February 9, 2009

The Growlers–SoCal’s new psychedelic punks

For Orange County band the Growlers, psychedelic sounds are background for a grand party scene

Brooks Neilsen and Matt Taylor are a little hesitant. Like many musicians, they can’t really find the words to describe their output. But ask them about the place where they work their magic, and they’ll go on all night. Co-front men of Orang Country band the Growlers (Neilsen signs, Taylor olays guitar), the pair get pretty excited talking about the studio where they live, work and , most importantly, party. “We sometimes play shows at clubs and bars with other bands and all that,” says Neilsen, “but the most memorable gigs are the ones we do right here.”
The space, cluttered with found junk and rare thrift-store steals is a neo-psychedelic pleasure dome, the perfect place for a live music-fueled happening. It’s contents include a bark-covered bar, a collection of old painting of Asian families, several mannequins and all manner of lights: Christamas lights, neon lights, black lights, Jesus lights, you name it. “It’s like a gigantic fire hazard,” says Neilsen, laughing.
In a way, the environment mirrors the band’s sound, which nods to ’60s-era standard bearers like the 13th Floor Elevators and Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band. But Neilsen and Taylor don’t like to categorize their music. “We kind of laugh when people say we’re psychedelic,” says Neilsen. “We don’t really know what that means.” Still, it’s easy to see why just about everyone who hears them immediately think of The Doors, or their lesser-known contemporaries: the Growlers are a Southern California band with distorted guitars, reverbed vocals, and homemade recordings that sound like they were made in 1965.
All this is totally cool with the revelers, mostly members of the local surf community, who crowd into the Growler house to swirl around to the band’s rubbery, tripped out rock. “It’s a lot of surfers and skaters and scrappers and scenesters and poseurs,” he says. “We keep it pretty loose.” Surfers themselves, save for drummer Brian, the band members are no strangers to the laid band beach culture they provide sounds for. Taylor is an apostle of Hobie’s prototype-stage surf disk–”It’s the future of surfing,” he proclaims–thought he traditionally alternates longboarding and shortboarding depending on the weather. And Neilsen is constantly pursuing new ocean-related thrills: he’s currently having a body board made out of surf board material. “I’m pretty stoked on that, ” he says, “because I started out body boarding and I want to get back to my roots.”
Meanwhile, as they hold down day jobs–Taylor works at an art gallery in Laguna Beach and Neilsen is a pool boy–they continue to record songs like the creepy “Oh Sweet Spirit,” which they made by “getting really sh–faced and banging stuff around,” according to Neilsen. More conventional songs include the Spanish-tinged “Tijuana,” the A-side of their new “couple” (the Growlers’ alternative to a single). Asked for their best real-life Tijuana stories, the pair are virtually speechless. “It’s really hard to remember those trips,” says Neilsen. Oh, the party life!

-Cristina Black