by Aaron Carnes on Nov 20, 2012
The Groggs play the Crepe Place on Saturday.
Two years ago, Santa Cruz band the Groggs got rave reviews from garage-rock revival magazines and punk zines all over the world for their 3D EP. It is a brief four-song release with songs that are fun, retro and drenched in reverb. The CD even came with 3D glasses, and cover art to use the glasses on. People in the garage scene loved it.
But as they’ve spent the past few years working on their full length debut, they’ve decided to move away from the retro vibe and instead play bare-bones rock and roll.
“I think the garage revival stuff is hitting a dead-end right now. We’re really pushing to move beyond that sound,” says guitarist/lead vocalist Keith Thompson.
Along with Ryan Allbaugh on bass and Dominic Gullo on drums, the Groggs are really a power trio at their core, which has already been evident at their live shows for a while. Now, they would like it represented on their next recording. Friends that have heard rough mixes have commented that it’s sounding like the Stooges legendary Funhouse album.
“We’re trying to let the intensity of the songs speak more. The intention is to faithfully reproduce our live sound, instead of piling on the reverb,” Thompson says.
With the production tricks stripped away, the Groggs’ diverse influences become more transparent. Sure, their songwriting is influenced by the ’60s psychedelic Nuggets-era rock bands, but they’re also influenced just as much, if not more, by ’70s power-pop and proto-punk bands. Their sound is basically a hodgepodge of all the rock & roll traditions from its birth to the late ’70s, when the rise of the major labels and MTV changed everything forever.
“After the late ’70s, everything got corrupted. Before, it was an innocent golden era. I like to take that and throw a wrench in the works and make it a little weird or confused—put it through a punk or emotionally strange lens and create something that wouldn’t have been on the radio then, but is relatable,” Thompson says.
It isn’t just adding punk rock energy that gives the Groggs’ music a more modern sound; it’s also the uncharacteristically (at least with ’70s rock & roll) vulnerability and self-deprecating lyrics.
“There’s a lot of turning life’s weird misadventures into something that’s positive or funny. It’s transmuting these experiences that were failures in life and turning them into three-minute songs,” Thompson says.
For the Groggs, playing rock & roll boils down to chemistry. How well can the band jam together and create something magical? That’s why the band specifically chose to record all the instruments at once, as opposed to the “bedroom recording style” that’s popular now with indie rock.
“We don’t do it piece by piece. We capture live performance, so that it’s not a Frankenstein that comes out of the studio. Rather than it being a shiny product that’s super clean, it’s more of a guttural expression. It doesn’t always equal mainstream accessibility and it doesn’t always equal critical reception, but to us it’s more important if we’re doing it respectfully to the traditions of the music we love,” Thompson says.
Even though the Groggs have moved away from typical garage rock sound, they still battle with the predominant misconception that deliberately playing music sloppily or out of key somehow gives you a more authentic rock & roll sound. “People that consciously try to be really lo-fi are missing the point. There should be a certain amount of grit to the music in this kind of genre. If you take it too far it can be a detriment to what you’re doing. No great band has ever tried to sound like shit. They were trying to sound as good as they could with what they had,” Allbaugh says.
The Groggs play Sat, Nov. 24 at the Crepe Place in Santa Cruz.