If you’ve been sleeping on the talents of Seattle rockers Naked Giants, then what better time to tune in than with today’s release of their new album, The Shadow?
First coming together back in 2014, it didn’t take long for Naked Giants to start making waves. Consisting of bandmates Grant Mullen, Henry LaVallee, and Gianni Aiello, the trio began cranking out the jams immediately, and by the time they released their debut album, SLUFF, in 2018, they already had two EPs and widespread acclaim to their name.
Working with huge names like Steve Fisk (Nirvana, Soundgarden, Soul Coughing), the group found a fervent fanbase thanks to their grunge-inspired chunks of alt-rock, and were thrust into the spotlight even further thanks to a stint as both the opening and backing band for indie icon Car Seat Headrest throughout 2018 and 2019.
Now, two years on from the release of their debut, Naked Giants are back, this time armed with The Shadow, a record which saw them team up with Chris Funk (The Decemberists) on production, Adam Lee (Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks) on mixing, and John Baldwin (Benjamin Booker, The White Stripes) on mastering duties to create a record that’s more mature, but no less fun.
“In the years since our previous album SLUFF was recorded, we have toured around the world, honed our musical skills and found our own little place in the music industry,” the group explained, “But we have also seen our share of shadows, and it is through acknowledging these shadows that we grow the most.
“Each song on The Shadow examines an aspect of this growth through a different musical lens, adding up to a series of rock and roll vignettes of light, shadow, anxiety and responsibility.”
To celebrate the release of The Shadow today, we spoke to Aiello to learn a little bit more about the recording process of the record, what life has been like since blowing up, and how they’ve been managing with the events of 2020. (Stick around for a photo gallery insight of the making of The Shadow, too!)
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Check out ‘(God Damn!) What I Am’ by Naked Giants:
Tone Deaf: When the band first got together last decade, did you ever have any idea that in just a few short years, you’d be where you are today?
Naked Giants: Not at all! We started the band with only the intent of jamming, hanging out and having fun. I don’t think the thought of having a record label, touring, doing international interviews or any of that crossed our minds. That started to change once our manager Shea came to us, which was quite early on as far as bands and managers go.
We started to see the bigger trajectory of being in a band – play some local shows and festivals, put out some music, do small support tours, rinse and repeat on bigger stages until people start to pay attention. It still feels strange and surreal when we get to record a new album or do a big show, but now we can see how it all fits together in the long-term.
TD: It’s been a pretty wild couple of years since the release of the first album, with plenty of touring and critical acclaim at every turn. What have been the highlights of the last few years?
NG: It’s just wild to us that there have been shows where people know our songs and sing along, and we can have that sort of inside-joke connection with these strangers where we’re all on the same page making this beautiful thing happen. It’s so good to know that across the country there are people who are finding a bit of themselves in our music – that community interaction is the whole point of music!
TD: With everything going on in recent years, it feels wild to believe you had time to actually write and record a new album. When did the process begin for this album?
NG: These songs have been brewing for a long time – some of them were originally written for SLUFF but didn’t quite make the album. Over the years, we would incorporate some of the new songs into the live set and see how they fared… they didn’t always land well but sometimes you need to try it out and fail in order to figure out how to make a better song.
From there, we made countless demos – in rehearsal spaces, in the tour van, backstage at shows, anywhere and any time the creative nerve was on. The songs kind of bounced back and forth between this recording process and live application right up until we went into the studio – and some of them kept evolving once we got there as well!
Check out ‘Take A Chance’:
TD: Naked Giants are predominantly renowned as a live band first and foremost, though the studio output is equally phenomenal. What’s the writing process like when it comes to a new record – is it born out of rehearsal room jams, or is it a combination of ideas?
NG: Our songwriting techniques have expanded and diversified recently – it used to be that we would just get together and jam on a riff or a chorus until we found some other parts that worked with it, but now we have a whole bunch of methods. We’re each songwriters as individuals, so sometimes one of us will come to the band with a nearly complete song and the others will just learn the parts and add a bit of personality here and there.
Other songs were built up piece by piece – I remember that Grant and Henry had put together the verse riff and groove for ‘Take A Chance’, and after a while of jamming on that I came up with the chorus bit, and it was just a matter of structuring from there.
