One of the greatest things about music is how the enjoyment of one band or one genre can lead a listener to dozens of other groups. For me, I spent a lot of last year listening to Car Seat Headrest, most specifically their remaster of “Twin Fantasy” and their most recent LP before this year, “Teens of Denial.” When studio versions get a bit dull (this tends to happen when you listen to songs on repeat for months on end), my go-to is to find live versions in an attempt to rekindle the spark. This is how I stumbled upon the Naked Giants.
WHO ARE THE NAKED GIANTS?
The Naked Giants are a three-piece rock outfit that toured with Car Seat Headrest for over a year, and understandably, inherited a decent part of their fanbase as well. But the Naked Giants hardly live in the shadow of their tour counterpart, and have been a modern rock scene darling for years now. Rolling Stone named the band one of the “30 Best Artists We Saw” during SXSW in 2018. Clash Magazine also premiered the video for the band’s song “Turns Blue,” calling it “a blissful piece of guitar pop.” Now, the band prepares for their most ambitious project yet in their second full-length album, “The Shadow.”
Bassist and vocalist Gianni Aiello told me about how touring with Car Seat Headrest was so “formative” for the band. “It was definitely a lot of work playing two sets a night, but we grew so much from it. Learning Will [Toledo]’s music from the inside out and trying to uplift his vision expanded the way we approach our own music—we each think more about how our individual musical personalities fit into the ecosystem of Naked Giants, and how we as a band fit into the ecosystem of the music industry in general. Ultimately, those tours gave our music more depth and honesty — just digging into ourselves and creating music that is true to who we are.”
Although they had been around long before their days on tour with Toledo, the Naked Giants have steadily continued their growth as artists, thanks in large part to the help of some influential producers. For their first LP, having Steve Fisk, who formerly worked with bands such as Nirvana and Soundgarden, helped foster the sound of their debut.
Aiello describes him as having “Yoda” energy. “We were just these kids who had no experience with a record label or a big studio. He was this wizened producer with such a rich personal history. We got so many stories of the Seattle scene. He also gave us plenty of La Croix and showed us random Youtube videos. As for the music, he basically just let us walk in, mess around and do our thing—for better or for worse! I think he is a transparent producer. He wanted to let our youth and energetic naive nature shine through.”
For their newest album, the band is working with Chris Funk of The Decembrists, and are aiming for an overall expansion of their sound. Drummer Henry La Vallee (who’s still waiting for his chance on the mic) was appreciative of Funk’s work in their new efforts. “Chris said to me, ‘Don’t be afraid of your feelings.’ That really hit deep for me. If we had ideas, and we wanted to record them, no matter how ridiculous, he would make it happen. He’d engage with the idea to make it even better. His ability to tighten up arrangements is also worth mentioning. It almost felt like our shoes were untied, and then we went in the studio, and Chris gave them a shine and a good tightening up.”
INSIDE THEIR NEW ALBUM, “THE SHADOW”
JO: It seems that each of your new singles offers something different. What influenced the decidedly moody tone of “Turns Blue”?
NG: “I remember recording a demo of that song backstage at a show with Car Seat Headrest. I’m sure some of Will’s moody energy made it into the track. We also collectively recognized how people responded to our song “Slow Dance II”—something about the contrast between a more personal, softer tune and our usual party-rock makes people pay attention more. For this upcoming album in general, we wanted to dig deeper and be more honest in our music. Rather than just writing silly songs that sound and feel good, we thought about specific instances that affect us, and how those same instances extract and expand into societal issues. For “Turns Blue,” that came in the form of thinking about personal relationships, friendships, and working relationships, and the amount of work that goes into upholding the joy in those relationships.” – Gianni Aiello (Bassist/Vocals)
JO: A video surfaced of you guys debuting “Turns Blue” as early as February 2019. How long have you guys been working on these new singles?
NG: “Depends on the song! These songs were mostly conceived in the past three years. And work was really on and off depending on the song. Some sat for ages and then resurfaced.” – Grant Mullen (Guitarist/Vocals)
JO: “High School (Don’t Like Them)” is styled in traditional ‘Naked Giants’ fashion. Should we expect more songs like this one on the full album? Is it a mixed bag entirely?
NG: “I love the album because it has songs that make me want to shake my butt, mosh till I bleed, and somberly reflect. They are all a part of our collective consciousness as a band. I am really proud of that.” – Henry La Vallee (Drums)
JO: “Take A Chance” has obvious traces of funk influence, setting it apart from your other two singles. What was the motivation behind this?
NG: “We’ve all had interests in funk music—mostly the classic stuff like the Meters, Sly Stone, P-Funk. But the actual style never made it into our music as much as the attitude and energy. We’ve gotten more into synths, drum machines and electronic music over the past year. People like Robert Hood made us want to make some more groove-based music. We focused more on textural and dynamic changes than harmonic and melodic. I also tried to mimic the bass stylings of Tina Weymouth, and leave a little more rhythmic space than I usually do—I think that’s part of what gave it that punk-funk bounce from Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club records!” – Gianni Aiello (Bassist/Vocals)
The Naked Giants’ newest album, “The Shadow,” is set to release on August 21st for New West Records. To keep tabs on the band’s latest news, make sure to check out their Instagram, YouTube and their website. Cover photo courtesy of Grayson Whitmire. Check out more of my interviews here.