There’s a recent Portlandia sketch in which Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s goth characters, Vince and Jacqueline, go to the beach. They show up in full goth regalia, complete with top hats and large boots. All that changes when Vince bumps into Radu from Romania, portrayed by Glenn Danzig. This meeting, and the subsequent exchange of fashion ideas, leads to an immortal line from Danzig: “Are you familiar with...Billabong?”
Never has there been a more stark portrayal of beach goth, unless you count the Growlers. The Costa Mesa-based band formed about eleven years ago, blending surf rock and psychedelia with a dark edge. When the musicians organized their first festival in 2012, they dubbed it “beach goth.”
“I never thought of it as a genre,” says Brooks Nielsen about beach goth. “It was just something that put a meaning to our lifestyle. That’s why it worked as a festival name originally. I don’t really follow or know who’s claiming to be it. It’s cool if they are. But I don’t know what it is. It just took on a life of its own.”
Incidentally, that festival, which was initially held at the Observatory in Orange County, is no longer the Growlers’ concern. They’ve switched their attention to the inaugural Growlers Six festival, taking place on the Los Angeles waterfront this year.
“We threw a festival for six years and then had a problem with the promotor, so now we’re learning about the world of law, in a lawsuit,” Nielsen says. “I don’t want to let it concern me. We’re just moving on, being creative and finding a way to keep trying to make cool shows for our fans. It’s the same thing that we’ve always done. Us just bettering ourselves with the curation of it. We’re working with a new promotor, in the same context. Always coming up with ideas of acts that we’d like. We had to find a new location, which we really like. A beautiful spot in the center of L.A. and Orange County. Constantly creating new ideas for art and installations. It’s fun every time, so we weren’t about to stop.”
It’s all a part of the Growlers' story — in parts weird and wonderful, but also startlingly conventional. After more than a decade, the band has six albums out, and the Californians have evolved organically along the way.
“I think, in a sense, I’m in the boiling pot, so I don’t have any sense of the changes,” Nielsen says. “It seems pretty natural to me. I’m really trying to do the same things every time — just better ourselves a little bit and take everything more seriously as an entertainer. Taking another crack at trying to be creative every time we get a chance. I’ve always been slow to learn the business side of it, and I’ve set people up to work for us, to handle that side of it, so I could just get lost in the lifestyle of it.”
The most recent album, last year’s City Club, was the debut for Cult Records, the label founded by Julian Casablancas of the Strokes. Nielsen is happy with the response the songs have received in the live environment.
“I’m not one for social media, so I don’t see how it immediately goes over until I’m playing live and touring the world,” he says. “It really fit in well as far as the show goes, and people liked it, so I’m happy. We’re still going; this is wrapping up the year of our City Club touring.”
Nielsen says that with the band starting to think about another album, the creative process is a chance to get the band together and try to create something new all over again.
“It’s not really a competitive factor; it’s just that playing can become monotonous,” he says. “It’s another form of working, and I need to work always to not go crazy. It’s still fun every time. We like surprising ourselves.”
On Saturday, the Growlers play the Ogden Theatre, and Nielsen is expecting another great Denver crowd, thanks in no small part to the work that the band put in early on.
“At the beginning, we were reaching out a little more to the outskirts of towns and whatnot,” he says. “It seems to have paid off: People come from out of town when we hit Denver, and it’s just cool, the story of playing small dives and now playing these nice theaters. That’s cool; it’s a spot we’ve always loved. Colorado is one of the most beautiful states, and it’s always good to go back there.”
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As for the Denver set, we can expect some guitar virtuosity courtesy of a player with an intriguing name.
“We brought a guy, “Delicate” Steve Marion [from the band of the same name], with us to be playing lead guitar throughout the entire set,” Nielsen says. “We’re doing a lot of cover songs, which is really fun, because it’s never really been our thing. We’ll be throwing those in and, really, everything from our entire catalogue. There’s a lot of old stuff that we brought into this. I think this is a band that’s getting along great and playing really well, so I’m happy.”
After this run of shows is over (and during the tour, too), Nielsen and the Growlers will be writing and then writing some more, with the aim of getting the next record out as soon as possible. As Nielsen says, this is a band that is never happier than when it’s working. That’s what keeps these beach goths cheery.
The Growlers, with Broncho, 9 p.m. Saturday, September 2, Ogden Theatre, 935 East Colfax Avenue, 303-832-1874.