The Growlers' Brooks Nielsen dips into the past to discuss their evolution in light of "Chinese Fountain" release

The Growlers’ frontman shares the enigmatic Chinese Fountain" vision while reminiscing about his cactus farming past and DIY warehouse shows."


  • Courtesy of the Growlers

Little did I know that the Growlers formed in 2006 after Brooks Nielsen and Matt Taylor quit their jobs as cactus farmers, after being given a guitar by their supervisor, Dick, as an employee gift, and then established the band after eating a hallucinogenic cactus. Actually, that was a total lie. The story had me convinced, but luckily, I set the record straight and learned that the West Coast tropical-gypsy-rock quintet originated with a DIY mentality.

As it turns out, the Growlers’ frontman, Brooks Nielsen, is just as laidback and happy-go-lucky as you’d expect from any Costa Mesa native. In an effort to grow as a band, the Growlers’ abandoned the suburban cage, and hunted out warehouse spaces to rent for DIY shows. “Everyone thought it was a stupid idea, saying how we need insurance, or we’re gonna get sued,” Nielsen recalls, however “I realized right away that it was going to be impossible to make music in a residential neighborhood. We started renting warehouses, building up stages, and made studios to record. Then, we just crammed it full of kids who were too young to drink and allowed everyone do whatever they wanted to do in there.”

Although cops would break up the parties before their band could even perform half of the time, promoters got word and figured that if they could fill the rooms of warehouses, then they should be playing venues. From then on, Nielsen and the rest of band “started getting into the crazy world.”

The band has dedicated their lifestyle into a busy album-then-tour pattern. “When we’re not working on the road we’re making records, so it’s very back and forth. I’ve never really made plans with this band; it’s more of an unplanned joy ride.” Unplanned or not, the joy ride seems to be continuously kicked into high gear.

Currently, the Growlers just wrapped up their U.S. tour promoting their album, Chinese Fountain, which released Sept. 23, the day after their Atlanta show at the Earl. Even though they have retired their infamous tour vehicle of choice— a yellow school bus — and have “buried it in the ground,” they’ve kept the playful aura alive by bringing along performers from all walks of life; a numb chucks circus performer, a frisky drag queen, and a man who swirls a Chinese Dragon amidst the crowd. Nielsen admits “it’s kind of a freak show.”

Their recent Atlanta performance sold out and came equipped with the presence of a boozed-up drag queen—who spent most of the time crowd-surfing with her 10-pound go-go boots on and flinging squash and other vegetables in the air.

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According to Nielsen, Atlanta is a change of pace for the band because it’s a city where “people are a lot more slow and aren’t running around like their heads fell off.” They mostly look forward to swimming, eating fried chicken, and “all of that good ol’ southern cookin” whenever they travel to the Big Peach.

Nielsen, the self-proclaimed “really old soul” says that the album is more “professional” and contains “a lot better production.” However, the Growlers’ support a cornucopia of styles with an enigmatic sphere, which “isn’t too far off the grid from what they’ve always done.” After purchasing Chinese Fountain, I debated on whether I should order a Life Alert in fear that I may collapse from an overwhelming state of wonderment. Songs melt with sorrow-filled poeticism. Imagine if kaleidoscopes could generate soothing reverbs and forensic, purring echoes with chanting gypsy ballads while watching the jewel-toned crystals trickle down and spiral in sync through the lens.

Much like the wordplay on the “Magnificent Sadness” track, “Dull Boy” contributes to other sensory imbalances; a paradoxical combo of upbeat, surf-rock melodies thwarted by discomforting lines like “finally the bottles bone dry with a message inside that says that I’m gone Because I’m a dull boy with a dead dream searching for a pulse.” This is just one of many tracks that sends my emotions on a nosedive into a sea of bittersweet confusion, which isn’t any different to the reactions the Growlers’ discography. You would think that keeping the same style throughout their music-making journey would become monotonous— boring even—but it’s neither. They know what suits them, they absorb it, they stick with it, and they deliver songs that sweep you off your feet while simultaneously crushing your heart.

More additions have been made to their European tour, where they will be accompanying some of Atlanta’s most celebrated ladies, the Coathangers. The Growlers and the Coathangers are teaming up in Charleroi, Belgium in late November for a showcase that will certainly impress the pants off everyone, or maybe you if you happen to be in town. ‘Til then, I’ll be flipping and reflipping Chinese Fountain over until my roommate can no longer bear it.

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