Gene Simmons infamously declared rock to be dead, decrying the lack of upcoming bands able to wear the mantle, let alone the Spandex, once rock’s senior tour of Black Sabbath, KISS, Aerosmith & AC/DC have taken their final encore.
So what does the younger generation have to say? We recently talked to Mike Nesi, guitarist for Brooklyn-based torchbearers Growler, known for their explosive stage presence, ear-splitting live shows and old school metal chops, as they release their third LP, End of Days.
Let’s talk influences.
Well, there’s the obvious one: Black Sabbath. Their sound, style, tempos, song structure, and overall aesthetic has always been hugely influential for us from the beginning. When David, the bass player, and I first met, one of the things we hit it off on was a mutual love of the Melvins. They’re one of those bands that have been around for so long but have never really achieved any sort of wide-spread commercial success beyond their (huge) base of die-hard fans. They’re almost like the Grateful Dead of Metal. People either love them or really can’t stand them. I’m not sure why.
Other bands, in no particular order: Kyuss, Metallica, Mastodon, Led Zeppelin, Rush, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden. Many of the early punk and hardcore bands: Dead Kennedys, Sex Pistols, Bad Brains, Minor Threat, Cro Mags, Agnostic Front
Does it seem crazy to you that Black Sabbath and Judas Priest are still out there touring in their mid to late 60s?
I don’t think it’s crazy that Sabbath is planning another tour. They, and other classic acts who tour, represent a huge revenue stream for many people. Paychecks will be handed out, economies will be stimulated, all the way from Ozzy at the top down to the janitors who sweep up the arenas after the show. I saw Sabbath on their last tour and they played an amazing show for over an hour. The thing that struck me was the look of pure glee on Ozzy’s face the entire time. He was having a blast doing what he loves with the people he loves. What else is the guy going to do with his time? Putter around the house and drive Sharon nuts?
So what happens when these guys are finally gone? Is rock dead?
Rock as a genre is dying. Or it’s like Weekend At Bernie’s, and we’re just putting sunglasses on the corpse and partying anyway. But, despite the dire predictions of rock’s demise, Rock (with a capital R) is still alive and more vibrant and interesting than it’s ever been. It will always be the soundtrack of teen rebellion as long as there are rebellious teens out there. The sound of an electric guitar cranked through an amp is still the visceral punch to the eardrums that it’s always been.
That’s a good way to put it. It’s important for teens to have their own rebellious music. I get a little concerned when I see teenagers all into the Beatles and Nirvana. I mean, that’s great but that’s your parent’s and grandparent’s rebel music.
I think the death, or viability, of rock is more of an issue of context and perspective. It depends on who you ask and where they’re coming from. Rock, and pop culture in general, has been defined for the past 60 years by the generational tastes of the Baby Boomers, Generation X, and the Millennials. Ask a baby boomer and they will tell you that, absolutely, rock is dead and the Internet killed it. Ask a Gen Xer and they’ll admit that rock pretty much died with Kurt Cobain. Ask a millennial and they’ll probably say rock is just another genre but it’s not the most important one to them.
You guys have a new record, End of Days, out now. Talk to us about making rock music in 2015.
The digital revolution has so dramatically changed the rules of the game for everyone, for better and worse. The old model of starting a band in your garage, writing some songs, playing local gigs, being discovered by an A&R person, signing with a label, going on tour with a national act, acquiring fame, fortune, a nasty addiction and Hep C, is not what’s happening anymore. The tools available now have eliminated the middlemen and lowered the cost of entry. Punk Rock showed us that you really didn’t need to practice scales and arpeggios for years in order to write a kick-ass 3 minute song. Likewise, digital recording software, social media, and Internet music sites are showing us that you really don’t need a 24-track analog studio and the backing of a label to get your music out there. You can do it all in your underwear from the comfort of your couch. Not to mention that we all have tiny computers in our pockets that can access this music anytime, anywhere.
