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The Growlers Play Back-To-Back Shows At The Ritz

In Music
DISCO BEACH GOTHS: The Growlers have tightened up their ramshackle ‘beach goth’ sound with the help of Julian Casablancas.

DISCO BEACH GOTHS: The Growlers have tightened up their ramshackle ‘beach goth’ sound with the help of Julian Casablancas.

Brooks Nielsen has always viewed himself as a bit of an outsider. A core member and frontman of SoCal weirdo surf punks The Growlers, Brooks grew up riding waves in the small Orange County town of Dana Point. Even then, Nielsen was resistant to join up with the surfers. “For a long time, I was a boogie boarder, and I thought we were the coolest people on the beach,” he says.

Nielsen has long felt similarly about his band. He’s often questioned why The Growlers even bother with record labels, wondering if they wouldn’t be better off just releasing their own music and plotting their own tours. “We’ve never been a part of a scene,” he says. “We’ve always been alone.”

These days, however, Nielsen seems willing to embrace a slightly more mainstream path. Although he and guitarist Matt Taylor never like to plan too far ahead when it comes to songwriting, they did decide that they would hire some professional musicians to flesh out their sound—and it shows.

The Growlers’ latest effort, City Club, represents their most pop-oriented record to date. The album is shot through with pepped-up synth lines and and big hooks, tightly wound bass and dialed-in drumming. And yet, all the while, City Club retains the ramshackle indie charm that made The Growlers a potent musical force to begin with.

Of course, some credit must go to the record’s producer, Julian Casablancas, frontman of The Strokes. Listening to the bubbling bounce of the glitchy drum loop on “I’ll Be Around,” the throbbing, John Carpenter-esque keys of “Vacant Lot” or the anthemic momentum of the guitar riff on “Dope on a Rope,” it seems clear that Casablancas exerted some serious influence on this album.

However, Nielsen stresses that City Club is very much a Growlers’ album—rather than some kind of collaborative project. A large portion of what appeared on the final cut of City Club was present in the original demos, which the band tracked at a friend’s home studio in Topanga Canyon.

Rather than playing the role of a Fifth Beatle, Casablancas “was kinda like the cool big brother,” according to Nielsen. If there are elements of songs that sound like they are paying homage to The Strokes catalog, that’s because they probably are. Just knowing that they would be working with Casablancas had an impact on The Growlers’ songwriting, Nielsen explains.

None of this is to say that Casablancas had no role in directly shaping the tone of City Club. Nielsen recalls watching as Casablancas worked the boards with the Grammy-winning engineer Shawn Everett—whose credits include Alabama Shakes and Weezer. Together, the production team hacked together alternate arrangements and worked to punch up The Growlers’ raw original material.

“It was cool to see,” Nielsen says—even if it did make him a bit uncomfortable. The Growlers frontman says digital editing workstations have never played much of a role on previous records. “It’s kind of a mystery to me.”

There is at least one other force that played a role in shaping The Growlers’ latest record: the City Club itself. The Mexican restaurant and bar is at Sacramento Street and South Santa Fe Avenue, not far from downtown Los Angeles—across the street from the small studio where The Growlers recorded the album.

“There wasn’t a lot of room in the studio,” Nielsen says. “By default we were spending a lot of time across the street. We quickly became locals.”

Given the themes explored on the record—the looming, ever-present allure of drugs and alcohol; friends who seem unwilling to accept that the party is over; and the complicated feelings of guilt and relief associated with leaving those friends behind—the City Club seemed to make an ideal title for the album.

“I just have to keep picking up and moving in order to continue to grow,” he says. Now in his early 30s, Nielson is married and has a son. He says he’s ready to leave his wildest years behind, as he preps the next leg of the City Club tour—which will bring The Growlers to The Ritz next week.

It should be a good time, he says. “I’m trying to make sure I don’t get stuck in the party, but that’s not to say we don’t party.”

The Growlers
Sep 6-7, 7:30pm, $25+
The Ritz, San Jose

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