Growing has been together for 10 years, but nobody in the band wants to talk about it. Hitting the decade mark is something most bands, let alone noise bands, never do. Petty jealousies intrude. Jimmy quits. Joey gets married. The specter of an adult life looms large, particularly over a band that is, by its own admission, “as far as you could possibly be” from being full-time musicians. They brusquely brush aside inquiries about their longevity. Kevin Doria frowns. “It’s something we always wanted to do, so it’s a nice thing, I guess,” he said. “I’ve just never really thought about it. It’s not that I take it for granted. This band is so embedded in my life that it doesn’t even register as some kind of weird achievement. I didn’t set out to be in a band for 10 years.”
The reticence is strange, because on the surface, Growing looks like a band that is in need of some kind of win. Doria, Joe Denardo and recent addition Sadie Laska look tired. Touring on a budget is taxing, and not exactly a money-making proposition. Doria is frank about the fact that the tour is killing the band financially. “We can’t afford this tour, and we probably won’t do another one for a long time. We’ll wait another five years and then play in Houston again.” There’s a distinct bitterness to the statement, and things don’t exactly seem to be breaking in Growing’s favor. It’s Tuesday in Atlanta, and the crowd at the bar seems more interested in burgers and beer than multi-layered noise music. This isn’t first-class travel followed by trashing an expensive hotel room. This is the subsistence-level rock ‘n’ roll life style.
The band members are lucky enough to have jobs that will allow them to take time off to tour, but each member has a story about “coming home fired and totally assed out about how to make things work at the end of the trip.” Denardo adds that Growing “is not in the financial category of bands mentioned in the same breath with us because of our record label [Vice Records] or the publications doing press about us. There are people who are making quite a bit of money playing this kind of music, but it’s not us. I would be happy to be able to replace a piece of equipment when it breaks rather than having to make do all the time.” Growing cannot imagine a time when it is a self-supporting entity.
Most bands would have packed it in long ago. Haunting every record store in America is at least one clerk who used to be in a band. Shopping in Knoxville, my friend pointed out the guy behind counter- he used to be in the Judybats. A couple of videos on 120 Minutes, and then a slow fade into obscurity. This is how Growing’s story could end, minus the television exposure and easily accessible adult contemporary flavor. Growing is in the hole and waiting to play for a small crowd on an off night. This would seem to be the musical definition of grim.
And while Growing has no illusions about its level of success, there is a dignity to what they do. Simply soldiering on in a band for 10 years is an accomplishment, but Growing has continued to evolve over its lifespan. Both Doria and fellow founding member Denardo agree that one reason the band has stayed vital is the recent addition of Laska. While growing as a duo was known for the heaviness of its live sets, Laska’s presence has freed the band up to explore new territory.
“There’s just more happening on stage,” he said. “When it was just the two of us, there was always the pressure to have lots of things going at once and really fill up the room. Now we can share the burden a little bit, and there’s a freedom to explore further or concentrate on one particular sound. Of course, there’s also what she brings to the band, which is vocals. That’s something that we didn’t have before.”
Denardo and Doria have also continued their personal journey as musicians, utilizing Laska and exploring new ways to interact with their instruments. “I can’t really play the guitar, really. It’s not like I don’t know what I’m doing, but if you give me but if you give me an acoustic guitar and some sheet music, I wouldn’t know what to do with it really,” Doria said. “I’ve never been able to absorb those types of conventions.”
Denardo agrees with this assessment, allowing that even though Growing’s music is nontraditional, their output is the result of a conscious decision the he and Doria made many years ago to construct music that was unlike anything they heard on the radio. “It doesn’t mean I don’t like the Doors,” Denardo said. “But when it comes to creating, I want to make something that’s wholly original.”
Tilting at these particular windmills would be heroic from a certain standpoint, but there are many who would dismiss Growing as a collection of navel gazers, making noise for no particularly good reason. That’s taking the easy way out. Even if the band never breaks even and continues to play in small venues on weeknights, there will be among the merely curious five or six fans who are devoted to the band’s music. It may be someone who shares the Growing’s DIY aesthetic or a scenester who found something valuable among the noise he was pretending to enjoy, but more often it’s a kid from the suburbs who, like Denardo a decade ago, is looking for something genuinely different.
“When I grew up going to shows, I went to see bands that were in the shape we’re in, and they toured because they wanted to play gigs,” Denardo said. “They didn’t make money on their tours. The reason we’re doing what we’re doing is because I saw those bands and they were really inspiring to me. When we play a show in Fargo and there’s four kids that like the gig, it’s the same spot that I was in in the suburbs of Chicago seeing a band, telling them after the show that I was really glad to see them. Did I ever expect to see them again? No, because they didn’t make very much money that night. That’s where we’re at, except we’ve been to Fargo four times.”
That might be just the win that Growing needs.