While writing their third studio album, Endless Flowers, the globetrotting garage punks of Crocodiles went a bit bohemian. Principle songwriters Brandon Welchez and Charles Rowell wrote and recorded most of the record in Berlin, sharing a “shoddy chateau” together on the outskirts of town, hitting up sordid dive bars at night and bringing the various vagrants they encountered home with them.
“Somehow we eventually came up with an album,” says guitarist Rowell above the electric squall of the band’s pre-release rehearsal in Berlin.
The resulting record, Endless Flowers (out June 5 on Frenchkiss), is Crocodiles’ poppiest offering yet, blooming with slick guitar hooks and sexually charged rhythms that capture the combination of honesty and depravity gleaned from the group’s musical study abroad. We caught up with Rowell to get the skinny on the new record, memorable episodes of debauchery and a peculiar production practice called “The Naked Dictator.”
It sounds like rehearsal is going pretty… loud. Are you playing in the same space where you first rehearsed your album?
No, but ironically enough we’re playing our record release show basically in the same space where we rehearsed the album. It’s literally cavernous: It looks like a cave, and it’s under a train station. Brandon [Welchez] and I taught the band the songs there, and just after we finished rehearsing they turned the caves into a venue. So now it’s like, a 1,000-capacity club underneath the train station, which is pretty nuts.
How have you guys been spending your time in Berlin?
Brandon and I lived together in a little chateau on the edge of town—a cheap chateau, a shoddy chateau. Brandon and I have been working together and making music together and making love together for about 12 years now, so we’re thick as thieves, and we know exactly what the other person is thinking just by the blink of an eye. We cooked breakfast for each other and did all kinds of domestic things, finishing writing the record, taking in all the crazy local characters. So that’s how we wrote it. Then we flew the band out and took them to this cavernous rehearsal space and recorded it. The whole thing has kind of set a precedent for what we’ll do in future albums: Move to a city, immerse ourselves in the sordid underground that revolves around dive bars and gay bars and stuff, invite all these crazy characters back to our house, and hopefully we’ll eventually come up with something that’s worth releasing.
Do you already have your next city picked out?
We’re thinking Mexico City next. All the same feelings we get off of Berlin we get there. It’s cheap, it’s nefarious, it’s artistic, it’s beautiful—really inspiring. We actually wrote quite a bit of this album when we were there last.
What sorts of nefarious dives do you frequent in Berlin?
There’s a bar that basically translates to “The Rotten Rose” that we went to a lot. It’s completely covered in mirrors–the whole thing, even the tables. They’re located in Kreuzberg, which is a grittier part of the city on the south side of the river. Same thing with the Witch Club, which has like all these random stuffed witches on broomsticks all around the place. It definitely says a lot about the clientele. Witch Club had a really good dance floor though, and they put on really good garage-rock nights. There’s also a club called Ficken 3000, which translates to “Fuck Club 3000.” That had like a blackout room where you can go if you’re expecting to hook up. They also have an ice cream machine in there, so you have to go to the blackout room if you want to eat ice cream. Which sends a really odd message.
And what kind of nefarious characters have you been bringing home with you?
[laughs] Like male burlesque dancers…some of the actual club owners. We got in really well with the owner of Ficken 3000, actually. All kinds of interesting people. Coming back here now for our album release is like a reunion! We didn’t really bring it up that we were in a band or anything when we met these strangers, but they’re fans now. They’ll be there at the release show under the train station. I can’t even imagine what backstage will be like…probably like a zoo, literally. Animals. People who act like animals. Bushels of hay. Urine on the walls. Or maybe they’ll just bring canvases and an easel and paint us.
Did you play any shows in Berlin before this one?
We played here once before, and that was at a house party. It was insane. We had to keep starting and stopping because people were falling all over us. It was also a dress-up party where everyone was in crazy costumes. I had like a military outfit on, but I cut the shorts really, really obscenely short, and I cut the sleeves off my military jacket, and I had a helmet on and lipstick.
You’re playing a record release show on a boat on the Thames. How did that come about?
The record label that released our “I Wanna Kill” single in the U.K. are having a party, but it happens to fall on the same day that the Sex Pistols had their famous boat gig. It also coincides with the week of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and our record release. So it’s all kinds of stuff. We kind of work off spontaneity 100 percent of the time, so something crazy may happen. I hope so. I hope the boat sinks.
Flowers show up on the album cover and in several songs throughout the record. What attracted you to that image?
In a way it just came together. A lot of the inspiration on this record is poetic and literary figures. At the time we were reading a lot of Charles Baudelaire and like Flowers Of Evil, so maybe that’s in there. But flowers can mean anything, really. It can mean happiness, sadness, a first date, a funeral—anything. It’s a poetic thing and an image that’s been used a lot because it’s really effective, especially if you want to straddle that line between dark and light.
When was the last time you gave someone flowers?
I gave them to my wife—or my wife to be—Hollie [Cook] after she played a gig. She was going to be on a television show, so I brought her flowers at the television show.
What led you to the naked photo you used for the album cover?
There are people out there who probably like our music and probably listen to it pretty carefully, and here we’re exposing ourselves a little more and getting a little more naked emotionally. Thematically, it just fits. It’s deviant but it’s also very emotional and honest and kind of romantic in a way. Jesus, the model…people all have different opinions about what he’s doing and what it means, which is really cool. But mostly it’s the cover we wanted because it just fits our songs, you know. There’s some dirtiness, some nastiness but also some real honest moments. And Jesus is beautiful as well.
Is that Jesus on the cover of the “Sunday” 7-inch as well?
Yep, that’s Big J.
As a band you seem pretty comfortable with nudity. Can you tell me about the Naked Dictator?
[laughs] Yeah, it’s just fun to mess with everyone who’s involved in the recording session. So we did that by going into what we called the Naked Dictator persona, by getting naked and whipping each other with hot mops dipped in water and stuff. Like, while we were recording someone would go into their Naked Dictator outfit, which is nothing at all, and smack someone with a mop or something, so it’s recorded.
So the Naked Dictator is actually on the album?
Yeah. [laughs] In several forms.