Interview with Naked Giants

Seattle psychedelic rock band Naked Giants
Photo by Rachel Bennett

Back in October 2020, we interviewed Seattle psychedelic rock band Naked Giants to talk about cringiest high school memories, gas station food, and signature dance moves.

When you’re on tour, what’s your go-to gas station order?

Henry: Oh, it’s one of these interviews! I love it.

Gianni: That’s a great one to lead off with. I honestly usually just stay in the car and hold out for a Taco Bell. But if I’m super hungry, one of those little Planter’s peanut packages, you know what I mean? Try to stay hardy.

Grant: Mine is just cigarettes. I’m actually chewing some nicotine gum now, cutting down on the smoking a little bit. Other than that, I tend to actually get a Powerade for some reason. I don’t like it that much, but it just kind of hits the spot. This is kind of from earlier touring, but a Keebler cheese and peanut butter. Sounds gross, but those crackers.

Gianni: I’ve also known you to get the more exotic chip flavors. If there’s a weird spicy one.

Grant: I can’t help myself if there’s something new. Like a Pickle Lay’s.

Henry: Pepperoncini Doritos.

Gianni: Yeah, those Pepperoncini kettle chips are pretty good.

Grant: I have three bags of Mexican imported chips in my house. I randomly impulse bought, like four bags and they’re in the closet for some reason. I just didn’t know where to put them. They’re kind of like, my night-time snack.

Gianni: That’s smart. You don’t have to travel to get your snack.

Grant: Ultimate lazy.

Henry: Mine’s probably like, a protein shake and protein bar to try and quench hungry for as long as possible.

Gianni: Ultimate tour gains.

Henry: Or like, chocolate milk. When else am I gonna treat myself to a chocolate milk.

Gianni: One time Henry’s dad came on tour with us to SXSW. And we stopped at a gas station and he went straight for a frozen Snickers’. That was an adventurous move, that was something I’d never do.

Grant: Those are yummy. They also have frozen Twix, those are good too.

Henry: He loves ice cream.

What are the pros and cons of livestream shows?

Grant: I think the pro is that we can think a little more about what we want to play, and we don’t have to play to a live audience where we play the same thing every time. It’s more like if you’re filming a music video, it’s just such a different format that we can be a little more creative, and we don’t have to repeat the same set because each audience needs to experience a curated event on tour. With livestreams it’s more like “Yeah, we can do this, it’ll be fun.” And then the con is that it feels a little, not disingenuous, but like you’re pretending that it’s a live show. So, you settle into being like, “Oh yeah, this is just a livestream.”

Gianni: I would tend to agree. It’s kind of a detachment. I consider us a live band, and there’s something special that happens when we play to a live audience. It’s tough on our end to try and access that same kind of musical energy without the audience. And I’m sure it’s tough on the audience’s end. It just doesn’t translate very well across the screen. It’s kind of a hurdle. I just watched one of those random YouTube videos where a former FBI spy detection agent talked about politicians’ body language, like those random WIRED videos. And they’ve talked about how we’ve adjusted body language to fit in Zoom. We’ve moved our hands up and do stuff up here. It’s a similar situation, where we do semi-acoustic and drum machines and stuff. It’s kind of fun to get out of our comfort zone and try something new, because that’s not something we’d really be able to do on tour.

Henry: It would be kind of funny if we went to a KEXP radio station sort of situation, but we made a point to play the show as if there was an invisible audience, and if we were like, “Thank you to the front row! You are so high energy tonight, we really appreciate it! We’re gonna bring you up onstage in a little bit!”. And the person running it would be like, “Who are you talking to? Why are you doing that?”. Like, it’s all part of the show. I think that would be really funny.

Grant: We could bring a friend to come onstage, like “Hey you! Get up here!”. And the friend would come on and it would look real.

Henry: The pro is that we get to play a show, because I know musicians who haven’t had the opportunity to play a show since March. We’re a rock band, we’re used to playing rock clubs. Maybe a violinist can play something at a park, socially distanced, or a guitarist can do something. But for us, to be a rock band that usually plays sweaty clubs where people are brushing up against each other… That’s not happening for a long time. The fact that we get to do live shows is a huge pro. A con is that there’s no people.

Your songs really make people want to groove. Do you dance, and if so, what are your favorite moves?

Gianni: It takes a lot to get my back up off the wall. At our manager’s wedding, she just got married right before COVID. So it was the last big gathering. And that was the perfect combination of I had two and a half glasses of wine, and the vibes were in the air, you know what I mean? That was a good night of dancing. It’s a lot in the wiggliness for me. The faster the arms and legs can wiggle back and forth. If you watch our music video for the song “Take A Chance,” that’s a good demonstration of our dance moves.

