Brooks Nielsen vividly remembers his band’s first critic. A group of SoCal-raised beach rats, the Growlers were piecing together their self-released 2008 debut EP, Couples Vol. 1–4, when they got a major reality check. That it happened to come from one of their close friends’ grandmothers, of all people, made it all the more biting.
“She was like, ‘You’re singing about the beach? People that don’t live at the beach don’t care about that!’ ” the frontman recalls years later with a laugh. It’s no wonder the shaggy-haired, eccentric vocalist can do nothing but snicker at the long-ago memory. After six years touring the world, his self-described “beach goth” outfit is continually staking its claim as the band you should already know about. Case in point: The fivesome, which also includes guitarist Matt Taylor, bassist Anthony Braun Perry, multi-instrumentalist Kyle Straka, and drummer Scott Montoya, recently sold out an upcoming five-night run at Williamsburg’s Baby’s All Right. “Something we’re doing is clearly working all over the place,” Nielsen says. “I’m a happy boy.”
Upon releasing last fall’s Chinese Fountain, their most polished, hard-hitting album yet, the Growlers — merchants of psychedelic, surf-tinged rock — have been moving full steam ahead. No, they’ve admittedly never been that hot young band that blows up overnight, blasting off on radio with an inescapable, ultimately short-lived hit single. In their eyes it’s all the better: While more frivolous music fans latch on to a new act and quickly disperse, the Growlers’ legion are a dedicated bunch. “Our fans are legit,” Nielsen says. “We have a lot of material and they’ve been growing up with it.
“It feels really good to be where we are,” he continues, adding they’d rather be where they’re at right now “than that guy who gets really quick success and the fans only dance for the one song that they’ve heard.”
The affirmative reaction to Chinese Fountain, Nielsen says, was immediate and palpable: “There’s no doubt that this album has been treated a lot different,” he says of the band’s genre-smashing LP, which features the reverb-drenched title track, the spaced-out “Love Test,” and the jangly, saccharine “Big Toe.” “All our friends loved it right away.” Chinese Fountain was demoed over two weeks in Topanga, California, and then recorded in just north of a week at Sea Horse Sound Studio in downtown Los Angeles. For Nielsen, writing and recording at such a gunshot-quick pace is preferable. “It puts a flame under our ass to actually finish things and not overthink things,” he says. “It stops us from bickering too much or wasting time.”
Despite their recent success, it remains a challenge, Nielsen admits, for the Growlers to gauge their burgeoning fame. “When you’re in the thick of it you don’t even notice,” he says. “It’s just flying by. You constantly have work in front of you.” Nonetheless, the singer admits it’s impossible not to be taken aback by their string of sold-out NYC shows. “It feels good,” he mutters in his typically laid-back way, assessing the Baby’s gigs. “Because it’s pretty obvious that things are cool [in New York City]. There’s a concentration of more cool bands there now than ever. And plus, you go all over the world and they’ve got the prettiest girls.”
What’s keeping them grounded is consistently returning to their roots. Days after playing for several thousand people at the Palladium in L.A., the band anchored a small club show at the 400-person High Noon Saloon in Madison, Wisconsin.
“Playing these little shows keeps things where they need to be, which is with our feet on the ground,” Nielsen says. “We haven’t really had a chance to become bigheaded yet,” he offers with a chuckle. “There’s plenty of new territory to conquer.”
The Growlers play Baby’s All Right March 4–7. All of the shows have sold out, but tickets are available on the secondary market.