Grant Mullen is the frontman for Seattle-based indie-rock outfit Naked Giants, as well as a guitarist and vocalist in the most recent iteration of indie sensation Car Seat Headrest. The two bands are currently touring together following the release of Naked Giants’ grungy garage-rock debut SLUFF, as well as Car Seat Headrest’s re-recorded re-release of internet classic Twin Fantasy (now subtitled Face to Face). We spoke over the phone on a sunny afternoon in Bristol, ninety minutes before I watched him perform at the SWX Centre.
It’s going pretty well, it’s our first time touring the UK and it’s been pretty awesome so far. There’s beautiful drives.
These songs that you’re playing are from the new album, but you’ve been playing them for quite a while. What was recording like when you were already so familiar with the songs? Did they change at all during the recording process?
The songs really didn’t change much, apart from the final song, “Shredded Again”, which we hadn’t really written the lyrics to yet.
That song is quite different from the others on the album…
It was kind of on-the-whim in the studio, like “Shall we do this?” “Sure.” That was the one thing we kind of did randomly, and other than that we really didn’t change them at all. It was more about getting the tone and the sounds the way we wanted them, and working with our producer Steve [Fisk] – he didn’t really stop us very much, didn’t tell us to do anything else – he just let it be, so that was cool.
It was a quick recording process, wasn’t it? About two and a half weeks?
It was pretty fast; I could have used some more time – you know, you always wish you had more time – but having it rushed was sort of good, too, because we could just lay it down and be happy with what we had whether or not we wanted to add more stuff. Being familiar with the songs already was definitely helpful in that way.
the inspiration was really just trying to make a good rock song – ones that were fun to play and that people would like
How did these songs get written in the first place, then? Who are the main influences on this album?
It’s kind of hard to say. A lot of them were from when we were teenagers, so many ideas we’d had for years, or that I or Gianni [Aiello, bassist/vocalist] had written a long time ago.
So you all write together?
Yeah, we kind of all mix them together and then once we start really jamming – a lot of those songs were ones we liked to play live, and a lot of them just kind of stuck. I think the inspiration was really just trying to make a good rock song – ones that were fun to play and that people would like. Other than that, all kinds of sources, but I don’t think there’s really one or a few main other inspirations, other than just having a garage rock album.
You’re quite a live-focused band – what’s your favourite song on this album to perform?
That’s kind of hard. One thing I should say is that we hadn’t ever been playing “SLUFF” live, that’s another one that kind of came together in the studio actually, now that I think about it. Gianni had written it but we changed it for the studio, and now we play that version live and it’s one of my favourite tracks because it’s pretty easy and kind of grungy, so it really slaps along at a good pace and has a “yellable” chorus. Other than that, I always loved playing “Dead Aliens” – we’ve been playing that one for a while and it’s been a favourite since we wrote it, and “TV” is one of my favourites to play live.
when the world is not a peaceful place and there’s suffering and you’re suffering, how do you address that?
What is your main goal with your music? You obviously like the fun of performing live, but when I listen to the album there’s a lot of pointed lyrics, and quite a bit of social critique in songs like “TV” and “Shredded Again”.
Yeah, I think that comes out in our songs whether we intend it to or not, and then once we notice that we kind of develop an idea of what it’s like to live in the modern world and be split into different pieces as an artist and as a person, with social media and the internet and politics and not knowing really how to move forward. It’s just kind of f***** up, you know – when the world is not a peaceful place and there’s suffering and you’re suffering, how do you address that? And I guess the only thing we know how to do is to write songs and put it in our music because that’s what we do.
When it comes to writing these songs, are you all very in-sync with what you want to do, or do you all bring your own things to the table and kind of mash them together?
Oftentimes it starts with one idea like I’ll have written a verse and a chorus but not know what to do with it, or Gianni will have written a whole song and we’ll change it, or we’ll just jam on a riff that naturally becomes a song. It’s rare that a full song is written by one of us and not changed at all when we start to play it.
So you’re touring and working with Car Seat Headrest. What’s that like, and how did that come about?
It came about when Will [Toledo, frontman of Car Seat Headrest] moved to Seattle from Virginia. He was kind of a Reddit sensation but hadn’t achieved much market success. We met him because he came to a show we were playing, and the same week our drummer Henry [LaVallee] was randomly at another show – he was playing in a band, and Car Seat Headrest was headlining but there were like five people there, a tiny show. After that, they got signed to Matador and blew up and they asked us to open for them on a tour, our second tour we had ever done, maybe twenty or fifteen dates. On the last show, we weren’t opening but they were kind of annoyed we weren’t opening, it was the bookers that had planned it, and that was Seattle, our hometown, so they asked us to join them on the encore and do a Talking Heads cover.
So we did that with them and then I think once Will knew he wanted to do Twin Fantasy with a bigger band he asked us to join and we agreed and worked out how it would work. Since then it’s been pretty fun! It’s awesome playing for the big crowds, and we like Will’s music – we trust him and believe in him as an artist. It’s fun to contribute to his vision, and he allows us to contribute in our own ways, he’s not a totalitarian leader of the band. He’s very free, and it feels good.
Twin Fantasy obviously has become a cult classic in quite a short time, especially online, so it must be quite an experience to work on revitalising that album.
Yeah definitely, it’s super fun to play live and people really know the words, so they sing along and it’s crazy to have crowds that are that into the music. We play for people that like our music a lot, but they’re just starting to know the words and sing along, so it’s cool to play for a band where everybody is singing the songs.
And obviously, this is a breakout for you, now: with that in mind, where do you want to be in four or five years?
That’s hard to answer because the most important thing for me is that I’m recording and playing music. I love touring, so I imagine myself still touring and recording, but maybe with the freedom to take time off – so have the amount of success, whatever that would be, that I could stay and record an album say for six months, then go tour it all over the world and people would come see it wherever that was. Hopefully, that would still be with Naked Giants, but even if it was a solo project or a different band – I imagine Naked Giants continuing to thrive, but considering five years ahead you never know what’ll happen. So really I just want to continue playing music.
I think that’s a great time to end. Alright, well I look forward to seeing you perform tonight. Best of luck!
See you later!