The Growlers' Brooks Nielsen On 'Making Art, Not Looking At Butt Cheeks & Brunches'

9 January 2019 | 1:54 pm | Anthony Carew

Ahead of The Growlers' tour Down Under, Anthony Carew talks to frontman Brooks Nielsen about discovering music by getting high, making art instead of looking at butt cheeks and brunches, and just doing what he can with the things he has.

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Growing up in OC, Growlers frontman Brooks Nielsen was into martial arts and sports, up until he “got turned off by how into it” his dad got. “My dad acted so disgustingly that it psyched me out, and I just quit,” Nielsen recounts. “So, I started skateboarding, surfing, boogie boarding, hanging out at the beach all day, with all the shit kids of Dana Point.”

One thing he wasn’t into, growing up, was music. “I didn’t like music,” Nielsen says, amazingly. “It was all around me; I’d hear it in videos, in films, my friends were playing it. But no one was going to get me to like it, there was nothing they could say to make me care. My priority was how I was going to sneak out of the house and do something illegal, when I was next going skateboarding. I didn’t really notice [music] was there until I started getting high in high school, and I was forced to sit down, and stop, and think, and listen for a second. Then, when I understood it, it was instantly: I need to be making it, not finding it.”

Since 2006, Nielsen has been making music with The Growlers, who’ve minted a distinctive formula of surfy, psychedelic garage-pop across seven albums, endless shows, and seven editions of their annual LA festival Beach Goth. In the band’s early days, Nielsen offers, they “drank too much” and there were often scuffles. “There’d be people who’d like to show how tough they were by getting in a fight at a Growlers show. Guys who’d push their way into the crowd, shove girls around, talk shit, rush the stage; I fuckin’ hate them,” he remembers.

Over the years, their crowds have grown, and mellowed. They have loyal fans, but, Nielsen thinks, they don’t have obsessive fans, nor have they ever provoked internet outrage. “I don’t know if anyone’s really paying attention, in this day and age,” he chuckles. 

"I didn’t really notice [music] was there until I started getting high in high school, and I was forced to sit down, and stop, and think, and listen for a second."

“I don’t know if anyone has the attention span to actually really care about anything that comes across their plate as they’re swiping through life. We’re making music naturally, almost ignorantly. We’re just trying to make as many songs as we can, make records, play shows. I don’t feel like much has changed. But, I don’t really follow internet culture, so I’m only clocking that — whether it’s fans complaining or fans saying they appreciate us — from a distance.”

Being on ‘the socials’ is something that Nielsen avoids, personally. “I’ve just never had it, never done it. And when I do see it on someone else’s phone, it’s not something I’m attracted to, I’m not about to dive in. The things that most people seem attracted to, I just don’t care. They seem almost like the definition of idiotic, to me. I don’t really care about those things. And, it’s partly to protect myself. I’m supposed to be making art, not scrolling through a phone looking at butt cheeks and brunches and people’s insecurities. I feel a lot healthier for avoiding it. I’m not interested in looking at other people’s lives, I’m trying to find enough time to pull off mine.”

Instead, Nielsen’s more concern with keeping the band “sheltered from outside influences”, so that the music keeps coming and remains fresh. He doesn’t take influence from other people’s music, isn’t a voracious listener, and feels detached from the contemporary musical climate. Instead, Nielsen just listens to “’70s reggae” when running, and the “oldies station” in his old car. “I’m just really in love with singers, when the arrangements were all to just lift up the singer,” Nielsen offers. “I think Sam Cooke’s a beautiful singer, Bob Marley’s a beautiful singer. I love Little Richard, I can listen to him any time without getting tired of it.”

What kind of singer, then, does Nielsen think he is? “Like all art that I do, there’s not a whole lot of skill or a whole lot of talent, but I’m doing what I can with the things I have,” he says. “The only way it feels good singing is when you’re not trying. That goes for writing and singing, any time it feels totally natural, like I can just zone out and not worry about it, that’s when I know something’s good.”