Brooks Nielsen doesn’t care what you think

13 years into their career, Brooks Nielsen and The Growlers have developed a fully self-sufficient system of touring and releasing music. Finally, they can do whatever they want. There’s nothing you — or the music industry — can do to stop them.

So before the Californian band hit Australian shores early next year, we caught up with Brooks to chat about the journey that led them to this point.

This article appears in print in Happy Mag Issue 13. Pre-order your copy here

Photos: Taylor Bonin

“I’ve never once read a music magazine, or whatever the internet versions of that are. I just don’t care.” Growlers frontman Brooks Nielsen is operating on his terms.

HAPPY: Brooksy! How’ve you been?

BROOKS: Yeah man, I’ve been good. Just been at the beach, but had to walk back up to the highway because there’s no reception down there.

HAPPY: How are you feeling after Beach Goth? Have you recovered?

BROOKS: (Laughs) I’m alright man. I could’ve gone more nights.

HAPPY: It looked nuts. At some point, you were the witness for someone’s wedding and Kyle was the ring bearer. How’d that happen?

BROOKS: (Laughs) Oh man, we did this smaller warm-up show, and we went to meet the fans outside. This guy said “hey, I’m gonna propose to my girl. Would you guys be the witness and ring bearer?” When the time came around, we were really busy trying to organise this festival, but we told him we’d do it, so we did. It was pretty cool. They had some really weird, dark vows. But it was cool.

HAPPY: How long do you predict the marriage will last?

BROOKS: As long as our band stays together, they’ll stay together.

HAPPY: That’s a big responsibility, Brooks.

BROOKS: It really is!

HAPPY: Do you have any other tales of madness from the festival?

BROOKS: You know what, I think this was actually the most manageable one yet. We still got rowdy, but when we’re at home doing these things there’s a lot of responsibility. We’ve got to make sure everything’s safe and everything works. We’ve got our friends and family around… a lot of punishers but there’s a lot of work to be done, so we don’t get too wild. We’re a lot more wild when we’re far away from home. In Australia.

HAPPY: Well last time you were out here you played my local pub, The Narrabeen RSL, and it was absolute mayhem.

BROOKS: I think that was the rowdiest one.

HAPPY: You’ve just put out your new record, Natural Affair, and it’s the first full-length studio record you’ve put out through your own label, Beach Goth Records. Last time I interviewed you, you said you had no clue what you were doing with this label. Is that still the case?

BROOKS: Yeah (laughs). I mean, we’ve got dreams, but it’s really a matter of empowering ourselves to do whatever we want. We had to go through hell fighting a lawsuit to win the rights to something we invented, Beach Goth. So now we have that. We’re producing our own records and putting them out ourselves, so everything’s feeling really good right now.

HAPPY: Are you looking to release other artists’ music any time soon?

BROOKS: That’s the goal. I just want to do it right. I want to educate myself more. I want to be able to help artists. I’ve only ever really been on the other end and it’s always just a lot of bitching and moaning, being a band, yelling at the label. So I’m not excited to be on that side of it. It’s just about doing whatever we can do to help bands take off. We see so many great bands fall apart. It’s really difficult for bands, especially right now, to get along for a long enough period of time to reap the benefits. There are always too many egos.

HAPPY: Comparing the release of Natural Affair to past albums, did you notice any major differences putting out music under your own label?

BROOKS: Umm, no, not really. Nothing’s really changing in the process of making it. Matt and I are just getting away from everybody. We lock ourselves away up in the mountains and try as many different things as we can. We put hundreds of hours into each record. But I only really see what happens on the road. I don’t really see what happens in the imaginary world of the internet or anything.

HAPPY: What was it about the ‘label’ way of doing things that you were trying to get away from? What were you trying to fix by releasing music through your own label?

BROOKS: Well, I don’t really understand what that business is. It’s only getting more confusing. I don’t understand why these labels are still around or what they have to offer. There was this big takeover by iTunes, and now you’ve got all this free streaming. I don’t have any better grasp on it now than I did then. So for me, it’s just about making the record and putting it out there. I want to do it properly. If it didn’t cost so much goddamn money to make, we’d be giving it away for free. The one thing I can tell is that labels treat it like a political campaign. It’s this big campaign that they launch, and that’s all very annoying to me. I’d rather be natural. I just want to make the record and release it.

HAPPY: I’d like to talk about Beach Goth as a concept. You’ve got the label and you’ve got the festival… you’ve built this universe around your music that seems to be completely self-sufficient. Was it always your vision to create that?

