Photo by Chloe Corriveau
I first encountered Naked Giants two years ago. The raucous Seattle trio came through my hometown on a break from tour, and ended up opening a show at the local watering hole. I showed up at the request of a mutual friend and — let me tell you — I was absolutely stuck on Grant Mullen’s energy as he slammed the pick into his guitar strings and whipped his head around. Gianni Aiello’s lanky figure towered over the crowd as he played bass and lifted his legs like he was marching. And Henry Lavallee’s drum playing was absolutely spot-on, a big grin on his face the whole time.
Recently, AdHoc gave Naked Giants a ring during a few days off from their tour supporting — and playing as the backing band for — Car Seat Headrest. We spoke about cheesy van jams and Vitamin RBY. Make sure to see them at Alphaville on May 10, and be sure to grab their latest, Sluff, over at New West Records.
Can you tell me a bit about your new album, SLUFF?
Grant Mullen: We took “Easy Eating” from [our EP] RIP. The rest of the songs were just collected when we started working with a label. We sent them all of our demos and stuff. We had an idea of what the track listing would be and then we just negotiated and compromised with them and found what we thought would be a good album.
Gianni Aiello: As far as context or meaning of the album, as Grant said, they are all just songs that we’ve been playing or writing over the last couple years. I feel like this album is kind of more just us learning how to put an album together more than anything else. It’s not like we were going in with any sort of mission; we were just kind of throwing the songs down because that’s what time required of us.
Grant: We wanted to make a pop album. That’s also part of it. We were like, let’s make this first one appeal to the masses as much as possible. So we were down with that and then we were able to just let it happen and take input from the label because we figured they knew what kind of songs would [work].
So you’ve been opening and playing as the backing band for Car Seat Headrest for a while now. What has that experience been like, and has it taught you anything new about playing?
Henry Lavallee: Well, Drew, I’ll tell ya. It’s quite a lot of time on show days. If you don’t even include driving to the venue, I could easily say you’re gonna be on the clock lifting equipment, setting stuff up, sound checking, and getting levels from like 3 o’clock until about 7 o’clock. Then you play the Naked Giants set from 8 o’clock to 9, then you play the Car Seat set from 9:30 till 11 or so. Then you load out, and you’re getting out of the venue at 12:30 or 1 most nights. You know, it’s a fun gig, but it made me realize how important sleep is and I think about how staying in good health is necessary when we’re playing two sets a night.
Gianni: I’m trying to start doing squats. That’s for my butt to look good.
Do you do tour stretches?
Gianni: I try to stretch every night and every morning, but I don’t have any particular training in the matter. I just kinda stretch out whatever feels good to stretch. No yoga or anything like that. John McRae — the sound guy for Car Seat, who we’ve become good friends with — he said touring [is] a job that doesn’t pay well, and the hours are like really terrible, but sometimes it’s better than making food or coffee for somebody else.
Grant: Yea. He’s a fun pal on tour. He makes it a little more relaxed. It’s a ton of work, but it’s fun that we get to play for these huge crowds. We play our own music and we’re pretty excited about having our own set — and then [we] go up and we’re all playing Will’s music, which we all enjoy. We’re learning what it’s like to play in another band. We also play what we think does the songs best, as opposed to what we want to play, which takes restraint and is a different experience.
What has the transition been like from playing smaller venues into playing larger ones?
Grant: I think if we were just playing in one band and living whatever clichéd relaxed rock star life people imagine, it would be pretty frickin’ awesome and we’d have time to think about it; but since we’re playing in both bands, I don’t really have time. We’re just working so hard. It’s really satisfying to be playing these huge venues. I’m really glad about the exposure it’s giving us. We’re really lucky.
Gianni: We just recently did SXSW, which on its own was really great, and then we did three shows on the way back home to Seattle, and those 3 shows were just classic Middle America, with 8 to 10 people [at the show], and they all enjoyed it but it was a bit more uncomfortable when it was a small scene. Then we got home and immediately went on tour with Car Seat, and they pick us up and we’re immediately playing these 1000-person capacity venues and it really puts it into perspective. One time Henry said we really won the lottery on this one, and I think that’s super true. Bands like us don’t always get picked up to do that level of performance.
Grant: It’s almost like in Mario Kart if you get a golden mushroom, know what I mean?
Gianni: We’re definitely hitting that boost right now.
What has been your go-to tour van jam?
Gianni: Man, there are a couple.
Grant: I’m just gonna say it. [For a long time], Steve Miller. But recently we’ve kinda put Steve Miller to the side.
Gianni: I found the CD a little bit ago. The Greatest Hits. But recently, at this music store in Missoula, Grant picked up this more recent Steve Miller album, and by more recent I mean 1988, and it’s called Born 2 B Blue. It’s just him doing kind of weird, almost like new contemporary versions of blues and jazz songs. One song is called “Filthy McNasty,” and the only words in the song are, “Who’s that? Filthy McNasty!” Oh man! That is a genuine HIT.
Grant: We’ve also been listening to Wings Greatest. That’s been a jam.
Henry: How about Lenny Kravitz?
Gianni: Yea, Lenny Kravitz has been a surprise contender in the van jam sphere.
Grant: It’s so funny how cheesy our main jams always are on the road.
Gianni: I think that’s how you keep yourself sane. It’s so accessible that you can be in any mindset and enjoy it.
You guys thrash on stage. Do you take any supplements or anything to maintain that energy?
Gianni: I think I really need to step it up on my supplements. I've never really been one for that. I’ve been going through a serious lack of motivation, so maybe my vitamin levels have something to do with that. I’m just expending so much energy. Thanks for reminding me!
Henry: I’ll say for myself, when you’re doing five shows in five days, really 10 shows in five days, I was taking one dose of RBY every night right before going on stage.
Gianni: What’s RBY?
Henry: That’s Red Bull Yellow.
Henry: Walked right into that one!! I don’t drink Red Bull when I’m living my life day to day at home — just have a couple cups of coffee and I’m good to go. But, when you’re driving and you’re tired and your body has nothing left, have a Red Bull right before going on stage, or even half of one, and it totally helps me get a little bit more amped.
Grant: I don’t take any supplements or anything, although I always keep two bottles of vitamins in my bag that I never take. Which, maybe I should! Like, after we have these grueling soundchecks that take all day, I just take a walk. I just walk to balance my mind, and when I come back, even if I’m really tired, I’m ready to come back and play a giant show.