Dana Point, CA seems like an unlikely place for a band to form, and Growlers singer Brooks Nielsen admits the band had to relocate shortly after it came together in 2009.
“There’s drug addicts, and kids that fought,” he says when asked about the SoCal city. He brings the Growlers to the Agora
at 8 p.m. on Tuesday. “That was pretty much it. [Guitarist] Matt [Taylor] was into the straight-edge hardcore scene. Then, he got into drinking and drugs. I wasn’t into music at all. I got into it late. I just saw it as an out. [Dana Point] was stale. We put some songs together, and we split up to Long Beach to get close to something that resembled a real city.”
The band signed a deal with Everloving, the same indie label that initially signed singer-songwriter Jack Johnson, and issued its debut, Are You In or Are You Out?
“[The label owner] saw us and asked us if we wanted to be serious,” says Nielsen. “We didn’t, but he convinced us we should be. I took it literally, and we wrote eight records in eight months. I thought, 'We can do this.' We jumped on and started touring and went into debt. That’s when shit gets real and when you know you’re a band. It’s when you jump into poverty. You get to work really hard but you don’t get paid. You just owe people money.”
When Julian Casablancas of the Strokes heard how much the band was struggling financially, he offered to produce their next record. The resulting album, City Club
, marries the band’s surf-rock side with garage rock elements. In fact, “Problems III,” one of the album’s outtakes, possesses a Strokes-like swagger while retaining the Growlers’ distinctive sound, something they’ve dubbed Beach Goth.
“It’s a cool collaboration,” Nielsen says of working with Casablancas. “He’s somebody we were listening to when rock ’n’ roll was on the radio, which isn’t happening any more."
With Casablancas at the helm, the band felt it could draw upon the African rhythms and old school reggae that Nielsen loves so much.
“Matt and I never say what we should sound like,” he says. “Saying what we should sound like is taboo. It’s like you’re trying too hard. There were few conversations, and in one I asked what he wanted to sound like. He said, ‘Grateful Dead.’ I was thinking ‘Johnny Cash with Iggy Pop singing.’ He has punk roots. He likes popular music, and for me, it’s been rootsy raw stuff. I want rhythms that anyone can dance to.”
For the forthcoming album, Nielsen says he and Taylor decided they wanted to handle production duties by themselves.
“We’ll be leaking songs on this tour, and I will get vinyl into people’s hands as soon as I can,” he says. “It’s a true Growlers record. We’re slow growers. It’s another extension of us. It’s in the realm of City Club
and old Growlers, and we’re really happy with it.”
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