by Audrey Ledford
Growing up with my entire family from Washington state, the Seattle grunge sound of the 90s was invariably all around me. My mother would tell me stories of going to see the Screaming Trees at Velvet Elvis or partying with Stone Gossard at a WSU. The 90s grunge scene in Seattle had a distinct sound and culture; it became the epicenter of rock music. Bringing back that Seattle sound in the 21st century is the band Naked Giants. After literally tapping bassist Gianni on the shoulder at the bar, I interviewed the band after their concert at DC’s Songbyrd on March 27.
Naked Giants are a 25 year-old trio grunge-punk-rock band all from the Seattle area who started touring across the U.S. this year to promote their album The Shadow. The three members, bassist Gianni Aiello, vocalist and guitarist Grant Mullen, and drummer Henry LaValle started playing together after high school. In 2017, they released their debut album SLUFF and then gained a following opening for Car Seat Headrest on their North American tour.
Naked Giants in a way defy the stereotypes of what a grunge band is. Bassist Gianni is dressed in brown pants with a print at the knee he sewed himself; vocalist Grant is wearing a jeans-jean jacket combo; they look more like an indie-band. As Gianni clips his crocs onto his backpack in the greenroom, I think about how interesting it is to have such a hard sound coming from such a chill group. They are not the depressed hardcore grunge band of the 90s. It is a new era, an era where a punk-rocker ends an interview saying “be safe and be kind” and comments on the need to change racist immigration laws. This is why I love them. They don’t even care enough about the stereotypes to notice them; they are just real to who they are, and their music reflects that.
Naked Giant’s sound is hard to describe. I would say it is grunge, post-punk, sometimes surf-rocky; I overheard someone at the show saying they sound kind of like Weezer, which I do not get at all but to each their own. When I asked the band who they make music for, the answers were mixed: “Stoner dads,” “Girls from Montana in the Forest Service (based on a true story),” and “Mountain people” (apparently their songs have been used for snowboarding edits). They also talked about their Seattle influences like Soundgarden and Alice in Chains but emphasized that the Seattle classics didn’t dominate their music. Vocalist and guitarist Grant said 90s Seattle “was an influence but it wasn’t like GRUNGE! We HAVE to be a grunge band, but I mean of course we listened to Nirvana and stuff like that.” So Naked Giants is somewhat of a musical enigma which means it has a large base of appeal depending on what songs you listen to. If you are into more surf-rock lowkey music, try “Turns Blue”; if you are into hyper-punk and headbanging, try “Television.” I think what sums it up best is Grant’s quote, “I make music for people that just need a little cathartic reprieve.”
In concert, the band is a riot (although they don’t condone unsafe moshing). Their personalities shine on stage through their improvised and spontaneous sets. They take turns on epic solo runs, showing off their skill in pure euphoria. They are all in agreement that they are a jam band at heart. Drummer Henry also acted as the band's resident hype man, urging the crowd on. He said of his role, “If I was in the crowd and that riff from TV (“Television”) came on, like I would be going 90 degrees hammer heading.” The set ended in a 10+ minute improvised version of “Green Fuzz” which drummer Henry said felt too short. He views the concert as a conversation with the audience: “It is like an improv; I say this and the audience says ‘yes and this,’ and the audience is realizing this is crafted to Songbyrd Washington, DC in 2022.” Naked Giant’s music is meant to be fed on by the energy of the crowd. Their dualistic personalities are meant for a live show, showing their authenticity in interacting with the crowd.
So, what’s in the cards for the future of Naked Giants? Unfortunately, they recently got dropped by their label, but they have songs ready for a new album to be released in the coming year. This new album is going to reflect their new “inspirations and aspirations” as Grant aptly put it. He said they are trying to reach further in their musicality, without “going through an 80s period Dylan or Neil Young.” Gianni envisions the band much like they are now, with staunchly loyal fans, calling to a video of LCD Soundsystem playing Madison Square Garden for their farewell show. They are going to keep putting out music and gaining followers but most importantly, exploring their sound. As Seattle grunge has faded away, I feel hometown pride to see Naked Giants putting Seattle grunge back on the map, even though their music extends far beyond grunge and Seattle. When I asked them, who do you want to be the next of? Grant responded, “We want to be the next Naked Giants.”
Audrey Ledford is a sophomore in the SFS majoring in Culture and Politics and minoring in Art History. She will tell you she is either from Seattle, San Diego, or North Carolina depending on when you ask.