Grant: As opposed to wiggliness, I kind of tend to be focused on speed. It’s more of quick movements, as opposed to a wiggly movement.

Henry: I really think the perfect song to dance to is “Dancing in the Dark” by Bruce Springsteen. He’s been coming up a lot recently. I think I’m that sort of 2 and 4 guy.

Grant: When I imagine people dancing to that song, it’s the most awkward dancing group.

Henry: Just wait ‘til you go see… what’s the music from New Orleans? They’ve got the accordion. Zydeco music. That’s such an awkward music to dance to.

Gianni: Dancing is all about laughter, that’s mainly what I try to do when I dance with my partner. It’s all about trying to crack a smile on the other’s face. That’s a thing. Freedom and smile.

What are some of your non-musical influences, like books or movies?

Henry: Recently, I really like old photos. Like photo stories, photojournalism. I have this big book, not in this apartment now. But it’s photojournalism from the last 150 years or something. There’s something about that, different places in the world, different stories, different cultures, different scenes even. I think that influences even why I do art and why I care so much about art and why I make art such a huge part of my life. I don’t know, I guess politics too recently. Big political moment right now, and I think having a microphone during these times, and a stage, is really a big responsibility. So that influences me. Fashion, I’m not that into fashion, but maybe a lack thereof. But the look. I really like the look. I got some sweaters recently, I really like wearing sweaters. Sweater weather.

Gianni: I’ve been taking a lot of walks recently, trying to enjoy autumn colors and that feeling, you know. There’s a river by my house, to go sit at, you know. I recently noticed in a body of water there’s all these really quick ripples. They go in one direction, and then a boat goes by and they go in the opposite direction. That’s kind of how music feels sometimes, there’s really quick cycles going on, but then there’s this kind of undulating oneness that kind of ties it all together. I thought that was pretty interesting. I really like getting into existentialism, and anti-capitalism, and that’s always been a source of lyrical inspiration. Why and how did we get here, you know? I don’t dig too deep into philosophers, which is something I probably should do. When I do, it’s from more of a spiritual angle. I’m reading the Autobiography of a Yogi. It’s cool how he finds such depth in little tiny instances. I’m trying to find that more often than not.

Grant: For me, one that comes to mind that’s slightly hard in quarantine is just socializing and meeting people. Hearing people’s stories and who they are. Just a good connection with others is very inspiring. Other than that, like Gianni was saying, nature. I like having a view, just being alone, sitting there, it’s very inspiring. Also, nature sounds, like the sound of the river flowing and stuff like that. Other than that, I think knowledge in general. Whether it be existentialism or any given knowledge. Especially knowledge that feels, I wouldn’t say wholesome, but based in truth and goodness. Just truth and good stuff is inspiring. I think many would say that bad stuff is inspiring, conversely. Which it is. But I think to me, it’s more inspiring to get on the good side. Because I feel like inspiration usually comes from good stuff. And the other stuff is more like, you can be inspired to want goodness, but it’s different than being inspired by goodness. Something like that.

Your latest album has a song about a guy who never wants to leave high school. Obviously, most people never want to go back. What’s your cringiest memory from those days?

Grant: I don’t know if I want to expose any of those.

Gianni: I’m in a perpetual state of cringe. I’m sure you guys can relate to this. I feel like I can’t go five minutes without being like, “Oh shit, why did I do that?”. It becomes cyclical, because it’s like, why am I pitying myself in this moment, you know? It’s hard to pin down one thing.

Grant: I do have a memory, it is actually cringy. I was just very provocative sometimes in high school, as many boys are. They go through this provocative period when they’re juniors. They start being really snide and jokey and provocative. Senior year I was really into fashion, and I had this one shirt that was really nice, but it was like a dress. Kind of oversize style. So, I just went to school with no pants. I was like, “This’ll be fine.” And the dean of students was like, “Grant, wear your pants.” I was like “It’s a dress, there’s nothing wrong with a dress.” And he was like, “I know what you’re trying to say, but you’re being provocative, so go put pants on.” And I was like, “You’re right.”

Henry: That’s hard to follow. My whole senior year was pretty cringy. I was a spirit leader at the school, so I would wear the school colors every day and was part of this passed down little club of seniors. Looking back, I think that was highly cringeworthy. I think the cringiest part about that, if any high schoolers do watch this and are in that position, is that it was called the “Flag Dudes” and it was four guys that would be the spirit leaders. I wish I had passed it down to a girl. And just completely turned the whole thing on its head. Every time I meet a flag dude that’s a 17-year-old boy, I say “Man, give it to a girl. It’ll be the best thing ever, you have to do this.” And they never do, and I wish I had done that senior year and I never did. I still regret it, I’m like ugh. As much as I can say that’s something that should happen more, and those full-male hierarchy systems that are in place, if you can break those down at the level of your high school, you could try to do that. Change the status quo!

