By Yasmine Shemesh
What do Neil Young and the Clash have in common? Sure, they may be musical icons, guitar heroes, even. But, more importantly—they had great hair (past-tense, as both have since lost much of said hair). What’s the deal? Is a memorable coif the secret to rock and roll success? “It’s a requirement,” chuckles Brooks Nielsen, lead singer of surf-punk band the Growlers. “Experimenting and not giving a fuck and opening yourself up to music — at some point, when it becomes real passionate, you can give up on the rest of the world. You don’t have to do things like keep a clean haircut and wear a different shirt every day.” True enough; passion is at the core of the fivesome, who have been doing their thing unapologetically since their inception in 2006. The aforementioned legends also serve as favourites of the Growlers who too, for the record, have fantastic hair.
Nostalgia isn’t limited to the Growlers’ mops and musical tastes—it flows through their veins. With reverb-soaked riffs and skanky reggae dubs recorded to analog, the group deliberately channels the ‘60s and ‘70s, sounding like a sand-scrubbed acid flashback. West Coast upbringings shaped by listening to their fathers recount the Golden Age of surfing instilled patriotism in the boys. “We’re in love with our California culture that we grew up on, so it’s in our music,” Nielsen says. The band uses the same amplifiers that were popular in that era, creating homage that’s respectfully authentic. “They just made really good records back then,” Nielsen sighs. “It was a real big job for these engineers who were trying to create ‘state of the art’ things and producers taking people and making the best come out of them.”
Perhaps the best yet of the Growlers has arrived. New album Chinese Fountain offers confident polished grooves that maintain a perfect balance of sincerity and scruff. Though still recorded to analog, the shinier sound is due to being engineered in a modern studio and the absence of running tracks through tape (both firsts for the band). Without ditching its retro charm, the effort touches on everything from disco to country and showcases the group’s range. Lead guitarist Matt Taylor is jangly on “Good Advice,” playing to the upbeat rhythm of drummer Scott Montoya. Bassist Anthony Braun Perry provides solid backbone to the salty twang of “Big Toe” and Kyle Straka’s fingers shimmy over his keyboard on the glitzy title track. “We’ve been trying to make it clear from the beginning that we don’t want to be stuck in any type of genre,” Nielsen explains. “We listen to everything and anything and we’re trying it all.”
By looking back, the Growers look forward. In response to a lyric on Chinese Fountain warning listeners that “nobody wants to know where we’re headed,” Nielsen laughs, “I don’t think I want to know, either! Nothing worked out the way I thought it would and I’m totally fine with that. At least we have something that we’re passionate about [that] we love. More than a job, it feels like an obligation to the people that we’ve kinda sucked into this, to keep feeding them and making them happy.” But for now? “We just cleaned up in a gas station,” he says. “Like road dogs.” It’s fairly certain their hair still looks pretty damn good.
The Growlers play at the Rickshaw Theatre on October 11.
Published in print and online at www.beatroute.ca, October 2014