If you could jump in a time machine and travel back through the mists to any date in Salt Lake City music-scene history, New Year's Eve 2009 should be your first stop. That night, Max Pain & the Groovies put on their first-ever show—at their house, along with Spell Talk—and it set the mood for virtually every Groovies show to follow, with all the crucial elements in place: fire hazards, potential property damage and loud psych-rock havoc.
"Tcoy's [Troy Coughlin's] drums caught on fire, Sammy Harper of Spell Talk pulled down a chandelier, and it was all in this house that we rented out with like six other dudes—just the craziest thing ever," says guitarist Shane Preece.
"I didn't even have lyrics for that show," adds lead vocalist and keyboardist David Johnson. "I just kind of karaoked it."
Almost exactly five years later, Max Pain & the Groovies have enough experience under their collective belt to school their past selves on what they definitely shouldn't do and what they definitely should do when trying to make a band work. But it's been a long, often frustrating journey to get to that point.
"I think it takes a long time to actually learn what it takes to be a successful band and to get out on the road and to record properly—like you don't just get handed that information when you first start, so it's a lot of trial & error," Johnson says. "And I think out of the five years, we've definitely finally gotten the right path to keep the band going."
One significant marker on that path is Max Pain & the Groovies' new album, Electro Cosmic, their debut full-length and first release on vinyl, set to come out five years to the day since the band played that raucous house show. As a collection of songs ancient, old and relatively new, Electro Cosmic is an effective summary of the wild Max Pain & the Groovies tale thus far, an intoxicating head trip that encompasses the band's early days as a purely instrumental project as well as their present creative firepower.
The fact that it took Max Pain & the Groovies five years to release a full-length album isn't for lack of trying. For what would've been their debut, "we had a lot of songs that we had tried recording previously a bunch of times with other people, and it just wasn't working," Coughlin says, thanks to getting matched up with producers whose styles were incompatible with the band's vision.
But even though that early album was scrapped, "We were like, 'We need to release something because we've already grown so much as a band,'" Preece says. Determined to get a quality recording out to listeners, Max Pain & the Groovies decided to put their plans for a full-length on hold and instead focus on making an EP, teaming up this time with Mike Sasich of Man Vs. Music.
Released in 2013, Max Pain & the Groovies is the result of the effortless connection between the band and Sasich. Loud, urgent, immediate and full of maniacal energy, the EP captures everything that makes Max Pain & the Groovies such an electrifying live act. Unsurprisingly, the band turned to Sasich again when it came time to record Electro Cosmic, and the experience was similarly productive.
"It's way stressful that even if you like track everything right, the person you're gonna record with is going to make it sound all not what you want," Coughlin says. But with Sasich, the band was able to just "tell him exactly how we feel, and he makes it translate to the end product."
Electro Cosmic includes songs from a variety of Max Pain & the Groovies' songwriting eras. It gets its name from the spacey but rockin' track "Electro Cosmic Chronic Jam," which, although it's the final song on the album, is "literally one of the first jams" the band wrote, Coughlin says. The rest of the album is made up of older previously unreleased tracks such as "Charlie B" and "Spawn," a couple of songs from the EP ("Spank Bank" and "Swlrvin'") and new-new material, including "What You Wanna Hear," spooky blood-boiler "Drip," "Murder" and more.
The tracklist's variety shows that, in addition to ever-tightening and ever-sharpening their music, Max Pain & the Groovies have reached a never-before high level of creative chemistry. When writing music, the members of the current band lineup—completed by guitarist Dallin Smith and new bassist Kallan Campbell, who joined the band in 2013—have reached a point where each have the ability to bring his own style to the table, while keeping the sound cohesive.
"Watching a song develop has been so crazy," Preece says. "It's weird because it'll start with just one riff or one beat or one bass riff, and everyone will start adding stuff, and then we'll come into this crazy sound where it's just like, 'Oh dude, this sounds right, it sounds like something that's already been made up.' And then you just fine-tune it."
Embedded in Electro Cosmic is a taste of the power that Max Pain & the Groovies brought to that house show so long ago. But its clear musical progression hints that the band is closing a chapter and moving forward.
Electro Cosmic is "the next step we need to take," Johnson says. "And just with like touring and playing a bunch of shows, we really [hadn't] sat down and put the time aside to do it. But it's a big relief I'd say to finally get it out there so we can now take the next step."