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Take guitar glitch, fuzz on overdrive and dance-drone. Add some blip jams and sophisticated phrase-sampling, and cram everything into four minutes of aural calisthenics, and you have the sound of NYC-by-way-of-Olympia-Washington outfit Growing. It’s not quite dance music, not quite noise rock, definitely not pop punk—and definitely not the radio-friendly glop that streams daily out of KROQ.
So you might be surprised to learn that Growing’s bassist/multi-instrumentalist Kevin Doria grew up in Yorba Linda. Less surprising: He skipped town for Olympia at age 18. “I basically split as soon as I could afford to,” he says. “It wasn’t for me.”
Still, hitting puberty in Orange County and going to “pretty crappy punk shows” in the late ’90s did more than just scare Doria away. A punk influence can be seen in Growing—more in the band’s improvisational, do-it-yourself technique than anything that comes out of their mixers.
Not that the band—Doria, Joe DeNardo (guitar) and Sadie Laska (samplers, microphone)—have anything against the verse-chorus-verse (“and another chorus thrown in there, if there’s time,” Doria says and laughs) method of songwriting. “It just wasn’t the way that I wanted to work,” Doria says. “It’s a common thread in the band—we aren’t committed to making music in that style.”
And don’t use the lazy music critic’s common terms for them either: “We’re not post-rock, ambient pop or noise rock,” DeNardo cautions. “We don’t give a shit about those labels. We just play music we like to make.”
That has been the band’s mantra since they formed about 10 years ago. Early in the band’s catalog, Doria and DeNardo were tinkering with heavily processed sounds, looping and delaying guitar melodies, using feedback and changing sound textures with volume pedals. Their songs were slow-moving, instrumental pieces that captured nature sounds and used heavy drones as texture. “We were in different places mentally, and we were younger,” Doria says.
Today, their music could just as easily be called glitch dance pop. Pumps!—their latest album, on Vice Records—is rhythmic and dance-y, and it’s a focused, cohesive set. There are spiralling synths mixed with bitcrushed guitar layers, texturized vocal samples and dubstep beats. If you added a compressed vocal and a well-produced hook, some songs wouldn’t sound out of place on a Britney Spears album.
Don’t expect straightforward sing-alongs from Growing. That said, Doria hopes audiences can still have fun at their shows—after all, you can always dance. Making sure everyone has fun is a new goal, one that’s come up as their music has become more pop than not. If it’s not quite radio-friendly, Pumps! is way more accessible than anything they’ve previously released.
Their label describes it as “Animal Collective on Hyperdub.” To Doria, it’s their strongest album so far—one that showcases their evolution as a band. “As an artist, it’s really important to change and develop ideas. If you’re a painter and you make the same painting for 10 years, than maybe you’re boring,” he says, laughing.
While you could credit the sound shift to the band’s move to New York City, there’s also a need to try different techniques and use different gear. On their latest, for example, Doria shows off his recent exploration of Jamaican dancehall music. “I don’t use the same kind of beats, but the drum machines they’re using are not dissimilar to the stuff I’m using,” he says. “It was the first time I heard the equipment that I had sound good to me, and it gave me the confidence to have the wherewithal to accept the sounds that were coming from these not-top-of-the-line drum machines.”
Other things haven’t changed, such as their songwriting method: “People bring parts to the table, and we sit around and rehash and try to get things to stick,” DeNardo says. For Pumps! the biggest difference is Laska. “It’s the first record we’ve done with Sadie, so it’s more complex with more people in the process.”
And maybe geography does have something to do with Growing’s songwriting—consciously or not.
“Any time you’re making something . . . where you are is going to influence it,” Doria says. But it’s not a big deal. “We’re always going to make whatever we want to make, and that will always be influenced by our surroundings. But at the end of the day, if we’re happy with it, that’s what matters to us.”