Not too long ago, I had the pleasure of sitting down with the Growlers frontman, Brooks Nielson (on their high-tech tour bus with a super chill vibe), before he had to run to soundcheck at Union Transfer. I ending up learning a lot about the band that unwittingly created the genre known today as “beach goth”
[ Interview and Photos by Jen Strogatz ]
Here’s what I found out…
Jen Strogatz (IP): So how many are in the band?
Brooks: There’s six of us playing.
Jen Strogatz (IP): And you’re all from LA?
Brooks: Two of the guys are from Virginia and one of the guys is from Florida.
Jen (IP): So what would you consider the genre of music that you guys play to be?
Brooks: I don’t know. I think it’s kind of a… you know, I don’t dodge it completely but it is kind of an unfair question… I think that I would have to know more about music to even do it. I mean, I don’t know, I get with like the Uber driver asking, like, “You guys look like you’re in a band.” “We play rock and roll” “What kind?” “I’m like…. Vintage?”
Jen Strogatz (IP): Haha! Wait. I like that… vintage. What was it like starting a thing called Beach Goth? Were you guys aware of that? Or was it just like a thing that came about?
Brooks: Yeah, well, that was like… I really don’t know. I’m not too certain, I mean, I think it’s something. We were calling ourselves Mida. Some other people, I think, were calling us that first in Long Beach. Were explaining that’s what we sounded like, or of the same. But it’s just kind of you make a bad name when you’re a kid and you’re stuck with it. You know, like, “Man, the Growlers? I don’t like that anymore,” but it’s too late to change, you have like some momentum. Yeah, so it’s kind of like an alternative band name for us. But I think it was also being annoyed at people, “What’s your genre?” I’m like… “beach goth.” And it’s like, there’s no reason I should be annoyed by that. People need to put it in text and we need to be able to talk about it and share it but it’s a necessity. But it is kind of hard to pin, you know, they might be far off, you know? Think that I was into something completely different… to think that, what this band sounds like, and I got into music from getting high listening to Bob Marley. It’s a long ways away.
Jen (IP): Yeah, the dub influence is heavy. Whether it’s old stuff, or…
Brooks: Yeah. People kind of gotta know that music to even catch that.
Jen (IP): So no, I was just curious because when I listened to you guys, I was like, “Wow, they’re really good.” You know, you have a very unique sound going. But yea, I mean, I would get annoyed too. I don’t want to like put myself in a box, you know?
Brooks : Yeah, a friend of ours was like, “Honestly, you’re like the new Hall and Oats” and I’m like, “What?!”
There’s nothing I hate more than goth rock, like I don’t know, it fucked me up for a couple days. And then I hear a song and I’m like, “Yeah that one kind of sounds like that. Fuck!”
Jen (IP): That’s hilarious.
Brooks: I’m like, this is horrible. And everyone around me in the rooms like “I love Hall and Oats.” Haha.
Jen (IP): So how long have you guys been playing together?
Brooks: It’s been forever, I don’t know. Like, I stopped counting because I’m just like that, you know? Like, if someone didn’t remind me, I’ll miss my birthday easily. Happened a couple of times as a kid.
Jen (IP): Are you guys all tight?
Brooks: Yeah, I mean that’s kind of how I judge everything, if that’s not right, then it’s in shambles and all that crap I always kept on this band and making us live together and warehouses and live, sleep, breathe music and keeping it tight. That’s all gone away because we’re too old to live with eachother. So that would be quite a compound with all the… there’s kids now, wives. But um, but that’s at least, I still have that, everyone’s happy, joking around and having a good time.
Jen (IP): Good. So you guys obviously had a strong foundation to begin with, which is crucial.
Brooks: Yeah, I mean we don’t take it too seriously, try too hard… Because if it doesn’t come natural, then feels like a hoax.
Jen (IP): So you made costumes? That’s cool, have you always been creative, are you a visual artist too?
Brooks: Yeah, I mean, we’ve never had help. I mean we got a label a couple of times but you start to realize that there is some creative minds thinking that the band’s got to do everything. So yea, we’ve always, out of necessity you know, digital records were low finds and that’s what we could afford and we didn’t know to do it any other way. Like, “wow you have a studio, how much does that cost?” And time is money and we’re not very good musicians, it’s going to take us a while to figure this out. So it was all home recording and home releases and did all of our art and photography.
Jen (IP): Do you hear the words first or the music first?
Brooks: That depends if I’m doing it myself, it’s always words first in that there’s melody in that when I’m singing it. Then when I work with Matt, I might listen to some idea he has and if it doesn’t come to my head and come out naturally then I just give up on it. Doesn’t work. But for the most part I sing and mostly every idea that’s ever came out of the body so there’s tons of material hundreds on hundreds of songs that have never been released. It’s part of the process.
Jen (IP): So can you tell me really quickly, who are your favorite bands, dead and alive?
Brooks: The Clash is a strong band to me. The Whalers, very important band to me. Talking Heads. Yea, Bob Dylan and the Band. I don’t know. When I think band, I think an actual band, people playing together, that little brother that like, I mean I’ve always been pretty touch on like, when I look at somebody on stage, would I want to, could I hang out with them? If not, it’s kind of like some old high school thing in me, but I just like, “Uh, I wouldn’t sit in the room with you, I’m not interested.”
Jen (IP): Well that’s important you know, especially in this day-and-age when there are so many ‘musicians for hire’ as opposed to legitimate bands.
Brooks: Yea, it’s so hard to tell what you’re getting into cause it’s so easy to fabricate something over just to do something organic and… yea.
Jen (IP): Is there anything else that you would like people to know?
Brooks: There’s a record coming?
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So there you have it. The Growlers have a new album out now, Natural Affair (Find it here). If you like anything ‘Beach Goth,’ reggae-(esque), punk-(ish), sort of alternative, then you will love these guys!