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Photo by Astrid Warberg
After various adolescent-fueled projects together, the San Diego high-school friends Brandon Welchez and Charles Rowell formed Crocodiles in April 2008 and have been dodging calls of flagrant JAMC rip-offs since.
Their first record Summer of Hate got a friendly kick-up from mates No Age in a Stereogum 2008 year-end poll – throw in leather jackets, rock star babe wife and a way with a distortion pedal, and three new members and you have their third album Endless Flowers (Souterrain Transmissions), recorded in Berlin and set for a June 4 release.
The San Diego-cum-New York fuzz-rock band continue their insolent sun-kissed noise pop, snapping into Bi Nuu on May 31.
How does shoegaze come to San Diego?
Charles Rowell: We were rebelling against anything that was surf or Southern California or trendy. We were aspiring to be in a city surrounded by buildings, wearing dark colours, having grey days, rather than wearing flip-flops and sitting at the beach with your shirt off.
Brandon Welchez: I would romanticise other cities and other eras because San Diego in the 1990s and early 2000s didn’t have much to offer that I could relate to. San Diego’s really mellow and conservative, so you find the one transvestite bar in San Diego and that’s where you hang out because it’s much more interesting than surfers. I’d take transvestites over surfers any day.
CW: It was motivational, because it motivated us to get the hell out of there.
On past records, critics have made digs at you for sounding too much like your influences.
BW: I think originality is… worrying about that is distracting to art. Nothing is original. Everything comes from somewhere. We were born out of certain bands, those bands were born out of other bands, so I don’t really worry about that. When you start a band you start with like-minded people, so you’re going to be fans of similar things. When you’re starting, that mark will probably be apparent, but sheds itself over the course of time.
There was no point when you were making the new album that you’re thinking, ‘Okay, let’s make sure we don’t sound like the Jesus & Mary Chain here?’
BW: No. Because I’ve never thought we did anyway.
Doesn’t that really piss you off?
BW: No, because I think that reflects more on the person saying it than it reflects on us. It means that they’re lazy or don’t know their music history. If they had a wider point of reference, they might get more of where we’re coming from.
If you were writing the reviews, who are the influences you’d like to see highlighted?
BW: Like, non-musical stuff as well: books and films, Richard Brautigan, Basquiat…
What can we expect from the new album? Are you continuing your transition from noise to a more melodic focus?
BW: Probably a little more melodic than the last few records. I don’t think it’s that big of a change, necessarily.
CR: We’re influenced by so many different styles of music that with every record we’re just going to expand upon the ideas and inspirations that we get off on. There’re a lot of sounds and rhythms that differ from the last record. And it’s a band – the last albums were the two of us.
Has the creative process evolved as you’ve become a five piece?
BW: The creative process? Not so much. When we’re teaching the band the songs, they change somewhat because we can try stuff. In the past, we couldn’t try bass, drums, guitar all at once.
CR: For instance, there’s a song called “Dark Alleys” which is a really motorik driving song but there’s a lot of gaps. I don’t think our songs have ever featured any lengthy sort of gaps where there’s no music structurally within a song. It wouldn’t have come about had we not been with the band. That was an asset in the process, having people around be him on the drums, but not him, if you know what I mean.
BW: They would dress up like me though.
The two of you have been playing together for a long time now through numerous projects like The Plot To Blow Up The Eiffel Tower, which has seen a transition from high-energy political punk to a mellower melodic aesthetic.
BW: Writing pop music is much harder than writing experimental music. It’s subjective, but a pop song is obvious. Writing a good pop song took a few years to figure out.
CR: When we first met each other we were really young, like 17, and we were writing pop songs but we were just too scared to perform them, not to mention to record them for anybody else. So it’s always been there. When you’re a kid it always takes a lot of courage to get up there and do that. I think our music still has that energy. Modern pop records are produced a bit boring. If you go back and listen to like “Helter Skelter,” that’s super fucking wild.
With Crocodiles, I hear a kind of muted malice.
BW: Well, we took a lot of anger management courses.
CR: We listened to a lot of St. Anger.
BW: The fact that we had a therapist in the studio with us for this album made us all a little mellow.
What is about the two of you together that works so well?
CR: It’s all down to what he and I are feeling at the time. We’re just trying to, like, get better at conveying our ideas and writing songs and wanting to continually give ourselves that feeling that we’ve created something that takes us back to that first time when we heard really great songs; to feel really inspired to the point where we feel like we’ve reached a sort of ceiling. We’ll always be writing songs. Maybe it will get nastier? We’ll be angry old men.
BW: Maybe we’ll be like 2 Live Crew.
CR: Or Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon.
BW: Plus he’s a great kisser.
CR: He gives the best massages…and not the ones that happen on the shoulders.
BW: I think just like a romantic partnership, I have qualities he doesn’t and he has qualities I don’t, so just like a boyfriend or husband or wife or girlfriend should make you a better person, your musical partner should make you a better artist.
CR: There’s a certain intimacy level you only have with a few people in your lives. We have it with our girls, and with each other. When I give him lyrics or a vocal melody, it always sounds better when he sings it. He’s always intelligent critiquing lyrics and the way they flow and what words to use, and it always pleases me. And then he’ll come up with a song and I am right there with what the guitar needs to sound like. Straight away, I just fit right into it. A song will come out in an evening. We’re so in tune musically. We’ve lived together essentially on the road and not on the road.
BW: Some other bands are not really in each others’ lives when they’re not on tour, but we are. We hear the same things, we like the same things out of songs. And there’s no, like, ego: if something gets shut down, it’s because it makes sense once it’s been explained.
CR: The number one rule is before there’s any criticism, there’s always a massage.
BW: We purposely give each other bad ideas just for the massage.
Speaking of lovers, Brendan, with your wife Dee Dee (from Dum Dum Girls), how do touring schedules affect your relationship when she’s touring too?
BW: How does it affect it? Fucking deeply. They get us more, though, than girlfriends in the past who thought the whole thing was all cherries all the time.
CR: Or that it was just a fucknest or something.
BW: But, no, it sucks, because we see each other…I mean, she’s here right now.
CR: No, she’s not.
BW: She’s hiding under the table.
Crocodiles, May 31, 21:00 | Bi Nuu, im U-Bhf. Schlesisches Tor