The Inner Workings of The Growlers: An Interview with Brooks Nielsen

BY Avery Amaya-Adle

For more than a decade, The Growlers have been slowly building their status as one of the most interesting and important rock bands in recent times. With a prolific seven albums out and an eighth on its way, the group from Southern California has been busy traversing the globe, playing sold out shows across Europe, and more recently across the United States.

PHOTO:  Taylor Bonin

The band is headed by frontman Brooks Nielsen and lead guitarist Matt Taylor, both spending a large part of the past two years up in Topanga Canyon, California writing their newest album, Natural Affair. Three songs have been released from the album so far, taking their sound more in the direction that we saw in their 2018 release of Casual Acquaintances, employing the use of synths and dual vocal tracks. A day ahead of The Growlers’ SummerStage show in Central Park, Avery Amaya-Adle chatted with Nielson for Blended.

Avery Amaya-Adle: How’s tour going? I know you guys are playing D.C. tonight.

Brooks Nielsen: Yeah, we’re in D.C. right now and it’s going good. Good shows and good fun.

AA: I know you guys are releasing an album soon and I know you guys released the title track “Natural Affair,” “Foghorn Town,” and “Try Hard Fool.” Why did you pick those three songs specifically rather than other songs to be released?

BN: I mean there’s a lot of thought process behind it. I was going back and forth between Matt and I and our manager. I thought “Natural Affair” was a strong song but it’s maybe not the poppiest song on the album but I just thought it was my favorite really. After that, “Foghorn Town” was a cool oldies feel to me so I thought it was kind of a fun song and then “Try Hard Fool” is kind of an old Growlers song. It kind of reminds me of the songs we’ve been making forever so that was kind of a give away to the fans.

AA: How did you decide what direction to go into for this album?

BN: Matt and I never talk about what we should do, where we should go, what we should try. It’s really just taboo and it kinda feels contrived to do that. It’s kinda just separating ourselves from everyone else in our lives and meeting up and throwing spaghetti at the wall. It’s literally trying so many songs that once you start chipping away at them you start seeing a connection between them.

AA: You’ve said you moved around a lot. How do you think that’s shaped the sound of each song and each album that you’ve written, because to me each album has a very specific sound to it, living in Dana Point, and then Long Beach, and then Downtown L.A. and then writing in Topanga Canyon with Kyle Mullarky. How do you think that affects the sound?

BN: There’s definitely a world perspective that comes in. You start to become a wiser person, seeing how people live everywhere, different cultures. You start to unglue what you’ve been told and everything you’ve been presented as life and how the world is. And as soon as you get out it makes you develop your own perspective, so that’s been a major positive. At the same time, I’ve protected myself of outside influences that I just feel is a bit selfish of me but I feel that there’s a lot of poisonous things. I’ve never dipped my toes in social media or current affairs. I literally read books and read history, novels and history so I’m really checked out.

And I think that’s why there’s kinda something there that’s keeping a familiarity of The Growlers through my know I’m not changing at all, musically, Matt is doing the opposite, constantly listening to contemporary things and old things and changing things and what he’s into and bettering himself and being inspired by different things and trying things and I have no idea what he’s doing. We are expanding and changing at the same time but remaining the same.

AA: Well, you do seem really passionate about writing and I know with a lot of the other albums you only had a few weeks or months to make them. This one was done over two years if I am correct. What were some of the things that felt different in having so much time to write?

BN: Too much time is too much fighting. With the deadline you can skip a lot of bullshit and get to the finish line. It’s kind of more of a painful process, it’s harder to make compromises, and it really takes a toll. It’s kinda annoying when you know how much work is involved and how much sacrifice goes into making a record. At this age, as much heart and soul you put into your project, you’re neglecting a lot of people so it’s difficult. And I know that art isn’t supposed to be a painless process and if it is it’s probably not very good, but it’s still fuckin’ difficult.

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AA: You also said in a recent interview that you were trying to keep in mind what fans think of your music rather than just yourself. What do you personally think people like about your music?

