The Growlers Would Like You to Be a Safe Goth
Now in its fifth year, The Growlers' festival, Beach Goth, is freakier than ever, featuring the likes of Gucci Mane, Patti Smith, Bon Iver, and more.
Beach Goth boasts the best festival lineup this year. Where music weekenders struggle to make their gatherings stand out in the mélange of mega-fests, Beach Goth's selection is gloriously eclectic and in some cases, when you imagine the artists standing shoulder to shoulder, downright bizarre. Melanie Martinez and Bon Iver! 2 Live Crew and James Blake! Nicholas Jaar and TLC and Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Kali Uchis! Here's praying by some twist of weird—or the organizer's prankstery savvy—so that Gucci Mane and Patti Smith end up sharing a dressing room. As strange as it seems at first glance, this kind of bill caters for who we are these days: we're less tribal in our tastes and cliques, and more likely to throw down to Justice one minute and Devendra the next. Founded five years ago by So-Cal band The Growlers (who top the bill as hosts both nights), and taking place at the Santa Ana Conservatory this weekend, Beach Goth was initially born out of the band living in warehouses and throwing parties in said warehouses. "What we do gets kind of monotonous—getting shuffled out of a club every night," explains frontman Brooks Nielsen, over beers in Brooklyn, ahead of their recent New York shows. "This is kind of the one time of the year when we get to curate and make something weird. We've been working with a promoter for a long time, and it's just really been snowballing, getting weirder and better."
Scoring a fresh-out-of-jail Gucci Mane is definitely the festival biggest coup. The idea behind Beach Goth is simple: dress up and have a good time. The latter is assured but The Growlers—made up of Brooks, lead guitarist Matt Taylor, and keyboardist/guitarist Kyle Straka—say they're still working on getting every last person at the fest to dress like a loon. Ideally they'd like it to be like Bestival—arguably the UK's best boutique festival where everyone dresses to an annually changing theme. Last year the trio, flanked by their touring band, smothered themselves in silver paint so that they looked like a troupe of living statues. You know, the kind that stand frozen on Venice boardwalk, melting in the California sun. It was perfectly apropos that in this guise they covered The Doors "People Are Strange," and that during said song, who should saunter onstage but Julian Casablancas to croon the Jim Morrison classic along with them. The Strokes frontman is a long-proclaimed fan of The Doors, but he's also the producer of The Growlers lately released fifth record City Club, their first on his label Cult Records.
Founded on the holy trinity of surfing, skating and partying, The Growlers formed ten years ago, releasing their debut LP Are You In Our Out three years later. All lo-fi, surf-rock grooves (wassup reverb!), Nielsen's insouciant vocal delivered (possibly) from a prostrate position on a couch, beer in hand. Their songs were part demented organ waltz, part retro 60s pop. The kind of tunes you can imagine emanating, muffled, from a dark basement only to have the door swing open to reveal a rambunctious speakeasy where everyone's brilliantly boozy. While 2014's Chinese Fountain might've been mellow and perfectly parsed back, it was also markedly more high def than previous outings. It makes the bold strides of its follow-up, City Club seem like a logical leap.
Alongside Shawn Everett (who's worked with everyone from Weezer to Alabama Shakes), Casablancas toiled with the band to mold 13 songs that sound like The Growlers, but amplified. There are slinky synths, there are sax blasts, and there bass lines that creep ("Vacant Lot") and bounce (I'll Be Around"). Note the plinkety guitars of the title track are very INXS. The reverb is dialed down with new layers deftly applied. The kind of music that'll make you wanna dance like Beetlejuice—who Nielsen definitely channels in their video for the Mad-chester swaggering "I'll Be Around" (watch below). It's more pop, that's for sure, but with their newly minted immediacy they sacrifice none of their cool. If anything this record, particularly when delivered live in their inevitably coordinated matching threads, makes their party time-excellent stage show even more of a celebratory good time. But what would you expect from a band who hire at 60 plus year old Cher-impersonating drag queen to open for them?
Noisey: What was the jumping off point for this record. What song set the tone?
Brooks: There's too many to choose from. We brought in Julian to cut stuff, but he was too positive to do that.
Matt: We made so many, and the ones we actually picked were the ones with a weird vibe… the coke-ier ones.
Do you notice any lyrical themes you are returning to? We premiered "Night Ride" not long ago which was the scene is getting old and you're doing all the same things you've been doing forever. It's got that great too true line of: "Tomorrow night'll go on without you / Go on without you there / Till dawn and no one will care."
Brooks: It has a lot of that. We made a move from Orange County to Long Beach right before this record. Right now I feel like I'm permanently gone. Us starting a band was a way to get out of our small town, and I feel like I did it again. There are a lot of other things in my life too, but it's about getting older and bitching about it.
How old are you?
Brooks: It's not really old butwhen you're in a band, sometimes it feels like it's only been a minute sometimes it feels like a long time. I feel like most of these bands can't stay together long enough to reap the rewards and finally breakthrough. We get along well.
Did you celebrate your 10-year anniversary?
Brooks: We should do that…have a reunion and find all of our first members.
What happened to those guys? They're buried in the backyard.
