It approaches the realm of impossibility to describe the sound that emanates from the band The Growlers. The amalgamation of genres sounds as though it shouldn’t exist: a combination of mellow reverb-filled surf rock, garage band guitar, country-folk and gypsy tendencies. Together with elements of reggae and disco, one is introduced to what sounds like autumn sprinkled with a bit of psychedelia.
The band calls Costa Mesa, California, its home but many of the members originate from Dana Point, California, including drummer Scott Montoya. Formed in 2006, The Growlers is composed of five members including Montoya, Brooks Nielsen (vocals), Matt Taylor (lead guitar), Anthony Braun-Perry (bass) and Kyle Straka (keyboards and guitar).
Together, the group has produced five full-length albums in addition to a number of EPs and singles. In 2012, The Growlers held their first annual Beach Goth festival, a real-life manifestation of their gypsy carnival sound that is now in its fourth consecutive year. The term Beach Goth began as a joke, Montoya says, but it eventually took off and now the phrase can be seen as their self-created genre, as it encompasses the band’s sun-soaked sound and gloomy lyrics.
“It’s kind of dark music, and we all surf and we all love the beach so it all kind of shines through,” Montoya says.
Psychedelics, especially acid, have had a heavy influence on the loose, laid back group whose nonchalance is akin to ocean waves, personified by their rolling rhythms. The lyrics, composed by Nielsen, also add to the band’s strange gypsy rock feel, with topics ranging from death to love to vice. Certain tracks like “Camino Muerto,” and “Graveyard’s Full,” both from the 2010 album, Hot Tropics, exemplify their gypsy sound, drug influences and morbid lyrics.
“We would just take a bunch of acid and play and record it, and it turned out really cool,” Montoya says.
Chinese Fountain, the band’s most recent album released in 2014, is notably different from their past records. This is the first album the group has recorded with a producer in a professional studio where everything ran smoothly throughout production, Montoya says. In contrast, most of the other albums were recorded in The Growlers’ warehouse with their own equipment, which contributes to the vintage, reverb sound in their early work.
Not only is Chinese Fountain different in its production and smooth sound, but also in its mood. It’s much darker with respect to personal anecdotes and contains poignant social critiques aimed at people’s misplaced values, Montoya says. A combination of experience, mistakes, maturation and personal tragedy contributed to the different point of view on this album.
“You get older, and it kind of goes into the music, and the words and the feeling of the song; the vibes you print onto the vinyl along with the notes, you know,” Montoya says. “It gets hard, man. There’s some happy stuff, there’s some sad stuff. There’s a lot of desperation in that album.”
In the process of creating the album, the band lived in a three-bedroom house in a concrete lot behind a junkyard. Their house partially burned down in a fire and afterward the city refused to turn the power back on because the building wasn’t up to code, due to a newly-built jacuzzi room. The band said “screw that,” bought a 12,000- watt Honda generator and lived in the charred house for four months writing the album.
“I’m happy it’s over but, you know, it was kind of fun. But you’d be surprised at how low you feel when the generator runs out of gas and you’re sitting in a dark lot surrounded by trash and ash,” Montoya says. “We’re kind of maybe out of the woods, but we’ll see.”
While squatting in the half-burned down house, a close friend of the band died, contributing to the depression, which can be heard on the album in such songs as “Black Memories,” “Magnificent Sadness” and “Purgatory Drive.” The title song of the album, “Chinese Fountain,” though, is a critique of society’s obsession with the online world, culminating in the lyrics, “The Internet is bigger than Jesus and John Lennon.”
Despite some heavy undertones on this album, The Growlers’ fans will still have a rowdy good time at their shows. Because even though much of their music is mellow, the crowds of committed followers at concerts like to go off their rockers. As much as the fans have a good time at The Growlers’ show, Montoya and bandmates are having just as much fun on the road.
“It’s where you get the highest of highs and the lowest of lows,” Montoya says. “You get blinded by fear for days at a time and then all of a sudden you step out of it and you’re surfing in New Zealand or something really cool. A lot of really cool stuff happens and a lot of really shitty things happen too.”
ON THE BILL: The Growlers. 8:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 26, Fox theatre, 1135 13th St., Boulder, 303-447-0095.