The Growlers: Ragged But Right

Emily Zemler on January 24, 2012

The Growlers live and work in a storage space in Costa Mesa, Calif., a few miles from the beach. Seven people cram into roughshod bedrooms and a recording booth and a stage with setup instruments are in the front room near the tall garage door. For décor, mangled baby dolls and large, fake ducks hang from the ceiling. A dog and a cat wander around the room.

Singer Brooks Nielsen, who stumbled from slumber to open the door, is working off a hangover while laying flat on his back on the stage. Bassist Pat Palomo silently observes the proceedings from a chair next to the stage, smoking cigarettes and occasionally throwing one to Nielsen. While this is where the raucous garage rock fivesome – Nielsen, Palomo, guitarist Matt Taylor, drummer Scott Montoya and guitarist/keyboardist Kyle Straka – normally make music, the band has just returned from Nashville, Tenn., where they spent nearly two weeks recording with Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach.

Although the album isn’t due until late spring and they’re still searching for a label (and a title) for it, Nielsen shares some of what went down in Nashville.

How long did you spend in the studio with Dan?

Ten days. But one day we didn’t do shit. We were like [we are now] – so hung-over you can’t even move, watching some TV show. We partied too soon.

Did you write the songs beforehand?

We had three months. We wrote 70 songs. We went nuts up until a week before we made the record. We had to go to Brazil, and then, we [were going to] have a week off to pick out 20 songs and learn them. That was the plan, and then, Dan’s lawyer’s like, “Actually, we’re going to need you in [the studio] tomorrow.” We were like “Oh cool, we fucking suck. We don’t have any of these songs learned.” We got there and we were like, “Oh, Dan we don’t really know the songs yet. Actually, we have to write ‘em.” It was fucked. We had 10 days to record 19 songs. We barely fucking pulled it off.

What was Dan like as a producer?

He’s really chill about everything. For days, it was like, “Dan, your thoughts?” and he’d be like, “Yeah, that sounds cool, man. Are you ready to do vocals?” He’s more hands-on [when it comes to the] engineering. For the most part, he just let things go, which was cool because we didn’t make that much of a jump from the last Growlers record [ Hot Tropics, 2010].

How did Dan find out about The Growlers?

I don’t know. He had us play a show with them. I was all fucked up, eating chips. I was so drunk [that] I was throwing out the big chips because they were too much to handle. But our drummer was really social and they were e-mailing. He wanted to record us and I was like, “I don’t know, man. Tell him we’ll look at the studio and maybe make a single.” Then we got in the studio we were like, “We fucking love this place! It’s like Disneyland!”

Are you a fan of The Black Keys?

I didn’t even really know Black Keys. I mean, I’d heard songs on the radio. I didn’t expect much. And I was like, “OK, this guy is cool. He has good taste. This spot rules.” I’m still not a fan. I’m going to get all his CDs and listen to them now though because the guy is awesome. I don’t really listen to music, let alone bands.

You don’t listen to music?

Just funk records from ‘62 and early ‘63. And ‘72. [Ed Note: This was the only time that Palomo spoke up during the interview, noting to Nielsen, “You’ve got the worst taste in music, ever.” ]

How did you pare the 70 songs you wrote down to 20?

It was hell. You’ve got five guys that all have attachments to certain songs. We battled and battled, and finally, gave up. We took 22 to the studio and did them one by one and decided [that] whatever didn’t make it, didn’t make it. Three or four didn’t. But now we’re home and we’re going to start making homemade garage records for this gap we have off. We should [be able to] make and record at least 30 songs in this time off. We’ll have some homemade records that we can release or not. Maybe they’ll be rough drafts for other records.

Is that how you’ve made your previous albums?

Yeah. We made an album every month for eight months to prove we should be in a band. Every month, we’d write the record upstairs, record it down here, mix it together, have a friend master it, burn it on a CD, silkscreen the [album cover], hand-paint them, and then, throw a fucking party at a warehouse in LA or here. Then, after eight months, I felt alright about the band.