Probably no Seattle band has torn so suddenly onto the scene this year as Naked Giants. Their first album, SLUFF, came out in April, and on it the garage trio (Gianni Aiello, bass; Grant Mullen, guitar; Henry LaVallee, drums) play mighty, riffy rock and roll ripped straight from some fountain of youthful verve.
This year they've been touring with Car Seat Headrest, both as the opener and part of Will Toledo's now-seven-man band. Friday and Saturday, that tour comes the Showbox. I chatted with the Naked Giants about how the year's gone, why prog rock should come back, and touring with the city's biggest band when they're only 22.
So how did you end up with Steve Fisk producing your first album?
Gianni Aiello: It was kind of a rushed process because we started talking with New West Records at the start of last summer. Things just started falling into place. All of the sudden it was like, you're signed, start recording an album.
Grant Mullen: We decided to do it with Rob Schnapp, who did like Elliott Smith and the first Beck album.
GA: He started Beck's career, basically.
GM: So we were super stoked about that. We were gonna go to LA and record it. Then he canceled like a week before. Steve Fisk had done the Car Seat Headrest album and we were friends with them and our managers said he'd be down to do it. And then we just did it.
Henry LaVallee: Steve is a big Twin Peaks guy and we'd all just had a summer of Twin Peaks. That was a good wavelength to be on together.
It's interesting to me that you mentioned Led Zeppelin [earlier]. A bunch of the bands around now that are described as “punk,” like the Black Tones and Car Seat Headrest, seem like classic rock bands.
GM: I think for us it's also the power trio vibe. You're trying to fill up sound with three instruments as much as you can.
GA: Led Zeppelin, The Who Live at Wembly—these are the concert DVDs that we grew up with. I didn't really discover punk or new wave until the past few years, maybe because it takes a little more digging.
GM: Yeah, I feel like we all listened to music that was not punk, but it was punkish. Like at least garage rock is kind of like classic rock but it can also be kind of punk. Henry was into pop punk when he was younger.
HL: I still am. It's like eating ice cream, listening to a good pop punk band. It's very indulgent.
Yeah, it goes right to your spinal cord.
HL: Yes! Yeah. It's clean, it's fast—if it's good.
It seems like bands now are returning to more sophisticated playing along with that energy.
GA: I don't know where I stand on that. On the one hand I recently rediscovered Rush and Yes. It's kind of interesting but for the longest time it has not been in style. There's something about that level of thought and math in music that's kind of scary. Maybe it's coming around.
HL: I hope so. Yeah, I think it is coming around. But bands like Vehicle Collector—it's like it's going to be so hard for them to get out.
Those bands are not like eating ice cream at all.
GM: It's like reading a book.
GA: Maybe that's what we need. We've gotten to the point where—especially as millennials—it's like no one reads books anymore because you can watch Netflix or scroll for hours.
GM: There's the general idea that doing anything that takes a lot of time and focused energy—people shy away from it naturally. They just choose instant gratification. We try to fulfill that stimulus in our music, I suppose. We have to feel like we're doing something hooky or interesting at all times.
HL: I'm a very ADD drummer.
GA: We have a new booking agent, and she told us, “I feel like your show is very anxious.” It's a good word to describe a lot of our stuff, especially till now. It's an interesting quality but I feel like it's not sustainable.
GM: Even playing really big shows like we have been with Car Seat Headrest. We need to get in as much of our material to catch people's liking so they will listen to us. And then after that we can do whatever we want, presumably.
How do you think that translates to playing with Car Seat Headrest? Where you're playing 10-minute songs?
GA: It takes a lot more patience. There are times, especially as the keyboard player, where I'll be playing the same thing for like two minutes. And we definitely don't do that ever in Naked Giants.
GM: It's way easier.
GA: It takes a little more patience. It lets you unfold and build the story for yourself. You can still feel the depth and arc.
HL: I'd say both sets require focus. Naked Giants is just a lot harder and faster. On the tour, I was testing myself as if I was being graded on how perfectly I can do my Car Seat job. Whereas with Naked Giants if I think for a second and break focus, I'm gonna screw up.
GM: That's why I like playing with them. Because I get into a zone where I'm thinking about every note. I think it's made me a better musician because I'm not so focused on being the only guitar and being loud. I just try to blend in and sound fitting.
As Naked Giants, it seems like you're all sort of the front man, too. When I saw you at Timber Music Fest, you were all taking the main spot intermittently.
GA: Right, it kind of goes back to what we're saying about the anxiousness of our music. The best way to get people's attention is for all three of us is to get as much attention as possible. I guess that's just been the goal so far, as a band, is get more attention. So people will give us more money. [laughs]
GM: It might be a product also of how many bands exist and us being really young and being like, How can we possibly get any attention for our music when there are a billion bands?
How's this year gone? You got written up in Rolling Stone, The Stranger, The Seattle Times. You got absorbed into what's the biggest band in the city, at least nationally.
GA: It feels like it's coming one day at a time, but I think joining Car Seat Headrest has been a weird shift in view. They're already at this level way above us. It’s like looking into a crystal ball and seeing, okay, this is how the music industry works once you're popular and have a few albums out.
GM: We’re focusing on how we can actually make a living at music and what it takes and how much work it is—just thinking about balancing what we want to make as artists and what it takes in money.
GA: At the beginning of this year, we didn't have an album. Not many people knew of us. Now we've played all these 1000 and up capacity theaters across the states and gotten our name out there. It's just day after day. We're working, we're working, we're working. I guess it feels good? But also endless. There's never going to be a point where I sit down and feel completely satisfied, like we've done our thing as a band.
Car Seat Headrest
Oct 12 & 13, Showbox Market, $21