One of the notoriously unfriendly Velvet Jones staff members led me to a large, potentially-creepy-but-mostly-psychedelic school bus last Friday where — I was informed — I could find the Costa Mesa-based rock group, the Growlers.
Brian Stewart, the band’s rather dazed drummer who seemed to only faintly recall that we had an interview, met me outside. Still, after I refreshed his memory, he jovially led me onto the tour bus to meet lead singer Brooks Nielson, who was casually reclined with tattooed feet propped up in front of him.
For being in a band that is quickly gaining momentum, Nielson and Stewart’s demeanors were comfortingly laid-back. The Growlers have shared the bill with alternative music superstars, including Dr. Dog and Julian Casablancas.
“It was cool, man,” Nielson said on the subject, “You get to meet ’em and realize they’re just very normal dudes.”
“They’re not really dogs … or doctors,” Stewart said, smiling to himself.
“But they’ve already done it,” Nielson said. “They’ve been playing for nobody for years. Every band has to play for nobody at some point. We’re getting there though — we know at least two people will be here!”
According to Nielson, it wasn’t difficult to stay motivated in the group’s earlier “nobody” days because they were able to find a comfortable medium between having fun and playing music.
“In the beginning shows, we were, like, wasted every night,” Nielson said.
The Growlers’ music sounds like ’60s psychedelic rock mixed with unnerving German fables in ballad form. Based on the show, it’s clear to me this sound has won the band a fan base of sweaty, moshing hipsters with mod ankle boots and messy hair.
When asked about their resemblance to ’60s performers, the band looked at each other with unsurprised amusement.
“It was the worst generation ever,” Nielson said. “But no, really, it was a wonderful year for music. We’re pretty much whores when it comes to influences. We like everything from ’60s rock to fuckin’ country …”
“To calypso to weird … anything,” Stewart said. “We love Captain Beefheart, Greg Parsons and, like, all of Jamaica.”
Unlike their hippie-era counterparts, the band does not seriously address any social issues with their music.
“There’s a little American Judeo-Christian value in our music,” Nielson said with the somewhat disconcerting smile that masks the general sarcasm of his statements. “We’re grateful to be Americans. It’s the greatest fucking country on God’s green Earth. Red necks, white socks and Blue Ribbon beer, baby.”
A seemingly standard phrase on the bus, Nielson repeated the mantra several times throughout the night.
On a similar note, one of the focal points the band sees in a “good audience’”is its level of intoxication. Friday marked the second time the group has played at Velvet Jones, and the report on the downtown venue was … good?
“We’ve played here once before,” bassist Scott Montoya said. “There was a lot of liquor. We got wasted and destroyed a book.”
“Santa Barbara is usually a whole lot more drunk than everywhere else,” Nielson said. “Every show we’re getting better at playing bigger crowds, and the kids go off. It’s all ages tonight, so it’s bound to be good.”
The group’s show in Santa Barbara was part of a quick jaunt down Southern California’s coast, ending with San Diego. Within the next month, however, the Growlers will embark on a tour throughout the United States starting in Phoenix, Ariz.
Guitarist Matt Taylor, or, ‘Fucko,’ as his band mates lovingly call him, joined the bus at that point and revealed that the group is most excited about visiting the Southern states.
“Florida is the shit,” Taylor said. “It has the most epic nature, complete swamp land. The South is the shit.”
“The South is awesome,” Stewart said. “There’s so much history.”
“Brian likes the history,” Nielson said quietly, to no one in particular. He added, “New Orleans is awesome too … but if you go there don’t see us. See the jazz. Don’t see the Growlers — we’re ugly and sweaty!”
The group’s show certainly lived up to the sweaty part. The mild mosh pit that formed in the middle of the dance floor was saturated with a combination of smelly sweat and alcohol snuck in by more sweaty coeds.
Though the front row was being smashed against the wooden stage by irritatingly-tall, curly-haired, leather jacket-wearing men (or maybe that was just the particular one I had beef with/am still bitter about), they didn’t stop singing along to every song lyric they could decipher. They cheered on Nielson’s grizzly voice and his subtle, Spanish señorita dance during instrumentals.
I even overheard one unfortunate girl assuring her friends, “I’m totally going to make out with the guitarist tonight. Do you want to bet that I will?” I should have told her Taylor had a girlfriend waiting backstage, and she might want to take a shower before the attempted seduction.
Evidently, the Growlers’ carefree attitude and general silliness is attractive. Even I couldn’t help but liking the boys, despite my secret suspicion they might have been mocking me during a third of our time together.
While I don’t remember their actual melodies, I do remember the comfortable atmosphere of their whacky bus and the fact that they, unlike so many indie bands, seemed to be genuinely enjoying themselves while performing.
In today’s music scene, a band really seems to need to fight tooth and nail to maintain its popularity, and the Growlers might just have the potential to do it.
If they don’t, however, they might not really give a shit.