Gianni: That’s a lesson we can take into our current position as male rock and rollers, in a highly gatekept community. I think we’ve tried to do that in a casual capacity, but there’s room for more institutional stuff.

What was the process of filming the music video for “Take A Chance” like?

Gianni: It was a mad scramble, really. The song was meant to come out anyway, and it was a combination of one, we realized we didn’t have a video, and two, it was at the beginning of quarantine, so we didn’t have a way to do anything together. It was really a product of the circumstance. We were trying to make something very lighthearted, that people could watch and smile, and potentially inspire them to get up and dance and do whatever. That was kind of the basic inspiration for it.

Grant: I took the longest, because I was kind of unsure. We just sent in our respective videos, filmed at home. I took the longest just because I was a little bit nervous to do it. I was like, “Is this gonna be embarrassing? What am I gonna do? What are my moves gonna be?” But one day I was with my girlfriend and I was like, “Do you just wanna press play on the song while I do this?”. And that made it more fun, because it was a fun, laugh worthy experience because I was dancing like a buffoon to my own music, which was weird. I did three takes, and in one of the takes, I hit my heel really hard on the couch and I was in really intense pain. That was just a tidbit, it was fun.

Gianni: That’s like in Lord of the Rings where Aragorn kicks a helmet, and the actor broke his toe when that happened.

What venue or city is your favorite to play?

Gianni: It’s so long ago now, it feels like a hazy dream. There aren’t many across the country that we’ve revisited. A lot of times, we hit it once, and then on the next tour we’ll play at a different venue in the same town. I do remember The Empty Bottle in Chicago, that was a particularly fun show. There’s also the thing where there’s so many factors into what makes a show good, it’s hard to say if it was the venue in particular. We were touring with Twin, which was super fun, the show was almost sold out and there was this big energy in the room. What was that museum in Massachusetts that we played with Car Seat?

Grant: That’s hard, there’s a lot of good spots around. Are you talking about Mass Mocha?

Gianni: Any time you’re playing a venue that’s not a rock club, it’s a gamble, but sometimes it’s really cool. Mass Mocha was awesome.

Grant: The Bug Jar, in Rochester. It has house appliances, couches, desks, refrigerators, on the ceiling upside down. It’s really sick, what I’ve dreamed of since a child when I saw a Scooby-Doo episode where they walk on the ceiling. It wasn’t a good show for me at all, I really screwed up, but The Market Hotel, we were playing with Car Seat Headrest in New York. That was cool. Playing in New Mexico is always fun. We always stop at our oldest friends, they’re in their 70s, Nancy and Paul. Their place. I just love their place. It’s a nice refuge on the road to go up there. They cook dinner for us, they chat with us, it’s really homey and nice. There’s so many more, but I’m just gonna leave it at that.

Henry: Is it a cop-out to say London is such a dope place to play because you’re in London? Because everyone sounds so cool! I also think every show we’ve ever played in New York City just turns out to be a very special night. We have a big van in New York City with bagels, and whether it’s a 100-person venue, or Brooklyn Steel, or whatever, it’s always a really fun night with energy.

Grant: A couple more I’m thinking, that one we played in San Francisco for two nights. Bottom of the Hill? No, Bottom of the Hill was great, but The Fillmore. We played at two Shriner temples, one in Indianapolis, which is really weird, because they don’t have any money anymore and it’s not like the 50s when they were just partying all the time. But they’re still huge. The one in Indianapolis had this huge party room and all these dressing rooms with Egyptian statues. It was really creepy and weird.

Gianni: That one in Boise, when we played at Tree Fort, it was one of the Shriners’ birthday and it was his birthday party. Before we played, they brought him onstage, and it was this older white dude with a fez. And they were like, “Everybody sing happy birthday to Howard!”. It was so weird.

Henry: I miss touring, oh gosh. Where are you guys located?

Sarah: Central Iowa, currently.

Grant: We love Quad City. Is that Rozz-Tox? It’s over the bridge in Illinois.

Sarah: Yeah, that’s my favorite local venue.

Grant: We didn’t actually play there, we just stopped there. Someone recommended to us. We got coffee and bowls of cereal and watched Lord of the Rings on one of the mini-TVs. It was very cool, and I bought my favorite flannel. Iowa’s cool.


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