It’s been two and a half years since Seattle’s Naked Giants unleashed their debut album with a head full of South By Southwest steam (you remember music festivals?), but it might as well have been twice that in band years.
Over a two-year stretch, the frenetic garage rockers pulled double duty on the road with Car Seat Headrest, opening for the Seattle indie-rock heavyweights and joining Car Seat’s touring band as its crowds grew from clubs to theaters. As tour leg after tour leg passed, the punchy young trio popped up for various hometown gigs, sounding sharper and stronger each time. It soon became clear Naked Giants were no longer the same green 19-year-olds letting loose in the studio they were while cutting their “SLUFF” LP.
In the age of COVID, an airtight live set doesn’t go as far as it used to, but with their weeks-old follow-up album “The Shadow,” Naked Giants certainly bear the mark of a band that did some growing up in the back of a Sprinter van.
“We’re a little more calculated,” says bassist/vocalist Gianni Aiello. “We started out just jamming for the fun of it — we would just jam and rock out and that was kinda all we needed.”
To be sure, there’s plenty of high-octane rock-outs on their sophomore album. Rowdy surf-punk number “Walk of Doom” will leave club floors coated in Rainier one day — ditto the rambunctiously bouncy “High School (Don’t Like Them).” But the Seattle power trio, rounded out by guitarist/singer Grant Mullen and drummer Henry LaVallee, push themselves in a number of new directions, with varying degrees of unexpectedness, on the record produced by Chris Funk of The Decemberists.
There’s glammy, synth-squiggling dance rock and a stoner rock leg-stretcher that sets up hazy, dream-pop send-off “Song For When You Sleep” — all sprinkled across an album that never feels too scatterbrained. The biggest curveball is the U2-inspired ballad “Turns Blue,” informed by repeat “Joshua Tree” listens in the van. “I realized that ‘With or Without You’ is one of the great songs of the 1980s and tried to rip that off a little bit,” Aiello says.
The new looks are a result of the band (and its reps) challenging themselves “to try to dig deeper into what we mean with each song,” Mullen says, and those road days playing the more introspective tunes of Car Seat Headrest — a band amid an exploratory phase of its own. That and added distance from the band members’ teenage years also found vocalists Aiello and Mullen being a little more intentional with their lyrics, “understanding it doesn’t have to just be fun, nonsense party all the time,” Aiello says.
“With ‘SLUFF’ or ‘Everybody Thinks They Know (But No One Really Knows),’ we were just making these fun, silly songs,” he says. “But now, we’re dealing with things as adults that are really affecting us like social media overstimulation and the ever-unfolding political mess that we are directly involved in.”
Speaking of messes, the gig-less days of life without touring haven’t been easy on the band financially, as indie artists make most of their income playing shows. Helping soften the blow, Naked Giants recently became one of 10 Seattle acts awarded $5,000 grants through Black Fret Seattle — a nonprofit aimed at supporting local artists. Naked Giants perform Wednesday (8 p.m. Sept. 16) as part of a virtual concert series sponsored by Black Fret Seattle and the Nectar Lounge, the Fremont club that’s been one of the city’s most committed quarantine streamers since the shutdown. Running through mid-November, the showcase features fellow grant recipients Stephanie Anne Johnson & the Hidogs (Sept. 23), Smokey Brights (Sept. 30) and The Grizzled Mighty (Oct. 2).
It’s not quite the sticky floored, in-real-life celebration local fans have come to expect from one of Seattle’s top live bands. But such is life mid-pandemic.
“All of a sudden we have no idea what we’re doing again,” Aiello says. “We’ve gotten so used to the way the industry works — you put out an album, you tour, you’re selling your [expletive] on the road to make money. All of that is completely gone now. It’s a very fish-out-of-water experience.”