The Growlers can’t be stopped. Since releasing their latest studio album City Club in late 2016, the band have put out an album of B-sides (Casual Acquaintances), another Julian Casablancas-produced single (Who Loves The Scum?), they’ve started their own independent record label (Beach Goth Records), they’ve thrown two more instalments of their Beach Goth Festival, and they’ve managed to organise a 2019 Australian tour.
So ahead of their return to Australia in January, we caught up with frontman Brooks Neilsen to chat about his commitment to performing shows, his new record label, and a few reading recommendations.
“I feel like everything’s going back to doing it ourselves”: Ahead of their Australian tour in January, we caught up with The Growlers’ Brooks Nielsen to chat DIY record labels, love songs, and performing with the measles.
HAPPY: Over the past few days, we’ve seen a lot of those end-of-year lists coming out. Are there any records from 2018 that have really stuck out to you?
BROOKS: I can’t say I’ve heard many, but Shannon & The Clams’ new record. That’s been on replay at my house.
HAPPY: I remember last time you came to Australia, you had these massive setlists that were completely different every night. Which seems pretty rare these days…
HAPPY: With such an intense touring schedule, why do you continue to put together these individual setlists every night?
BROOKS: We’ll always continue that. We’ll be bringing that down there this time too. It feels like everyone should be doing that, and we’ve been around for a long time now, so we may as well play a little something from every record. You know, make everyone happy.
HAPPY: I understand that it takes a lot for you to cancel a show. So I can imagine you’ve endured some pretty hectic situations on-stage. Have there been any particularly shitty instances?
BROOKS: I had measles last time I was in Australia.
BROOKS: Yeah. I had like a four-day hangover and then came the red bumps. So that was pretty hellish. I’ve played with shingles, I’ve played with the flu, I’ve played with a broken foot, a broken knee.
BROOKS: The show must go on.
HAPPY: What is it that motivates you to go out there in these conditions?
BROOKS: Well with the measles, we were halfway across the world. It seems like a shame to let it go to waste. And really, once you’re performing, no matter how hungover or sick you are, it always makes you feel better. You suck up the energy that the crowd gives you.
HAPPY: Well we can’t wait to have you back down here in January. Hopefully, you don’t get the measles this time around.
BROOKS: [laughs] I hope.
HAPPY: I’m sure we’ve got plenty of other interesting diseases for you to catch.
BROOKS: Wonderful! I’ll take something home for the family.
HAPPY: In July, you released your latest album Casual Acquaintances, which was self-produced. After City Club, why return to that way of doing things?
BROOKS: Well those are B-sides from that record. It got to a point where we had 30, 40, 50 different B-sides from each record, and we were just sitting on them. We wanted to continue touring, so we released this as a kind of test. Like, can we release old material and people will be happy? And yeah, I think they were. Hopefully, we can release more in the future. We’re at a point now where I feel like everything’s going back to doing it ourselves. I’m kinda fed up with dealing with labels. And now, we’ve got Beach Goth Records. Hopefully, we can create our own agenda, and put out music faster than the music industry allows.
HAPPY: Yeah, because this is the second release you’ve put out on Beach Goth Records, along with Gay Thoughts. I can’t find any info on Beach Goth Records. Could you tell us a bit about it?
BROOKS: Yeah, I don’t know what the hell we’re doing [laughs]. It’s a name that we had to fight for because some kook tried to sue us for it. But it’s always been the ultimate name for The Growlers. It’s something we couldn’t get rid of, even if we wanted to. So, it made sense to call it Beach Goth Records. What it all entails, I’m not sure. But if it allows us to put out our own stuff without jumping through hoops, then I’m happy. If we can help some friends put out some records, that’d be great too. But there are no big plans yet.
HAPPY: Was that the mentality behind kicking this off? To be able to do things on your own terms?
