In The Growlers’ song “Going Gets Tough,” off of their fifth and newest album, Chinese Fountain, lead vocalist Brooks Nielson sings: “Placebo for pain / And there’s no one for to blame / I refuse to accept that my work is all in vain / Worry’s a bully that just won’t let me be / Trying to keep me busy / Tussling and struggling.”
And lately, The Growlers have continued to seek new and uninhibited experiences, with their work manifesting into a music festival, five albums, and years of constant touring, delivering impeccable performances that have seared the party-beach-goth band into the minds of many.
Their newest album embodies a progression for the band’s sound. It’s dirty and fun, but it’s much more masterfully orchestrated, with a production value that pushes the group forward toward its full potential. The sound is still edgy, but a cleaner edgy; the floor was swept, but not mopped, and things come together in a very cohesive way.
Living with the history of dark tracks like “Old Cold River” and “A Man With No God,” to more recent and well-known songs like “Someday” and “Humdrum Blues,” which glare a love-centric side of songwriters Nielson and Matt Taylor, The Growlers have kept a familiar feel while avoiding repetition. Rather, the band has gone to create their own definition of dynamic – where their past isn’t forgotten, their hard work isn’t ignored, and the present is just as sweet as the future.
The album’s first track, “Big Toe,” in fact, pays a small homage to their past with the line, “She’s got me on the bridge / looking down at the old cold river.” It’s encouraging to see a band that I caught at The Glasshouse in Pomona, then at FYF before it blew up, and now, coming to the Treasure Island Music Festival this weekend, all while still keeping true to what they’re all about.
I got the chance to talk to Brooks Nielson, The Growlers’ frontman and lead singer, while he and the band were aboard a ferry in Canada on their tour that leads directly toward TIMF.
The Bay Bridged: How are you feeling about Treasure Island? You’re in Canada now, right?
Nielson: We’re all really excited about Treasure Island, we love playing in San Francisco. It’s really funny, because we have so many friends who moved up there from Southern California because they liked it so much better. Yeah! Right now we’re heading toward Victoria and then to Vancouver. After that we’re back to the states.
TBB: Nice. I’ve been reading a lot about how this album is a more cleaned up version of your older stuff and it’s really different. How do you feel about that?
Nielson: I just think overall we’re better at this. We’re not overthinking the process or when we play because it all comes really natural now. But I really don’t know. I try not to think about the album. It’s all about just trying to make as many good songs in as short amount of time as possible during or before the process. But after the fact, it’s not too far from early Growlers. The only difference is we went into a nicer studio. I tend to just shit things out and then move on.
TBB: But after it all, you guys have really morphed your own character and done it all yourself, right?
Nielson: We did it all. We haven’t gotten any help from any blogs or big labels. We haven’t had any help. People can’t grab us and make us sign on-board with their agenda, so we’ve been able to slowly build this and the fans respect that and see how much we tour and stuff. It’s
TBB: So what keeps you guys going with The Growlers?
Nielson: I’m responsible for these guys [in the band]. I signed them up for this. I want this for them. I want them to get success. I want them overpaid. I want Matt to get his Corvette with some cheetah skin on it [laughs]. I see it’s possible to make money and make good music and that it takes a lot of hard work and some luck.
TBB: [laughs] Some luck is for sure.
Nielson: It’s like tossing quarters into a Chinese fountain, man.
TBB: But how about yourself. Why do you stick to it personally?
Nielson: I rarely think about myself. I get that from my grandmother [laughs]. But really, I can’t quit now. We’ve gotten so far into this, and now we’re so far from reality. I’ve always taken the harder route when it’s come to The Growlers.