“We’re having lunch at Acropolis Steakhouse in Portland, Oregon. It’s a steakhouse strip club. It’s this Greek guy that owns a farm. The food is like dirt cheap, and it’s really good. As dirty as it sounds to eat it.” – Brooks Nielsen
Acropolis Steakhouse is surely just one of many pit stops the Growlers will make on their winding way up the West Coast to begin the Canadian portion of their Chinese Fountain tour. Singer Brooks Nielsen was kind enough to peel himself away from his sirloin and nips to have a quick chat over the phone in anticipation of their show at the Rickshaw Theatre here in Vancouver on Saturday, October 11.
Vancouver Weekly: Since your last show at the Rickshaw (September, 2012), what’s changed for the band in terms of touring and your philosophy and approach to the whole thing?
Brooks Nielsen: I’m a lot more happy touring now, because we were a little overworked. This has been a long time digging dirt. More comfortable now, y’know… You show up and get treated better. We have a lot more fans that want to hear the music. I’m in a better mood, and the band’s… just better at it. We’ve been all over the world now, and now we’ve got new material. That’s the best thing a band can get.
VW: Sounds like you’re more comfortable.
BN: Yeah… not that I wasn’t always grateful. I got better at balancing all this work. You got to get used to kind of ignoring everyone in your life and not really having a home. So I’m just better now. I can dig in and just get loose too.
VW: Chinese Fountain was your first in a “modern” studio. Not on cassettes. What made you decide to switch up the recording process?
BN: We deserve it! Shit… All this time we’ve been doing all this work by ourselves in our own place without money with our ghetto shit. I don’t think we got too outside the box with that. It’s going to sound pretty clear… I mean, there’s disco and funk and all types of stuff in all of our old music, but it’s so buried in our lo-fi that you can’t get to hear it. I’m really glad we did it. There was a lot less work for us to have an efficient, talented engineer… and we’re just way better at this now. Before it was like, “You have two weeks to write a record,” and we were like, “How are we gonna do that!?” Now that’s all I need. Let’s do it.
For years, since the Growlers formed in 2006, the self-proclaimed “beach goth” band has always had a DIY flair to their music – a fuzz that bleeds through their stringy ’70s haircuts and seeps out of their ratty old T-shirts. The Growlers are an incarnation of the perpetually broke musician with no other option but to keep playing until the curtain falls for good. Yet years of touring and diggin’ the dirt have proven fruitful for the psychedelic group. They’ve honed their sound over bar after bar, mile after mile, party after party. September’s release, Chinese Fountain, is a clean, well-mixed album with a blend of different genres: a little bit of disco, jumpy rasta riffs, and some funk-punk, something you wouldn’t have said a few years back. The Growlers couldn’t be described as anything else but lo-fi. However, given the money and some proper equipment, the Growlers have been able to display their songwriting abilities and elude any type of categorization with their new record. Most importantly, they’ve gone in the direction that pleases them moving forward.
VW: A few years back you went into the studio with Dan Auerbach and stepped out to ditch the whole thing because it didn’t sound the way you wanted it. Do you ever see the band going back to him?
BN: Um… I feel like the way I handled it… I kind of burned him, and I do regret that. So I wouldn’t see an offer coming at us. But yeah, we would do it again. It took me a little while to realize that I take most of the fault in that I wasn’t ready to let my baby go. Just piled on way too much work and brought too many songs in too little time. Also, trying to party the way that we were at the time was just… it was a wreck. I got cold feet. I got nervous. I pulled out. Now, looking back on it, I don’t regret anything, but I would definitely try it again. It was a great experience being around someone that’s so talented.
VW: Then do you kind of see this new album as a turning point, a new chapter for the Growlers?
BN: I kind of think so. We’ve slowly grown up, y’know? We’ve gone from not wanting anyone’s help, thinking that people would make it lame. We can do it ourselves. The more I’ve learned to accept help from people, the less is on my back. The collaborations usually work out good. Some things I throw a hissy fit about in the studio, and later I hear, and it makes sense. I’m glad I let my guard down on that one.
Brooks and the guys have been writing songs at a feverish pace for years, touring even more with loops in Europe, Australia, and many times in North America. They’ve grown up in a bus on the road. A house on wheels constantly in motion. Without a solid place to call home, naturally, their songs become the next best thing. With time and maturity, the Growlers have learned to lend their lyrical babies to the hands of others to take the load off. Time to focus on the music. Chinese Fountain is the embodiment of that philosophy. It’s a new chapter.
The Growlers play the Rickshaw Theatre on Saturday, October 11. Tickets are available at Zulu, Red Cat, Highlife, and Neptoon Records and online at Ticketweb.