BROOKS: Yeah, definitely. In the early days, I was even more aggressive about it. I said “we’re all going to live together, I’m going to run this warehouse, and this is where we’re going to do everything creative.” I wanted to keep it all in-house. I didn’t want any outside influences. I didn’t know about any other scenes, and we definitely weren’t part of any of them. Everything I’d seen of the rock world didn’t look cool to me. We had no ambitions to be rockstars, or to be a touring band, or anything. We just wanted to learn and get weird under the shelter of our warehouse.

HAPPY: Do you still own this warehouse?

BROOKS: No. We grew out of that. We had to get out of that whole area. We started off in cool, smaller little beach towns, like Long Beach and Westminster. These are small little areas, and I felt like we were attracting too much attention. It’s safer in L.A. to be a weirdo. Our place was like a magnet to all these kids that had nowhere else to go. We were like this weird dysfunctional family. Eventually, when we were spending more time on the road, it didn’t make sense anymore. Once we got home, we all just wanted to get the hell away from one another. So yeah, we grew out of that. But it does kind of feel like it’s coming full circle. We put on our own shows, record our own stuff, put it out whenever we want. We have a very small team now. It’s the band and a couple of other guys. It truly is a weird little dysfunctional family. It’s kind of a miracle that we’re still cruising.

HAPPY: This is all super interesting because the next issue of our magazine is going to be The Outsider Issue. It’s had the office talking a lot about what it means to be an outsider artist or musician. What do you think constitutes outsider art or music, and do you think you fit into that?

BROOKS: Yeah, I don’t know. I guess the only way I can describe it is just doing whatever you’re into. I was into surfing, but I didn’t care who was competitive on a championship tour. I couldn’t care less. We all loved surfing, but we weren’t going to go buy clothing from a surf brand. We just did it all on old crappy boards we had lying around. I look at music the exact same way. I’ve never once read a music magazine, or whatever the internet versions of that are. I just don’t care. We had our hands full learning how to party, make music, have a good time, and survive the road. I never looked at any influences. We’ve always lived in our own little world. I’m still doing that.

HAPPY: Well, it’s very difficult these days to be a full-time touring band, especially if you want to do it internationally. A lot of bands feel like they need to play the music industry ‘game’. What do you think it is about The Growlers that’s been able to bypass that whole system?

BROOKS: We just didn’t need it. We were content. We didn’t feel like any of it was necessary. Starting off as a band, we didn’t have any ambitions to go any further than just making a cool place where people could hang out. We slowly grew, but we didn’t have any big dreams of success. We still got to hang out with pretty girls without having fancy things. Because of that, I think a lot of our stuff was really immature, homegrown, and amateur. But it had a life of its own and got passed around. People enjoyed sharing it. It had a real mysticism to it. People are still trying to figure out what it is. For us, it was just a moment. We’re content without all these things… without achieving anything. If it’s not casual or natural then we’re just not really into it. Of course, we’re a lot more open-minded now, and we’ve learned a lot about the business, but we still don’t really have many concerns outside of going on tour and being creative.

HAPPY: So the key to it all is being content with the possibility that you may never achieve anything.

BROOKS: (Laughs) Yeah, I know, it doesn’t sound like a great ambition, but that’s how it happened. It could be that I was afraid to try too hard, but I really just didn’t find it attractive when I saw other bands doing it. We’ve been in a lot of awkward arguments with managers, saying “don’t ever put us in that position again. We’re not here to sell a product.” But I guess it is still a business… I don’t know.

HAPPY: No, I think there’s definitely something to that. You see so many bands who are obsessed with achieving some level of fame, they lose all grip of their own identity.

BROOKS: Yeah man, we’ve played big festivals and TV shows… but nobody cares the next day. People think that if you play that one big festival, that’s the day things change. “Oh, we’re really gonna start seeing the money now. This is the day it all changes.” None of that has happened for us. It’s just been a long, slow grower. But I’m really grateful for that. It’s been a nice slow build.

Catch The Growlers live in Australia at any of the following dates:

Saturday 4 January – Kingscliff Beach Hotel, Kingscliff NSW
Sunday 5 January – CBD Live Southport, Gold Coast QLD
Monday 6 January – The Tivoli, Brisbane QLD
Wednesday 8 January – Sawtell RSL, Sawtell NSW
Thursday 9 January – 48 Watt St, Newcastle NSW
Friday 10 January – Wollongong Uni, Wollongong NSW
Saturday 11 January – Park House, Mona Vale NSW
Sunday 12 January – Enmore Theatre, Sydney NSW
Tuesday 14 January – Westernport Hotel, San Remo VIC
Wednesday 15 January – Pier Bandroom, Frankston VIC
Thursday 16 January – The Croxton, Melbourne VIC
Friday 17 January – Torquay Hotel, Torquay VIC
Sunday 19 January – Powerstation – Auckland, NZ
Monday 20 January – Powerstation (AA)- Auckland, NZ

More info here.