Middle of their cross-country tour, and the Growlers are in Iowa City. The pack has decided to post up at The Mill, the dive they played at last night that offers PBR on special for $1.75 on Sundays. It is 25 degrees outside the bar and snow is scheduled to fall for the next two days. Every television in the country is stationed to the Superbowl, including this Iowa barroom. The prior evening, percussionist Warren fell deep in love with his soul mate Emily, a young resident who has offered the rowdy bunch some food, drink and a place to stay once the Mill locks the doors. Tomorrow, the crew of young hooligans will be dipping and rising and rolling their old stripped bio-diesel school bus down the road, weathering the late-winter storms on their way towards Omaha, Nebraska to continue their nationwide tour with Philadelphia-based band, Dr. Dog.
On the cross-country voyage, the boys have chosen to name their vessel Brandy the Bus. She has been the Growlers’ means of transportation, shelter, a recording studio, hangout spot, hotel room, and a place for mind exploration. On the bus is lead singer Brooks Nielsen, guitarist Matt Taylor, bassist Scott Montoya, drummer Brian Stewart, guitarist Kyle Straka, percussionist Warren Thomas, photographer Jack Coleman, and Ellie, a rad musician chick friend who has come along to help out with merchandise. A couple rows of old brown leather bucket seats remain at the front of the bus, but the rest of Brandy’s guts have been completely stripped clear. Replacing the rows at the rear are two sets of bunk beds that Brooks and Jack have sawed, drilled, and nailed into place. A table, kitchenette area, and equipment corral fills the rest of the space, with a tight aisle running through the middle. Drawings, pictures, and the mementos collected from friends and fans so far frame the fogged windows that block the vagabonds from the freezing winter weather. This alternate existence has caused the Growlers to lose track of what day it is, the town they visited five days ago, and what shows are scheduled for next month. It’s become a blur of experience.
Through Nebraska, over to Illinois, on to Ohio, up to Pennsylvania, and finally, by the grace of J.C., a spot opens up for the Growlers to park their vehicle in Brooklyn on a beautiful Valentine’s Day in New York. Outside, the air stills feels cool, but snow scattered on the concrete has melted into brown. A crowd is huddled in the bus, getting inebriated, killing time before sound-check for the show at Union Pool Bar. Tonight, the Growlers will be framed by a healthy stage, lined with round glowing bulbs and red velvet; a view straight from the Moulin Rouge. Hypnotic, eerie rhythms will entrance the intoxicated crowd, morphing the little kiddies into Dionysian creatures who sway in a sea of human motion.
Instead of striving for intricate technicality, the Growlers have chosen the more primal aspects of music as their weapon on the masses. These songs emerge from rough jams of guitar, vocals, bass, drums, keys. Each track stems from the roots of relationships, art, angst, mind-enhancers, females, surf, politics, philosophies of life, and the attempt to transcend the levels of their own consciousness. For the Growlers, this goal doesn’t involve leaving drink, drugs, or women behind, because it is the craziness of the world they surround themselves with that is the true inspiration for their music. A story of syllables might multiply from Brooks, growing into something tangible once Matt adds his touch of eerie guitar. Scott builds a bassline, while Kyle tinkers with keys and his own melody on guitar. Warren rounds out the sound with his own vision of backup vocals and the beating of conga drums and shakers. Each is receptive to one another’s vision, constantly testing how far they can break through musically.
Back on the bus, the boys have now made it through three weeks of touring with no flat tires, engine trouble, or tickets, despite a few close calls. From Denver, the Growlers now venture into San Francisco to join friends for their final homecoming show of their National tour. While here in the Bay, the boys entrance the gypsies, the hippies, and youthful degenerates into a hypnotic state. But after more than a month of traveling, Brandy is ready to take the boys back to Orange County for some rest and renovations before heading to Austin, Texas for their first appearance at SXSW.
Rolling rolling rolling down the California coast, and the Growlers finally pull into the parking lot of their home studio in Costa Mesa. After a night of rest, it’s back to business, preparing for upcoming local shows, and conducting interviews. In through the back door, and eyes are exposed to a circus of light bulbs, fake flowers, music equipment, hanging baby dolls and array of lights. Every inch of the Growler lair is covered with something Brooks has hoarded from the trash, thrift store, or yard sale. Each character wanders through the maze of makeshift rooms, up and down stairs, disguising themselves in various wigs and masks that double as decoration. In the back parking lot, Brooks and Jack are making adjustments to the bus, adding more plywood beds, maybe even a spa, they joke. The Entrance Band, another member of the Everloving Records family, will be joining the Growlers on the journey from Orange County to Austin in just a few days, so more space must be made for the trip of 3,000 miles.
Tuesday night before St. Patrick’s Day, and the Growlers briefly settle into their two hotel rooms in Austin, Texas. From there, the Growlers must wind Brandy through crowded streets to play a handful of downtown stages throughout the three days of music during SXSW. For the Irish holiday, the group commences their first of eight shows at The Wave Bar for a rooftop concert scheduled for the midnight hour. In the packed crowd, an intoxicated Bill Murray bobs with the youth to the beat of Red Tide. After the show, the Growlers hustle through the alleys of inebriation until the wee hours of the morning. Meanwhile, My Pet Saddle, Audacity, and AM have followed the SXSW train, crashing in the Growlers hotel rooms, partying hard and spending over $100 bucks on porn and amenities. A couple of hours of inebriated sleep, and the party begins again in the early afternoon. Like ants, the crowds swarm the downtown, stepping in and out of music venues, passing huddles of bands in the streets, listening to bits and pieces of the vast selection of music.
After traveling over 10,000 miles on the veins of American highways, Brandy finally loses her steam as the Growlers reach the outskirts of Orange County. Despite wanting to cut holes in the bottom of her frame to bring her in Flintstones style, the boys must resort to more modern methods to get her home. During her lifespan, Brandy has been redesigned, painted from the inside out, and seen more of the country than the average individual. As for the boys, they can’t help but sleep for two days straight once they reach their own beds. With all the traveling, the group has hardly had time to practice, let alone mold the new songs they so anxiously hope to finish. Despite having jobs, girlfriends and everyday lives, the Growlers tend to feel antsy if they aren’t staying busy with their project. One more Spring tour up the coast to Northern California, Oregon, and Washington, and the boys might finally get to rest. During their journey, Brandy and friends will stay behind, waiting patiently to have them back home in Orange County.