If you ask leading man Brooks Nielsen how The Growlers got their start, he’ll tell you he fell backward into music: that he and friend Matt Taylor started jamming, then played a house party, then another, until a record coalesced. Somewhere in between here and there, the band’s hometown of Costa Mesa adopted The Growlers as their resident freak-flag bearers. Shows were thrown and kids showed up in droves, from both sides of the tracks. White skaters and surfers commingled with Latino punks, forging a scene that has held tight around The Growlers’ “beach goth” tunes.
Musically speaking, The Growlers don’t sound too calculated either. The band’s ’60s-inspired surf guitars meander woozily, injected with a heady dose of psychedelia and wrapped in a serape of reverb and vocal effects.
“They moan, and I like that,” giggled one female fan, caught on video outside the band’s show in Nashville.
Today, The Growlers stand atop the roster of L.A. indie label Everloving Records. They’ve released four full-length albums, five EPs, and seem to be churning out new music faster than they can record it.
“We’re always filling our plate full,” said Nielsen last week from his Costa Mesa home, discussing Gilded Pleasures, the band’s recent nine-song EP for Everloving.
“Everything in our house is kind of gilded,” Nielsen explains of the title. “I make do with what I have, and the records are the same way. I start with a small idea or feeling and through us adding all the reverb and electric to it, it gets gilded.”
Below, Nielsen chats about hard work, California love, and finding inspiration. The Growlers play SOhO Restaurant & Music Club on Saturday, December 14.
You guys just got back from Europe. Did you fall in love with it? I’m a little too American for that. I do love it over there; you get into Spain, and it feels kind of like Southern California. It’s beautiful. But we have a bit of all that here, you know? I could fall in love with Amsterdam because of how loose it is, but it’s the same exact feeling where I’m at here, in every sense of it. I’m just too in love with California to cheat on her.
With three back-to-back sold-out nights in L.A. later this month, do you think the home shows have changed? I think we’re just lucky. We’ve thrown shows with friends’ bands and always had a really good thing here. From the beginning when we were doing warehouse shows, they were always full of crazy kids. We try to pay attention to our growth. The reason we’re playing The Echo [three times] is because if we do those larger venues, we have to charge a fan way too much money. Fuck the prestige of being in a big venue with some bigger bands. It’s more important for us to play some vibey spot like the Echoplex, and the fans get to afford it.
Is that also why you guys have stuck with Everloving? Yeah, somewhat. We’ve always been really shitty at planning and timing and all of that. I think a lot of bands know their schedule a year in advance, and we’ve never been like that. It’s been more like, “Shit, we’re so busy, and we tour a lot, and now we’re home, and we need a record, like, now.” Then we run into a studio and do it in two weeks and kind of go from there. We’ve never really been that band that had a chance to go shop around for labels. All I’ve heard is that the industry’s changing and labels are going to be obsolete, so I’ve always been in that mindset where it’s like, “Fuck it. We’ve got a label. Let’s put out a record.”
Let’s talk lyrics. Who or what inspires you? I never really get specific about songs. But nobody around me is safe, because I’ll write about everybody. People close to me are always asking, “Hey, is that song about me?” But generally if I start thinking about one person, I’ll end up thinking about every other person who’s experienced that same thing, and I’ll kind of tie it in. So if you think it’s about you, it’s usually about three or four other people, too. And it’s always a bit about me.
Have you ever thought about what you would do if you weren’t a musician? Yeah. I try not to think about it too much. When I first started doing this, I thought, “What the hell am I doing? Why would I want to be in a band? Why am I going onstage and wiggling around? What is the point of this?” But the more songs we wrote and the more we heard of people liking it and being inspired by it and the more the little Growlers fans popped up — it started making me feel better, like there was a reason to be doing this. It’s not completely kooky to be an entertainer. I don’t feel like an actor. I’m making people happy. This is good. And that’s all convincing, but you still second-guess a lot of things, you know? What keeps me going is that I know I signed up four guys to do it, too, and if I quit, they’re fucked, so I’m not quitting.
That’s the only thing? And there’s positive things that make you feel good, too, like finishing a record with your friends. That’s a huge thing, and it feels great.
The Growlers play SOhO Restaurant & Music Club (1221 State St.) on Saturday, December 14, at 9:30 p.m. Call (805) 962-7776 or visit sohosb.com for tickets and info.