2018 has already been a whirlwind for the Seattle trio Naked Giants; Between releasing their debut album, touring Europe with Car Seat Headrest, and playing new cities for the first time, it's certainly been a year of career landmarks, and things aren't slowing down for the band any time soon.
Back in May, the group played Chicago for the first time, packing Schubas Tavern on a Saturday night. Just as the audience warmly welcomed Naked Giants to their city, the band made sure everyone in the crowd had a great time by periodically checking in to make sure everyone felt comfortable, promoting a completely safe space at their show.
Before the show began that night, I had a chat with the band, talking everything from movie soundtracks, their bucket lists, starting a New West Records super group, and their proactive songwriting habits. For all that and more, get to know Naked Giants now.
Their First Musical Memories Heavily Involve Movie Soundtracks
The three members of Naked Giants all remember getting into music at different ages, but there's a common thread in all of their introductions to music. Gianni Aiello says he remembers laying in his dad's bed with a green iPod listening to "Human" by The Killers, but adds "Before that I really liked the SpongeBob Movie soundtrack. That had some tunes on it. When I look back on it, it’s like Flaming Lips, Ween, Avril Lavigne, Wilco... It’s a pretty cool soundtrack."
Drummer Henry LaVallee also had early memories of movie scores. "I remember this movie called Bedknobs and Broomsticks, with Angela Lansbury," LaVallee says, animatedly describing the film. "It’s like an old Disney movie from the 70’s, it took place in Britain during World War II. It was like a musical, but it was one of those trippy ones where the first act is all humans, and then at the start of the second act, they go into a cartoon world. So these humans are interacting with---it’s like Roger Rabbit. Then they get out of this cartoon world, but it follows this Medieval story book and it’s a really good movie honestly. These kids are orphaned from the war and then Angela Lansbury is like a witch and she takes them in." Aiello interjects at one point to ask if it's like Nanny McPhee, and LaVallee continues, "Little bit, little bit. Then the kids don’t believe in magic and they think Angela sucks, but then she’s actually badass. They also all sing together. And Angela doesn’t like the kids either, she’s forced to have them, but then they’re all really chummy by the end of it and they fight off the Nazis with magic at the very end and it’s really cool. But the music in that [inspired me]. So we used to watch that, it was a great summertime movie. Or Meatballs with Bill Murray and the songs in that!"
As for guitarist Grant Mullen's first musical memories, he recalls having a tiny Casio keyboard. "They’re really small and they sound really weird. I just remember playing really scary music, cause you know it’s really easy to play music like that when you have no idea what you’re doing. I was probably 4 or 5 when my parents got me that."
They've Played SXSW the Last Three Years
SXSW usually does quite the number on bands with schedules involving multiple shows a day all around town, but Naked Giants hasn't let that madness deter them from returning to Austin for the last three years in March. However, they all agree that this year had been the best by far, confirming that the third time really is a charm. "It was better in every way. We played better shows on average, there were people at the shows. We got to stay with our friends Ron Gallo. We had some good connections. We made some friends...The Do512 people who are all super nice. We’re actually gonna see one of them in New York cause their other coworkers [DoNYC] are there. Just in general it was a good vibe. Just like the flow and all of that," Aiello said.
Mullen mentions that the group got to see their label-mate Caroline Rose for the first time at this past SXSW. "Meeting her was kind of like meeting a cousin. It was like oh, we’re probably gonna get along. You know? It weirdly reminded me of that. And we totally did, I thought," LaVallee added.
They Want to Start a New West Records Super Group
Speaking of New West Records label-mates, if you've ever seen some of the label's artists like Naked Giants, Caroline Rose, and Ron Gallo perform live, you might have realized that they all have an unforgettable stage presence. Well, Naked Giants has also recognized that trait about themselves and their extended record label family too. "I realized after seeing Caroline, and after touring with Ron, that New West Records--what they really love is gimmicks. We have the whole smorgasbord of everything we do on stage. Ron’s got the whole trumpet thing and playing a guitar with a skateboard or whatever. Caroline and her band have the outfits and the end of her show where she pulls out the recorder. So New West wants something that people will remember," Aiello says. Mullen interjects to say, "People that don’t take themselves too seriously." Aiello continues, "Exactly, that. So I had this dream of forming a super group of all 3 of our bands. I don’t know what the music would sound like..."
While they may have no idea what it will sound like, they do have some idea of the band name, and how it could work. "What if the name was Mick and the Gimme Gimmes?" LaVallee suggests. "That’s good, gimme more! There’s this band called Superorganism and they’re like a collective thing, but they would send music across different countries. Like one of them lived in England and one of them lived in Greenland, I don’t know if anyone lives in Greenland... But I would imagine it would be something like that [where we send music to each other]," Aiello ponders about the structure of the group.