That’s the upside…
. . . and the downside to this liberation offered by the DIY aesthetic is that you actually have to do it ALL by yourself. Bands just starting out, of any genre, are now expected to be able to competently do the job of audio engineer, press agent, manager and social media coordinator. If you want to get noticed above the roar of all the other bands on the Internet then the hustle itself becomes a full-time job. And who really has time? Inevitably something suffers. Musicians, as creative artists, are not the only ones feeling this pressure. Writers and visual artists are also finding themselves having to carry more and more of the burden of their own promotional machine. Success is now not only a matter of talent and luck but also a direct result of how much time you’re willing, or able, to put into Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. The Rock and Roll dream of hopping on a Greyhound to LA, showing up on the Sunset Strip with an axe and some chops and becoming the next Slash has been replaced by the digital grind of trying to be relevant in 140 characters or less.
Growler has always been a labor of love for us. We’re lucky in that we have stable day jobs that have allowed us the flexibility and time to pursue our music as a purely creative outlet without the encumbrance of somebody else’s bottom line. It’s liberating to be able to write and play the music that we would actually want to listen to and not feel that we need to pander to any particular trends. And the Internet is allowing us the means to find an audience, in ways that were not possible even 10 years ago.
But I guess if we really want to make money with our music we need to start a video game commentary channel on YouTube and just play Growler songs in the background as we talk about the latest Xbox release.
How are you marketing things? I mean, what are you guys doing?
We have the album up on Bandcamp and SoundCloud and we have a Facebook page. That’s about all we can manage at the moment. Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram seem like the sort of sites that need to be maintained on a daily basis in order for them to really pay off. I guess if we were on tour it might be interesting to keep a daily journal of pics from the road, along with pithy observations and musings on life in America as seen through the eyes of a jaded band from Brooklyn, NY.
What’s your hopes for the future of Growler?
There will always be that inner teenager inside me that fantasizes about Growler getting “discovered” and whisked away to a fantasy land of rock and roll decadence that also, somehow, includes a comprehensive family health insurance plan, dental coverage and an IRA. But, in the meantime, we’re just curious to see how far we can push this new album in a completely independent, homegrown way. Maybe explore some alternative avenues of exposure such as video games or some of those snowboarding videos. Corporate team building seminar soundtracks? Who knows?
How about the immediate future? Like now?
We have our annual Halloween show coming up and that’s always a great night. It includes burlesque trapeze acts, fire, and an awesome line up of bands. It’s like a time machine back to the Giuliani era when Williamsburg was undiscovered by the rest of the world and still a place of non-ironic creative expression. So we’re going to keep doing this as long as it’s creatively satisfying and as long as it’s fun.
Okay, some fun questions before we go. The Sex Pistols find themselves singer-less. What hair metal singer could best fill Rotten’s shoes?
I assume we’re talking about an alternate universe where the Sex Pistols and hair metal existed simultaneously? The obvious choice would be a young Axl Rose but that’s almost too easy. What would be really interesting to hear would be the combination of a bombastic vocalist like Klaus Meine from The Scorpions singing with the Sex Pistols. The chorus of Anarchy in The UK would sound amazing belted out in that falsetto.
Hawkwind with Bad Brains, or Blue Oyster Cult headlines with The Stooges? Which bill would Growler best fit?
I’m old enough to have been able to see the Bad Brains play live towards the end of their existence. They were phenomenal shows but it seemed like HR really just wanted to sing the Reggae songs. I think Growler would fit right in on a bill with Blue Oyster Cult and The Stooges. BOC is often considered one of the godfathers of Stoner Rock and Fu Manchu’s cover of the song Godzilla is not that far of a departure from the original. And who wouldn’t want to play with The Stooges? Those early 70s shows must have been mind-blowing and terrifying. People were just not prepared for a singer like Iggy. There was no context from which the audience could understand what the hell was going on with him. It was just pure, raw rock.
If Glenn Danzig isn’t a Misfit — in which classic metal band does he belong?
The thing about Glenn Danzig is that he can actually sing when he wants to. He’s got this really powerful baritone voice but can still hit the notes in key while up in the tenor range. It makes me think of The Scorpions again. I can just imagine him singing Wind of Change! Plus, I’ve always thought the lyric “I follow the Moskva/Down to Gorky Park” is just one of the most awkward lines ever. It would be cringe-worthy, in a good way, to hear Glenn wrap his voice around that. But the song “No One Like You” is where he could really shine. He’d kick the shit out of that song.