BN: Well I think there’s something organic and something raw about us. We’re not really professionals you know. We’ve always been amateurs and it’s kept us in this slow growing thing. I have no idea what I’m doing and I’m still learning things, or I’m refusing to.

AA: How conscious are you guys of the image that you present of yourselves to your fans?

BN: I mean it’s a scary climate. I’m terrified of it, but the other part of it seems simple. As long as it feels natural then it gets to fly and it gets to be out there, but if it doesn’t then you know. I’ve always documented this band. I’ve made sure we’ve had photographers as part of the family, but I haven’t been walking around doing documentaries listening to whatever comes out of people’s faces. I’m trying to paint a little bit of a picture and protect us. These are some of the funniest guys ever but in the wrong light they could take something we say and destroy us and it wouldn’t be fair so I do have to be somewhat protective.

AA: Can you explain what Beach Goth Records is? Is it technically a record label?

BN: Yeah I mean simply it’s just us. We tried to go to labels and it was just a letdown. And it just gets to that side of the business where I didn’t even want to be interested in this but I have to. And with the more hands that get involved, if they’re not really passionate about your thing, it kind of just gets in your way. We could have done it ourselves and it would have been done already. Out of necessity it kind of naturally came back here. To me it kind of feels like we’re bringing it back to the beginning. Really, you can’t add anything up until anything actually works. We don’t really see any results from anything. The only thing that we really see is what we’re touching and what we’re doing.

AA: What do you think of the music industry these days and have you seen a change at all from when you started compared to now?

BN: Yeah I mean the fans have incredible power now and I don’t know if that’s a good thing, but that’s what changed. And for me I kind of had to realize what my business is. It’s not really selling records, it’s being a performing artist, where there’s money and where we have the biggest connection is spreading love so I don’t really know what’s going on with the records that are out there and how they’re even listening to them. I’ve never been on Spotify.

AA: What’s the biggest challenge in the industry for you and your band?

BB: I don’t know. It’s a bunch of playing games. It’s uncomparable to the way things were and how good artists were. It all seems a bit cheap but whatever. I don’t do that. I make songs and I play them and I choose not to give into it. I saw an award ceremony like ten years ago and I was depressed for like a month ‘cause I wanted to quit. Like “this is my world?” but it’s not my world, I made my own within it and here, I’m happy. I don’t like to think too big or go outside of it ‘cause it’s all pretty gross and unattractive to me.

AA: I know you guys started out in a warehouse, throwing parties to release new music. Do you think a band could do that now?

BN: Yeah I mean wherever you gotta do it. We were poor. We couldn’t afford stuff and we had to live in a warehouse together and we’d play shows and all our money goes to barely make rent and if we are going to record something we don’t know anybody cause we’re in Orange County. We’re in the shadow of LA. and we have to record ourselves -- like “Oh I love you’re old lo-fi sound,” well, we wanted to sound like a big record but that’s all we had. It wasn’t on purpose.

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AA: What advice would you have for new bands?

BN: Know it’s a grind. Don’t let it discourage you because that’s what life is. You’re not joining a band because you don’t want to work. This is a real gig and it’s a lot of soul searching and a major sacrifice on your body and the time, but it’s fuckin’ rewarding. What this business is, it still makes more people happy more than anything else in the world, it’s music. We are the makers of love and happiness more than anybody so it is rewarding but it’s a grind.

AA: Where do you see yourself and your band in five years and are you happy with the level that you are at now?

BN: Yeah, I’m content. We love and respect the fans and I enjoy doing that but technology is changing so quickly, I don’t know what’s going on. Nothing is a litmus test to me. It’s not enough to look at comments and seeing what’s going on. We are slowly buttoning things up still. We’re slow learners, late bloomers. I think it’s kept us whole. It’s kept us original and real. Like I said before, I haven’t figured this shit out. This is the only way I know how to do it. I feel like in five years it’s all going to be a big blur.

Lead Image Credit: Taylor Bonin