June 28, 2012
Hard to pigeonhole this band
Every once in a while a band comes along that defies description. In the case of Costa Mesa cosmic quintet The Growlers, the closest you can get to a category is the catch-all of Southern California-style experimentalism. Wildly inventive and resembling a throwback to some '60s cavalcade of far-out hipsters, the band and its music must be seen and heard to be believed.
Local fans will get a chance to catch the band tonight (6/28) at On the Rocks, its first visit to Bakersfield.
"You guys have cool bars and antique stores downtown, right?" asked Growlers lead vocalist Brooks Nielsen. "Where's the nearest lake?"
After firing off a few more questions, Nielsen said he sees the mystery surrounding the group as an alluring aspect of the Growlers' ever-changing live experience. According to the band's bio, written by pro surfer Alex Knost, they've been described as "groovy" and/or "sick" by their fans, with a perfectly "bent" sound. When I asked Nielsen if that was a fair depiction, he did what any other musical misfit would do: He laughed.
"We get a lot of that, 'What is 'bent sound?' That's just Alex having fun. That bio is a lot of drawn-out, colorful words. It's pretty funny. It's kind of hard to explain your own band's sound and it's weird just saying 'rock and roll,' because it's changed so much. We're really kind of tongue-tied. People started calling us 'beach goth,' and we've just gone with it. We never wanted to be stuck in a genre. I don't do a lot of explaining. I just kinda say, 'You gotta hear it.' There's a bit of everything: country, a little surf with some reverb, a little reggae, some funk."
Above: The Growlers
Since hearing about the band for the first time earlier this year, I've become obsessed with finding out more.
The band has two superb full-length releases to absorb: 2009's "Are You in or Are You Out?," and the latest, "Hot Tropics."
Both recorded in the band's signature surf/country/gypsy style, and the releases have a low-fi sound that seems to float in and out among the pulsating rock beats and reverb. There's a hauntingly soothing feel to many of their songs.
"We know it's all over the place, but it started off from just being at the beach all the time and, I think, getting into that psychedelic '60s stuff, surfing and exploring from there. It just goes from some pretty simple influences to really classic stuff," Nielsen said.
Speaking of weird, you can always check out the band's series of independently produced music videos at YouTube, including "Empty Bones," "Gay Thoughts," "Little Miss Jack" and others. Some are more conceptualized than others, but you'll be as transfixed as you were the first time you ever caught a pre-"Hairspray" John Waters film.
"I just wanted to get weirder and weirder and get deeper into it. There's no fear of anything; we'll take whatever comes with that. We definitely wanna just go a little further, all over the world. We'll play with anyone and anywhere."
And they have, once all the way to Brazil, where they performed during the massive Rock in Rio festival last October, an event normally reserved for veteran rock acts like Pearl Jam and Bon Jovi, who can still draw a half-million people at any stage of their career.
"The thing with Brazil is sometimes it takes so long for things to reach over there," Nielsen said. "If you look at the line-ups of those shows, it's usually filled with groups Americans are already tired of, but it's still fun and new to them."
"To be invited there is impossible. Luckily for us, it happened through (acclaimed Brazilian singer) Marcelo Camelo. He took us under his wing and convinced the festival to pay to bring us out there to share the stage with him, song by song, back and forth, his band and us. It was just crazy to be playing in front of that many people. Then there's this language gap. We'd play a song, and for the first five seconds, they're kind of quiet, like, 'What is this?' Then all of a sudden they start flippin' out throwing blow-up dolls in the air, dancing like crazy."
The band has a new album ready for release in October. Titled "Hung at Heart," it replaces a scrapped project with the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach, a collection that didn't sit completely well with the group.
"Dan contacted us to come make a record with him. So, last minute, we jumped on over to Nashville unprepared and tried to bang it out in 10 days. We gave it our all. Looking back on it, it sounds really cool, but there are some other issues, mixing being a problem and both of us being very busy," Nielsen said.
Despite being aligned with one of the top rock acts in the country, a move that could easily catapult them beyond beaches and pubs, Nielsen said the band has no regrets.
"We feel kind of weird throwing that opportunity away, but you never know how these things work out. We're sentimental to that time, being there for 10 days. We had a lot of fun. We're not saying those tracks are never gonna come out, but no near future plans of putting it out. We had a really good time with Dan, but we were just a little afraid of making that jump right away, and possibly blow up too soon. We do everything in-house, and have always been unsure about the whole rock star thing."
Joining Nielsen are lead guitarist Matt Taylor; Scott Montoya, drums; Anthony Braun Perry, bass; and Kyle Straka, keyboards and guitar.
Also appearing are the Cosmonauts, the Nature, the Volume and DJ Moustache. Showtime is 8 p.m. Admission is $14. On the Rocks is located at 1517 18th St. For more information, call 661-327-7625. www.thegrowlers.com/
Adema returns to Bakersfield
Tickets are on sale for a July 7 show featuring Bakersfield rock survivors Adema.
This will be the band's second stab at a homecoming show following a stormy reunion with original vocalist Mark Chavez two years ago and the arrest of bassist Dave DeRoo during a tour stop in Connecticut last year.
Adema, from left: Kris Kohls, Dave DeRoo, Tim Fluckey, Marc DeLeon. Photo by Jessica Moncrief
Although both incidents hindered plans for a full-fledged comeback, the group has continued performing and touring successfully with original members Tim Fluckey on guitar and vocals; drummer Kris Kohls; DeRoo on bass; and veteran Bakersfield guitarist Marc DeLeon. Tickets for the show are $13 and available at On the Rocks or at tgptix.com.
In related news, former Adema guitarist Mike Ransom appears tonight at the Whisky A Go Go in Hollywood with his new band, Black Heart Vacancy.
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*Also printed in The Bakersfield Californian, 6-28-12