Just when I think I’m beginning to understand the Growlers, the band finds another way to confuse the hell out of me. For the last eight years, the mixture of members, photographers, filmmakers, producers, and engineers that have saddled up to the Growler camp has constantly swirled, but the wild stallion remains forging forward. Led by lead singer, Brooks Nielsen and guitarist, Matt Taylor, the group is switching up their sound, image, and creative direction yet again.
This time, the stakes are a bit higher, since they recently signed with the cult indie label led by The Strokes’ singer, Julian Casablancas, aptly titled, Cult Records. Scott Montoya is no longer in the band, Anthony Braun Perry is taking time off from the group, and the fans seem to be split about that fact, as well as the overall sound of the new album. Love it or hate it, the band is moving forward in a somewhat new musical direction, and is off to their next echelon with their new full-length, City Club.
If you stop to judge the album strictly as its own entity separate from anything the Growlers have done and been before, the compositions, lyrics, and tones certainly stand strong with a unique personality. Once you shake off that first listen—which usually involves a little confusion, a little judgment, followed by a minor feeling of betrayal—there is something happening that is quite catchy. When listening again, you realize that everything changes in order to survive; but then again, what Nielsen is saying in his storytelling hasn’t really changed. Then you think, maybe they’re actually onto something, and you’re just lucky enough to experience it as it’s happening.
“The production really wasn’t that crazy,” Nielsen says. “We made the record first with [Kyle] Mullarky, and then pretty much copied and pasted the thing and built off of it. It was pretty simple. It was just that beginning with us, and then handing it off to someone else to play the drums on, or play synthesizer, or saxophone, or whatever, and seeing it come to life in a way that I’ve never seen it before. Matt and I finally got to hear songs get close to what we envisioned them as being.”
Chinese Fountain has traces of what City Club became, had the Growlers had unlimited time and a healthier budget in the studio. This time around, the album is still rough in texture, but very cleanly produced. The mix and mastering gives the dynamics a depth that resonates deep when listening, and has slight hints of The Strokes’ own production efforts. As for the role of Casablancas in the studio, Kyle Mullarky explains, “Julian was the producer and a great one at that. He would always push us harder trying to make the songs better, helping with melodic hooks or taking songs into different styles. I think he helped the band expand their writing capabilities.” As for pinpointing a genre, all I can say is it’s synth rock made to sound like old rock, stuck in a space that is maybe somewhere out in the far reaches of the future; which makes me think, is the genre of beach goth changing, or rather, is it being left behind on City Club?
Mullarky discussed details about this new sound and image of the Growlers. He says, “If you’re not growing as a musician, the band can’t grow either. I feel like sometimes people get down on the Growlers for changing, but then eventually everybody comes around and they’re like, ‘Oh this song’s pretty cool!’ I think that’s going to be a big deal with the new record too. People might look at it and think, this sounds crazy! It’s another one of those things, and it’s another big change for the band, but I feel it’s necessary for all of them, and it’s better and it sounds great. You’ll see.”
Nielsen says, “I love that you talked to Kyle because Kyle has always really been a big behind-the-scenes figure in the Growlers. From the beginning we were influenced by his band, and seeing someone leave Dana Point and try something, and becoming a musician, and an engineer, and through these records, Mullarky’s been writing on the last three.”
The new album was released September 30th, and the famed Beach Goth Festival returns this year on October 22nd and 23rd to Orange County, even bigger and better than any rendition that came before, thanks to talent buyer Jeffrey Schuman of The Observatory. In this case, there’s nowhere to go but up, and things have certainly changed, and that’s the way it goes. Beach Goth is going to be a huge and unbelievable experience filled with an incredibly eclectic mix of music, including King Krule, Patti Smith, Violent Femmes, Future Islands, Grimes, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, and Gucci Mane.
“I don’t think I had the vision to see it being where it is now,” Nielsen says. “But like anything in this business, I’ve learned that nothing comes overnight, and still I know there’s a big amount of luck involved, and of course talent, but it’s also just really persevering and doing it until people have faith in you.”
It’s undeniable that the Growlers have influenced the new generation of musicians in Orange County, and there are so many upcoming bands trying to follow in their footsteps. Mullarky comments about scene, stating, “That’s the problem. It can’t be like that, because it’s gotta be fresh. The Growlers weren’t a very energetic band, but the ideas were really exciting, you know? So that was an exciting part of being around them and being at their shows, ‘cause it was like a whole scene and a whole time to be in.”
Nielsen still enjoys revisiting the sound and the songs that got the band where they are today. Trading the beach for the city might not be a permanent change of pace for the band. However, choosing to do what feels good for them in the moment by creating their own path is what made the band special to begin with.
“I think going in and bringing some bigger musicians to play on this record kind of pushed us into another chapter,” Nielsen says. “It just feels like I’ve got good new blood going through my body.”