There comes a time in every young punk's life when it's time to abandon the squat and move on to bigger ventures. For Orange County's the Growlers, that decision did not come voluntarily.
"I don't want to be too specific about where it was, but we were always raging," says singer Brooks Nielsen of the house he and his bandmates shared until recently. "It was a small town, so our place was always a haven for misfits. There was always fireworks and crazy shit going on. This one night a friend of ours threw a firework in the air that ended up in the garage. He thought it was out, but 20 minutes later he saw flames charging out of the studio. I came up to the place to see, like, 20 fire trucks, cops and the sheriff.
"Three days later we had to go on tour, so we put whatever we had in storage and hit the road. We came back and tried to live there for a little bit, but it was an abandoned building with no power that was half burnt. So we put our shit back in storage and went back out on the road. It was stuff like that all the time that kept us from thinking: 'What do the fans want? How do we take this to the next level?' There was very little time, and we were all too busy and exhausted, so it was like, forget about your friends and your girlfriends. We're gonna go make a record and put it all in and move the fuck on and get back on the road."
The outcome of the fiery mishap is Chinese Fountain, an astoundingly hi-fi iteration of the burnout SoCal surf rock the Growlers' friends at tape-based Burger Records have been cranking out at a remarkable clip throughout the last decade. While Fountain maintains much of the woozy disco vibes of the quintet's prior releases, a dab of studio polish has pushed its sound in the direction of the post-punk that's dominated alternative radio since Is This It arrived in 2001. Likening lead single "Good Advice" to the Strokes with more weed in the glove compartment is certainly fair, but Nielsen is quick to point out there was hardly enough time to make the record, let alone chart a more commercially viable path for the proceedings.
"We've always made stuff in all styles that's disco or funky, but now it's recorded crisp enough to finally hear it," he says. "I think we're supposed to have all those thoughts, but none of it happened. It's such a small amount of time. We knew rather than being poor and try to make something on a computer, it was better to try to do it by learning how to use tape machines and do it that way, which has helped us learn how to record with ease in the studio and finally have that great experience we deserved instead of recording on broken karaoke machines."
Perhaps the most tangible indicator of the Growlers' growing cachet is selecting the lineup for Beach Goth 2014, a one-day festival held later this month in Santa Ana, Calif. With acts like GZA and the Drums playing alongside Burger up-and-comers Gap Dream and Cat Signs, the festival sold out well in advance. The large church adjacent to the venue agreed to let the Growlers host the event in their parking lot, provided the band keeps sacrilegious art away from the festival grounds, a stipulation Nielsen says they reluctantly agreed to. As poorly timed as the inferno was that scattered the group throughout Orange County, it helped the Growlers grow up fast.
"It was the end of an era," Nielsen says. "We always lived together with just the band so we could write and record in our own little spot, but now it's all done. We're all spread out, which is fine because we were all about to kill each other at some point. The fire kinda saved us, I guess.â
SEE IT: The Growlers play Alhambra Theatre, 4811 SE Hawthorne Blvd., with the Garden, on Friday, Oct. 17. 9 pm. Sold out. All ages.