Their Favorite Performers Range From The Lemon Twigs to Freddie Mercury
Speaking of memorable stage presence, the members of Naked Giants always seem to give 200 percent of their energy whenever they perform. So whose stage presence do they admire the most? "Freddie Mercury," LaVallee says, adding that he tries his best to be the "Freddie Mercury of the drum kit."
"I was just talking to somebody yesterday about The Lemon Twigs," Aiello says. "I haven’t seen them live yet, but I’ve seen videos and that one kid’s got some really good kicks. So I started doing kicks after I saw that."
Mullen adds, "I don’t think I’ve ever admitted this, but now that I think about it, early White Stripes, Jack White stage presence. Cause he just you know, looked so almost like, he had mixed emotions while he was playing. He didn't want the crowd to even look at him. Cause he didn’t like being there, but he really wanted to tell them something really important. Which was I’m a white guy singing the blues. Something about that, like he has this weird vibe that I remember thinking was really cool when I would watch them play. Now when I watch modern Jack White, I still like him, but it comes off as a little pretentious doing it twenty years."
Aiello also mentions that the group caught [Thee] Oh Sees' set at Sasquatch festival and realized that’s where Grant gets all his stuff. "[John Dwyer] looks like a lizard man too, but he surprisingly doesn’t move that much. He just does weird little gimmicks, like spits in the air and catches it in his mouth. Something I also steal from him is the mouth around the microphone. He really throats that thing," Mullen says. If you still have yet to see Naked Giants live, you can get a glimpse of their energetic stage presence from the photos below of their Schubas show.
They're Not Procrastinators When it Comes to Album Writing
Naked Giants' debut album just came out in March this year, but despite their busy touring schedule, the band has already started working on new material. Rewinding back to the release of the first album, Mullen says, "It’s just good to get it out. So people can listen to twelve of our songs in a row now.... If they want to. They all sound pretty similar production wise...They’re all one package that you can experience our songs. Before everyone was like who is this band? Like I’ve heard of them, but they just have six songs on an EP, what’s the deal? And now we have an album."
"The best response was a review on some online magazine, and it was a really nice review. They were like we really like this album, love all the tracks, and then they called the album Slush instead of Sluff," Aiello chimes in. While the group were happy to finally get out a cohesive catalog of their music that's been well received, rather than relishing in the debut, they're eager to get out even more material. "We actually just recorded nine demos in the week and a half we had off between tours. One actual song that’s gonna hopefully be a single in the fall or something like that," Aiello continues, highlighting the group's work ethic.
Despite their eagerness to release new material, don't get too excited for their sophomore album just yet; Mullen disclaimed they potentially have sixteen months of promoting and touring backing their first record. "It’s never a bad idea to just have the next one done," Aiello says about their sophomore effort, mentioning that they're only that proactive when it comes to making music. "In all other areas of life we are [procrastinators]. We like to make albums."
Their Music Contains Easter Eggs
The trio has even gone as far as constructing a loose common theme throughout the new material. "It’s secret though," Mullen says, but Aiello hints that their might be some clues in the last song of the first album. Going back to their love of film, the band admits they're fans of putting easter eggs in their work, which is a common factor in movie and tv series. "Once all the albums are out, if you really like our band, you’ll be able to find all these things and nerd out about [the Easter eggs]," Mullen reveals. At this point, LaVallee pointed to an Alfred Hitchcock book under the green room coffee table, saying the book was a good hint to their future work without using any words. Elaborating on the connection of film and their music, Mullen adds, "I feel like a lot of times I get inspired by the feeling I get from watching a movie. If it’s very dark, I might be in that place for a while. I don’t do it consciously."
The group also says they've tossed around the idea of a TV show for the band. "Like a Naked Giants TV show, we're always thinking how to make that work. We might have to start it as a web series. Then for one of the future albums we have planned, we’re hoping to do a visual album."
They Perform Double Duty with Car Seat Headrest
This year, Naked Giants got the opportunity to not only open for Car Seat Headrest, but to join Will Toledo's live lineup during Car Seat's set on the tour. The gig has certainly added to the band's workload on tour, but it's also given them the opportunity to cross a lot of places and goals off their bucket list. This year, Naked Giants has already toured Europe and performed on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, and they'll be continuing on another double duty tour this fall in The States.
While the band is grateful for all the career-highlight opportunities they've had with Car Seat Headrest, they remain ambitious to achieve the same feats as Naked Giants too. This fall, they'll be playing their first major conventional festival when they return to Austin for Austin City Limits. "We’re doing this whole thing with Car Seat Headrest, going to Europe….but ACL is the kind of first big step that’s just Naked Giants. I mean of course we’ve done SX and that kind of stuff, but there’s a huge difference when you start doing the festival circuits. Then that gives me hope for next year, maybe in the summer, we’ll start doing Coachella, Lollapalooza, etc..." Aiello says. They're also keen to cross off all of the Seattle staples from their list, naming The Neptune and The Paramount Theatre as the ultimate goals.