ROAD TRIPPED “If a city isn’t booked, fuck it, we’ll hang out in front of a venue and busk,” says banjo/accordion specialist Ryan Coomey (standing, right, with, from left, Chestnut Growler, Ethan Rubin, Matt Cost and, sitting, Jonny Swagger).
Perhaps sped-up three-chord angst anthems and ugly haircuts fell out of relevance long before the kid from A Walk To Remember started singing for the Germs. But the DIY punk ethos pioneered by angry early Reagan-era bands couldn't be more crucial in this day and age, when hardly anybody gets big-money record deals.
Few exemplify a scrappy independent streak quite like the Swaggerin' Growlers. The bawdy riot folkees have graciously provided a reason to start drinking heavily after lunch on Saturday at the Middle East, at the release party for their tertiary album, Outlaw Waltz. In the interest of manufacturing their most adventurous collection of meaty folk-punk to date, Jonny Swagger learned how to be a sound engineer. Drummer Chestnut Growler acts as de-facto booking agent. Because a low-hanging water pipe ripped a hole in the roof of the van in which they're about to tour, on this evening, when several of us are drinking on somebody's porch, fiddler Ethan Rubin has just patched it up with caulk and Plexiglas.
There's nothing atypical about getting by without a manager, booking agent, publicist, or professional van-repair guy. But Swagger — who cackles when asked how many people have come and gone from his band since its inception five or six years back (one former drummer supposedly went straight from the Growlers to rehab) — deservedly pats himself on the back for getting this far without any business-minded machinery.
"If you depend on somebody else, you deal with their shortcomings," he says between hauls off a 40-ounce that's wrapped in bandanas to keep it cool. "Here, I see a band without short comings. The only labels we've considered courting are ones that come from the same background of 'Fuck it, let's do it ourselves.' That mentality is important to us, 'cause that way, shit gets done."
Chestnut and banjo/accordion specialist Ryan Coomey are stuck in traffic on their way from Worcester. We've got time to kill. Somebody donates Rubin a fiddle, formerly stored in the same barn/practice space that was converted into a recording studio for the Outlaw Waltz sessions. By the time the latecomers arrive in Allston, an impromptu hootenanny has supplanted any notions of a formal interview.
At one point, the entire band were kicking around the notion of moving to Worcester. Maybe that'll pan out. Maybe it won't. (Swagger, despite gainful employment, currently lives in the van.) Meticulous forethought and practicality have never been the Growlers' style. They've been known to schedule tour stops far out of state without any gigs booked in the city du jour. But the ramshackle methodology is all part of the master plan. There is "content within brutality" as Swagger puts it. Explains Coomey: "If a city isn't booked, fuck it, we'll hang out in front of a venue and busk."
Bassist Matt Cost, the longest-standing Growler aside from Swagger himself, recalls landing kickass shows in unbooked towns via somebody pointing them in the direction of a punk house. Adds Rubin: "Our touring band network is this really cool community with no real geographic basis, but it's still based on face-to-face personal interactions."