The Growlers’ frontman Brooks Nielsen brings up his band being sued – unprompted – several times throughout our conversation. Nielsen, who also tells me at the front of our call that he’s “sweating his ass off in Louisiana,” seems to wear the lawsuit as a badge of honor.
The scrappy band, formed in California’s sprawling multigenre DIY scene in 2006, occupies a hallowed space in the music industry. Most attuned to modern music know the band, but they exist in a world of their own creation – sometimes letting big name collaborators in, but always staying true to their intentions. And when a wanton outside influence tried to knock them down, they won. If I found myself in his shoes, I’d be proud, too.
At the center of the suit was the name “beach goth,” a term coined by Nielsen and company that he says has always existed as a nickname for the band. In 2012, they made Beach Goth into a full-on festival around Halloween with revelers running around in costumes, enjoying music and watching live performances of The Rocky Horror Picture Show on the beach.
“It got a little too big too quick,” he elaborates. “We were working with the promoter, and the guy was a douchebag and kind of just taking his own liberties. He was thinking about money and trying to grow real quick. We figured it out and called his bullshit, and he sued us. There were a lot of learning experiences in the festival world of how this business really works.”
But Nielsen says they survived the lawsuit, and have the name and are working to continue it.
“Now we have all control, so we’re doing it our way. We just want [to use it for] our own parties again. We get to curate it completely ourselves. It’s been a roller coaster, but it’s still fun ‘cause the kids love it.”
From the sound of it, Nielsen loves it too. They returned to another true form recently, self-producing and releasing their upcoming sixth record Natural Affair on their own (you guessed it) Beach Goth Records. Nielsen insists the creative process between him and the only other permanent Growler, guitarist Matt Taylor, and their “secret Growler” collaborator Kyle Malarkey hasn’t changed much since the band’s inception. But eliminating outside influences of some too-big-to-fail names (Julian Casablancas and Dan Auerbach, to name a few) allows them further clarity of voice and vision.
When it comes to purity of sound, Nielsen is something of a self-proclaimed musical isolationist. Aside from being a voracious reader and trusting his gut when it comes to writing, the frontman doesn’t look to much else for inspiration. This isn’t a bad thing, though. In a world where plenty of bands seem to always be on the prowl to capitalize on whatever zeitgeist of sound has captivated the music press, The Growlers subvert that trap by keeping things pristinely consistent.
“We haven’t really progressed that much musically – it’s a slow growth,” Nielsen says of his creative modes. “And I’m still an old grump and I don’t look at anything [or] really listen to anything. I just read a little and try and get as much time in with my people when I’m home. I’m not really affected by the outside world at all. It’s kind of still in that same zone.”
Despite his reluctance to allow his creative bubble to be permeated by outside influences, literature remains at the center of Nielsen’s process, serving a twofold function: helping him to craft the observant, poetic if sometimes dark lyrics (where the beach goth ethos comes into play) and keeping him sharp during marathon tours.
“When we’re on the road, we get really stunted. It’s six guys and boredom and drinking too much [while] confined in small quarters. You start turning into a child again. It helps spring my creativity and vocabulary back.”
Be it a festival, album or tour, no matter what The Growlers do, it’s all done authentically. There’s something to be said for having trust and total control over your own process, and not letting anyone – not even a lawsuit – sway you from your vision.
“It just has to come naturally,” Nielsen says of Natural Affair, but he could be speaking of any one of the band’s endeavors. “We don’t discuss what the record’s going to be, what it will sound like or what style we should go for. It just feels taboo. [We have this] kind of gradual, slow growth that people can accept. It’s not too much of a jump [from] the shark.”
The Growlers play the Black Cat on Friday, September 13. Doors open at 8 p.m. and tickets are $35. For more on the band and Natural Affair’s fall release, visit www.thegrowlers.com.
Black Cat: 1811 14th St. NW, DC; 202-667-4490; www.blackcatdc.com