Regardless of how the songs come together, we’ve always got one ear on the live application – if it doesn’t feel like a song that would go over well at a concert, we tend to steer away from it. Of course, we’ll have to change that schema now that live shows are off the table. I’m curious to see how our music will evolve in the next year or so…
TD: It’s been said that the content of the second album is focused on the group acknowledging its own growth through topics of “light, shadow, anxiety and responsibility”. Was there any inherent difficulty in approaching some more serious topics on the album?
NG: Totally. I think a huge part of growing up is being uncomfortable. Over the past few years we started to notice the space we take up in the music industry, and in life in general; we’re three white/white-ish cis men in a white male dominated industry, we’ve got these microphones and these stages, and it’s super important that we use the opportunities and privileges we’re given in a responsible way.
Nowadays it’s even more on our minds as it’s been thrown into the big scale – white people en masse are re-examining our whiteness, getting uncomfortable and restructuring our lives to bring down the system that is benefiting us at the cost of violence and oppression. To be comfortable now is a bit alarming!
Check out ‘High School (Don’t Like Them)’:
TD: Musically, you guys have described the record as featuring “punk rock and new wave to spaced-out ’80s balladry, fuzzy garage-metal and psychedelic desert folk (with synths and tape loops added to taste)”. Are there any specific bands you look to for inspiration when it comes to a record such as this?
NG: We listen to a range of stuff, a lot which makes it onto the album but even more off-genre stuff gets left in the rehearsal space… Overall I think we leaned into our ’80s and ’90s influences for this record. We took a lot of inspiration from bands like Devo, The Cure, U2, Talking Heads, My Bloody Valentine, and The Fall, as well as our usual sources like Neil Young, Black Sabbath, and all that classic stuff.
TD: You’ve been working with some pretty amazing names over the years, ranging from Steve Fisk to Chris Funk on this most recent record. What sort of influence did Funk have on the finished product?
NG: Chris (and the engineer Adam [Lee]) had a huge effect on the record. They both came up with some wild ideas which pushed us creatively – whether it was taking away Henry’s cymbals to focus more on the groove, or adding synths and drum machines on literally everything!
Some producers tend to capture a band as they sound live, and some go for a more fabricated approach, but Chris helped us strike a good balance by preserving the energy and immediacy from our live set and adding some extra bells and whistles and dynamics that aren’t exactly possible with a three piece. He also has a cute little pup named Pengu who kept studio morale high!
TD: Obviously a lot of bands have been hampered by everything going on in recent months. How have Naked Giants been coping with the world in 2020?
NG: It’s really a day by day thing… We’re lucky to have day jobs teaching music, but the cancellation of touring and live shows has really altered things for us. The standard industry model for us was to put out new music, tour and sell a bunch of merch at shows.
Of course people can still buy our stuff online, but it feels really cheap because they’re missing out on that in-person community experience which makes the music special. The biggest challenge for the music industry is going to be finding a way to recreate or replace that experience online – if you’ve got any ideas send them our way!
Go behind the scenes with Naked Giants and the making of The Shadow:
This was taken right after we loaded all our gear into the studio. There’s something so satisfying about seeing everything you’re going to use on the album just packed up and crammed into one little room – it puts a bit of perspective on the recording process and gives you that “here-and-now” feeling.
In addition to the music gear, we couldn’t travel with out Catan or our coffee-making supplies.
Studio dog! This is producer Chris Funk’s little dog Pengu. There’s something so conducive to creativity about having a little animal buddy wandering around the studio. I think animals can really help you get out of your head a bit and bring your mental/spiritual functions back to the moment – plus he’s just so dang cute!
Rise n’ shine. We slept in these little bunks in the walls upstairs from the studio. This place was like a zany millionaire’s playhouse – there was an indoor skate bowl right next to the studio, a slide on the roof, a beautiful 1963 Jazzmaster in Olympic White (pre-CBS!!), and we slept in these little bunks with curtains for privacy.
We’d wake up early with the sun and get the coffee brewing and the tones cooking – nice vibes all around.
PEDALS. There were tons (heaps as you might say) of pedals lying around everywhere, just fun noise machines dying to be played with in every combination. I spent a lot of time just plugging in different pedals to see what sounds came out the other end – by the end of the recording sessions there must have been 50 pedals just strewn about the floor of the studio.
This particular pedal chain was used for the lead guitar track on the last song on the album, ‘Song For When You Sleep’.
This is a photo edit by our friend Grayson, who came down to the studio for a day. I think it pretty much sums up our experience – swimming around in this big old skate bowl with our instruments, on the swirling path to discovering and realizing The Shadow.
Naked Giants’ new album The Shadow is out today.