Editor's Note: This story appeared in the December 2015 ORANGE Issue IV.
In a city overflowing with indie-rock bands, Growl fits the bill perfectly. Their energetic, catchy sound and messy, morning-after charm have made them mainstays at several local hotspots, while their collaborative songwriting efforts reflect their youthful camaraderie. With a new album in the works, Growl continues to grow and remain a favorite in the local scene.
Story by Amanda Pinney
Photos by Bryan Rolli
Up until 2013, Growl experienced several compositional changes. The group originated as a two-piece between lead singer/guitarist Santiago Dietche and drummer Kent Hale. Guitarist Jonny (who prefers his last name to remain a secret) made the band a three-piece, giving them a newfound momentum for several months. They eventually grew to five, and subsequently dropped one member, settling on their current four-member crew, completed by guitarist Sam Houdek. They settled on the name Growl simply because it wasn’t already taken. “Everybody hears Growl and thinks that we are some kind of metal band, and that’s definitely not what we are,” Hale says. “I kind of liked the dichotomy of that.”
The band avoids writing songs that sound identical, but still fall under the garage-pop umbrella. “All of our songs now have a very cohesive sound,” Hale says. Growl released its first EP, “Gallery” in February 2013, followed by “No Years” in January 2014. Their growth is obvious, as there’s a clear progression from the reckless indie-rock vibe of the first EP to the softer, more sentimental sound of the second. “For the first EP, we were all about having it sloppy and loud and very low-fi, garage-oriented,” Houdek says. “With the second record, we tried a little preemptively to have it be polished.”
Like so many bands trying to catch a break in the Austin scene, Growl solidified its fan base through house shows and co-op parties in their early days. Much of the band’s initial gigs came from friends who had a presence in the music industry and connections to local venues. “We were really fortunate to have friends who were doing well in the scene,” Houdek says.
Eventually, these humble house shows evolved into gigs at esteemed venues and local festivals, including a live session during SXSW 2014 and a spot on KUTX’s MAPJAM 2014, where the band played to an audience of more than 1,000 people. Although Growl has performed at a variety of venues, their main haunts have been Cheer Up Charlie’s, Hotel Vegas and the recently closed Holy Mountain, which previously served as their home base. “Austin has been such a cradling town for us, which we are super thankful for,” Dietche says.
But they aren’t limited to the Austin scene. The band has successfully completed three tours, two in the southeastern United States and the most recent one on the West Coast in January. They first hit the road in August 2013 — just four months after becoming a four-piece — and immediately had their first brush with hardship when their van was stolen on the second night of the tour. Their gear was safely in the venue at the time, but they had no clothes or means of transportation.
Canceling the tour and heading home seemed like the obvious solution at first. But with the help of family and friends, the band rented a new van and persevered. “The decision to keep going on that tour was a defining moment,” Houdek says. “We could have just gone home because it sucked. But we didn’t, and the tour ended up kicking ass.”
After two EPs and three tours, Growl is ready to make a new record with a different sound to reflect their experiences, due out this spring. The band describes their early EPs as “thrown-together,” as they were still finding their footing.“It sounds like exactly what it is, which is early band recordings,” Jonny says. “Stuff is a little bit all over the place, and you can kind of hear overlap. It sounds a little bit immature — we were developing.”
While those EPs served as a starting point, the band has a new idea of what they can accomplish now. “We learned what sounds best with our band, and we are trying to apply it to this new record,” Houdek says.
Growl will follow up the release of their debut full-length with another tour, and they’ve applied to play this year’s SXSW — anything to stay busy. “It’s been a steady climb,” Dietche says of the band’s tenure. “We’ve put in a lot of effort over the past three-and-a-half years or so, and I think it’s yielded exactly what we put in.”
Growl’s two EPs can be found on both iTunes and Spotify, as well as a live session available on Bandcamp.