BROOKS: Yeah, that’s what I always wanted. But as we got better at what we’re doing, people started telling us what we need to do. They’re all preaching the old mantra of the industry – that we need to get management, and put out all these records, and spend all this money, and create debt. I don’t think we need that. It’s all really based on going around and playing music for people. We don’t need all these little scams that people pay for. We’re gonna keep it simple and put out our own music for a while.
HAPPY: You’ve got your new single Who Loves The Scum? coming out on Friday, which was again produced by Julian Casablancas. Was this track recorded around the same time as the City Club tracks?
BROOKS: Yeah, that song was one that Julian really wanted in there. But we can only fit so many. People are really serious about which songs they want. We all lost some… I lost some. We decided to put our songs out on Casual Acquaintances, and then put out Julian’s songs. It’s got more Julian production.
HAPPY: Do you find it tough losing a track that you really wanted on the record?
BROOKS: Yeah, it’s a very big deal. You lose sleep over it. Then a month passes by and you realise it wasn’t that big of a deal. Once the record’s out, I don’t care. I’m only focused on making new music. Especially nowadays when people have very little attention spans, swiping through the net. They just want more new music.
HAPPY: Speaking of your songwriting, it’s funny, because I think of all my favourite love songs, and most of them are Growlers tracks. There’s a really strong sense of romanticism in your lyrics. Where does that all come from?
BROOKS: There’s not a lot of stuff I’m looking at. I’m pretty cut off from the world. I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t know what’s happening in the news, I don’t know what’s happening on social media. There’s not a lot that I’m pulling from. It all comes from my immediate life, and my immediate family and friends. A lot of the time I can’t even take credit for where the song came from. Most of the time I can’t remember where it came from. Usually it just kinda comes to me. But I have a real respect for love songs.
HAPPY: You mentioned that you’re not on social media at all. Why disconnect yourself in that way?
BROOKS: I think at this point I’m too old to jump in. There are times where I look at it and think “oh, that looks funny… I should probably join that.“ But I never did. I guess from a distance it never really looked very attractive. “Oh, look at this! Something went viral!”… I don’t really care. Whenever I see people scrolling through their phones, and you get these glimpses of viral shit, or of people trying to make their lives look glamorous – I don’t know, I guess it was never attractive to me. I think it’s healthy if I just stay away from it.
HAPPY: You’re a big reader, right? Of good, old-fashioned books. Are there any particular writers that you feel have influenced your songwriting?
BROOKS: Oh, I’m not sure. I’ll read something dirty like Bukowski and decide I want to write something like that. Then I’ll come off raunchy or tough or salty. It was mostly stuff like that – American writers like Henry Miller, Bukowski, John Fante. Then the Russian guys, I’ve never got into. There’s a lot of stuff that I’d find at second-hand stores, and I wouldn’t really know what I’m getting myself into. I ended up reading a lot of shit, because once I open something, I might as well finish it.
HAPPY: Any good recommendations?
BROOKS: I like everything by John Fante. He’s the guy that influenced Bukowski. It’s all very underground and very gritty.
HAPPY: I’d like to talk about your band’s art direction. All the costumes and stage design, which were all taken to another level with the Beach Goth Festival. When did all this start?
BROOKS: I think that was with me before the music part. I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to be in a band. I didn’t know any other bands and I was never part of any scene. I always loved trying to organise parties at my house, someone else’s house, or a warehouse. I’m just continuing to do that. It’s about bringing people together. We’ve expanded things from just making songs.
Catch The Growlers live at any of the following dates:
January 10th – Miami Marketta, Gold Coast (w/ Babe Rainbow)
January 11th – The Drive-In at The Brightside, Brisbane (w/ Babe Rainbow)
January 12th – Villa Noosa, Sunshine Coast
January 13th – Byron Bay Brewery
January 16th – The Forum, Melbourne (w/ The Chats + Pist Idiots)
January 18th – The Metro, Sydney (w/ The Chats + Pist Idiots)
January 19th – Narrabeen RSL, Sydney – SOLD OUT
January 20th – The Gov, Adelaide
More info here.