and cranked out all the material” explains the calm frontman, his hands lightly shaking and his stare completely blank. “There was very little time, and it pushed us to put things out” he continues to explain as a local crew member entrusts him with a venue wristband. We discuss the fire which destroyed their home studio, a building which also doubled up as living space for as long as the band can remember. “We weren’t used to recording without the house, so Kyle (Stratka, guitar and keys) came up to my house and we went there to write as soon as I got home” explains Nielsen, adding that the process of adaptation was very straightforward. “It doesn’t really matter to me; where it is and what’s going” he calmly states, seeming somewhat less fazed by the whole saga than you’d expect. Although it didn’t affect his outlook on work (during the early days of the band, Nielsen worked with water fountains), it definitely changed his personal life. With an extremely blank glare, Brooks tells me that he “dropped everything”. “I stopped going places or hanging out with people. I would wake up and be creative until I can’t stand it anymore”. This feeling of being unable to stand it anymore comes across more than once on Chinese Fountain, a record which is (as the title suggests) laced with Chinese imagery. The visual aspect of the record doesn’t have much to do with the lyrics or instrumentals, with Brooks stating that he went back and tried to find meanings afterwards. “I used to clean, build and fix water fountains, so that’s where some ideas came from” he tells us as bassist Anthony Perry walks by and asks for any suggestions to buy a nice coffee. After some to-ing and fro-ing with the long haired bassist, it becomes evident that the band are not in the mood for their usual hedonism tonight. Nielsen isn’t drunk, nor are his band high. Rather, Perry is on the hunt for coffee and Nielsen isn’t drinking. It’s possibly a stark realization that life on the road isn’t all the fun and games that it’s set out to become. The Growlers are exhausted, and it’s evident.
This exhaustion is partly down to the fact that The Growlers like putting out music sporadically. Nielsen is very clear in stating that the band just put out music “whenever we want”, and that they’re always full of ideas. “The most exciting thing about the band is making something new. We enjoy touring and we tour an exhausting amount, but it can become redundant a little bit”, adding that “the most time we spend off the road is when we’re writing”. Whether or not 2015 will see them release their fifth album in as many years remains to be seen, as it’s something which isn’t even up to Nielsen himself. The topic of whether or not they’ll put anything out is what ultimately gets him thinking, eventually musing about the way the industry works. “We can crank out the material like nothing and put out multiple albums per year, but the industry isn’t set up like that” he starts, adding that the band are currently in talks with labels, although not major ones. “To create a partnership to put out these records, we need to put in a lot of money” he explains, talking about the marketing and campaigning progress. “We just got used to recording as many songs as we wanted daily, but the industry isn’t like that” states Brooks, ultimately coming across as a man restricted to his creative limits. Musically, The Growlers describe themselves as Beach Goth, a phrase they coined themselves years ago. “I like how vague it (Beach Goth) is. It’s something that the kids enjoy and can play with, because we don’t really care” he laughs, adding that it was more of a fitting phrase at the time they originally coined it. “We’re playing a lot more reverb-y surf music, and during the Hot Tropics era I was singing a lot about death” he says, with both those elements adding up to equal Beach Goth. Nielsen thinks that the band have grown out of the phrase, but that it’s also something they can’t avoid caring about.
Caring is something the band do quite a lot, particularly when they come and go and make new friends on the road. The band are known to tour relentlessly, but it’s ultimately the crowds which drive them to play so much. “We show up, and the crowd hypes us up to play” he explains, adding that touring isn’t a job you can call in sick for. “There are too many people you could piss off” he jokes, adding that it isn’t really something he worries about. Being on the road in The Growlers works towards two things – 1) outdoing yourselves, and 2) having fun. The latter is something which the band were definitely good at, both onstage and offstage. Although their fun, hedonistic side wasn’t on show later that evening, it came close once a selection of women were planted stageside to watch on and go backstage. The encore saw the Californian quintet emerge with champagne and vodka, almost as if a celebration was to take place. “I don’t want to be a grump about it, but touring can be a pretty brutal job” he laughs, continuing by talking about the “pyschos” that the band come across on tour. According to Nielsen, the real crazies are the ones who show up with Growlers-related tattoos, something which he finds quite weird. Some fans have also tried becoming stowaways on the band tour bus, which is quite scary yet “nothing we’re afraid of”. Back in the US, the band are so popular that they’ve been able to put on their own festival for four consecutive years. Also titled Beach Goth, the October festival will this year see performances from Die Antwoord, Ghost, Julian Casablancas + the Voidz and the band themselves. When the band started the event, they never saw it getting this big; rather, it was a bit of fun which had a dig at “festivals with weird names, such as Lollapalooza or Bonnaroo”. Nielsen feels that festivals need to have something to latch on to, and that Beach Goth does exactly that. “There’s something quite cute about the way we do it” he explains, adding that the band do all the visual design and most of the setting up themselves. It’s stylized in the way that their first records are, simply because they financially couldn’t do it any other way. All the money they get from the festival goes straight back into it, so the band won’t be getting paid anytime soon. “We try to make the thing huge, but I ultimately just really enjoy watching all the weirdos hang out”. He thinks that there are too many festivals around right now doing nothing special, and that Beach Goth is the exception. “Beach Goth has become a lot more fun, weird and creepy. That’s nice, because everyone in the music industry takes themselves too seriously”. He’s right, too. The Growlers are doing their utmost best to set themselves apart from the seriousness of the biz, so much so that Beach Goth has become a musical statement of independence for the outcasts (i.e. The Growlers and friends). “All those respected artists can fuck off” he brashly claims, half-laughing with a serious glare in his eyes. The band don’t curate the festival line-up, and Nielsen admits that he doesn’t even know who half the bands playing even are. The band do throw a lot of ideas around, but finances eventually put a halt to them. “$200,000 for that guy? Oh, get fucked” he says as he imitates a Beach Goth promoter, concluding that a lot of stuff is quite last resort. Jeffrey Schulman is the real man in charge, essentially The Growlers’ boss. Although it doesn’t come across that way, as Brooks is very clear that nobody tells The Growlers what to do.
Nielsen’s biggest ambition is to see Beach Goth expand across multiple locations, yet not increase in size. He wants it to travel across Europe, much like Mumford & Sons’ Gentlemen of the Road tour. “Smaller events are better, but it’s hard because I’m so hypocritical. I don’t really like festivals that much, yet I’d love to create one that I love”. As for where he wants to see The Growlers in 10 years, Nielsen hopes to see them atop festival bills the world over. He isn’t afraid to preach global success, even if it’s from within the confines of Beach Goth’s persona. He finds it weird enough that they’re headlining their own festival, let alone one with “The Growlers and Paul McCartney in 10 years”. Aside from that, Brooks doesn’t have much of an idea about the future of The Growlers, rather taking everything as it comes. “I’d like to be financially stable so that all the guys can make good money” he does eventually add, hoping to see the back of days where they felt poverty-stricken and unable to spend money. “I like the way that our music is set up, and it should become better with age” he concludes, and this is something which couldn’t be more valid. The Growlers are like a fine wine – ripe at first, maturing along the way and becoming more tasteful with age. Let’s hope it stays that way.
Watch The Growlers’ video for Love Test below.