Brookes: You had to see who had the work ethic to do this. When you first start a band, it's fun but you don't realize it's a job as well, so some of the people got left behind along the way.
You met Julian Casablancas back in 2009. Were you at all apprehensive to work with him?
Mike: He was always someone we put on the list for producer, but he didn't know that. We didn't reach out to him or anything. We thought that'd be too weird.
Brooks: My wife was talking at him at a bar in LA, and he asked, "Do you know how the Growlers are doing? Are they making any money yet?" She said no. The idea slowly started there. It came together fairly quickly. We just jumped on it. Yeah of course, we'd love to do it with Julian. We met up and he said, "Hey I'll be as involved as you want me to be—barely or completely." We picked completely.
And now he's faux-fellating you on stage! It's so weird how that happens. Like, "Woah we loved him as teenagers!" Now look! But what did he actually do?
Brooks: He gave us more time that we've ever had. At one point we were like this has taken forever, but on the other hand we had more time to see through ideas instead of bum-rushing into everything. We've always made our records in two weeks or one month, writing until mixing. We got in there and got to keep chipping away at ideas. We had made the record before we went in there, up in Topanga. There were songs Julian wanted to mess with and once where he was like, you do what you want with that one. He brought a lot of foreign ideas to us, Frankensteining, a lot of computer stuff we had never dealt with, guitar solos. We had to be patient through it and it was worth it…it made a lot of the songs stronger and completely different. He'd pick up a lot of the guitar and the piano. Pick up a microphone and pass it around, keep on making melodies with ridiculous lyrics. It's hands on.
I applaud your use of the sax. I am very into the saxophone. I love it when people whip one out on stage.
Brooks: Oh you're a sax fan? So you might be familiar with Matt's guy. What's your boy's name?
Brooks: The buff guy from Lost Boys.
He's not the guy on the record?!
Matt: We tried to get him, but he lives in New York. We tried to fly this guy out.
That would have been so amazing if that was true! You tried to track him down?
Matt: He's around. If you look at his Wikipedia, it's amazing. He's known for his muscular physique and his sexy stage appearance.
Is he still saxy?
Matt: I think he still comes out with his shirt off and greased up, that's for sure. He wears chains and stuff. A codpiece. Our sax guy wasn't as sexy, but he was funny.
Brooks: We had a holding piece on the demo where the keyboard sounded like asaxophone. Then we were like, we gotta get the sax man and then we went sax crazy—play another one, do something crazy and something emotional. It just kept going.
Matt: Julian came back and was like, "I leave and you guys put saxophone on everything? What the fuck… I'm never leaving again."
That's exciting to me. You mentioned you were interested in Afrofunk while you were making the album. What stuff were you listening to, how were you getting into it?
Brookes: I started running a lot. It's the first time I'd ever used headphones in my life. I was freaking out, it was like I had never listened to music before. I started listening to albums I thought I didn't hear well enough. I started listening to Fela Kuti and got obsessed. I listened to every live song over and over again. Recently I got into William Onyeabor. I'm not even a big music listener, it's mostly these guys. They are my inspiration and tell me what to listen to.
What were you guys listening to?
Matt: Well, to be honest, the two Afrofunk songs on the album… I was supposed to make a surf song for an edit for a buddy and he gave me a reference. It sounded nothing like the song he wanted reference, but it ended up being really sick. We ended up elaborating on it for "I'll Be Around" and "Rubber and Bones." We just kind of took it from there, from this demo for a surf film. I'm not like a big Afrofunk guy.
Brooke: Matt's been in an 80s phase for five years.
Who else apart from the Sax Man from Lost Boys?
Matt: Jerry Rafferty, I can never think of bands on the spot.
Kyle: Roxy Music is one.
Brooks: I think you had an Eagles cassette tape in your Corvette for a while.
Matt: Yeah, I hated The Eagles until I got a Corvette. My buddy and I went out to Palm Springs and we listened to The Eagles the whole way there and back in the Corvette. It's an '89 white corvette, the top comes off.
That's pretty ridiculous. Who is the best dancer?
Brooke: He's got a very crackhead aspect to his dancing. His knees are buckling. His legs are dragging. Like a fast-forward zombie.
Matt: It's like his mouth is foaming or something.
Kyle: I got into breakdancing just last night.
Nice. Brooks how carefully will you be monitoring your baby's music taste?
Brooks: I can already tell he's going to be a hip-hop kid. He's already an old, fat Italian man that loves hip-hop. I want to monitor his screen intake, phones, computers. It's hard. I guess it's going to rub off on him. He's here in New York. He'll be at the show tonight with his little headphones. He's five months.
Holy shit, I didn't know they made headphones for babies that small.
Brooks: He's not a small baby.
Oh, he's a chunky monkey. You just called him fat. Don't give him a complex so early! If you could say one thing to anyone attending Beach Goth, what would it be?
Matt: Sneak in as much liquor as you can because there is only beer and wine. There's no liquor in there.
Brooks: Don't drive drunk when you leave! Don't die. Don't overdose. And dress up. There are Halloween stores everywhere!
- Gucci Mane
- The Strokes
- the growlers
- Cult Records
- Patti Smith
- Julian Casablancas
- Surf Rock
- beach goth
- city club
- shawn everett
- Brooks Nielsen