Credits: Angela Hodgkinson
A guitar, by itself, is an amazing and beautiful instrument, but for musical swashbucklers looking to explore and find new sonic treasures, effect pedals provide limitless prospects.
A true understanding of capabilities of guitar pedals figures in nicely with the distorted, effect-heavy alternative rock of three-piece Grooms, and when bandleader Travis Johnson found a side gig helping design and manufacture them, that knowledge went to a whole other level.
“In terms of knowing what things could or should sound like, in terms of possibilities, it definitely brings something to the table,” Johnson said. “When we were making our last record, I was just a lot more familiar with sounds we could make. There was such a greater understanding of how these sounds were formed and what could be formed.”
The buzzy Brooklyn band hit in Oklahoma several years before, when Grooms was still Norman alternative favorite The Muggabears. Johnson formed The Muggabears back home in Texas as a solo project before beefing it up with new members while attending the University of Oklahoma. New York City came a-callin’ after graduation, and he — along with bassist and Oklahoma native Emily Ambruso — made the move and shook things up.
“At some point, we got tired of the name,” Johnson said, “and decided to just make it into something new entirely.”
As a result, Grooms found a wider audience to appreciate its sound, a mixture of Sonic Youth meets No Age.
“Lately, we’ve been getting into making more dreamy, soothing sounds, less abrasive things. It’s still the same things in a lot of ways, but just applied differently. Less and less out there, and more melodic, maybe,” Johnson said. “We are kind of getting past the cool guitar work we thought we were doing. With this one, we focused more on vocal melodies, something that people would like to hear and sing along to. Even though that’s obvious, it’s something we’d never thought of before.”
Much of that has been tracked onto the band’s upcoming sophomore disc, “Prom,” which will see release in July, but will be previewed during the group’s trek to South by Southwest, with a pseudo-homecoming stop Tuesday night at Opolis on the way back. Johnson is cautiously optimistic that this album might be the one to break Grooms through, but mostly thrilled how it captured a new side of the group while staying true to the fierce, distorted tunes that got them here and how perfect the “Prom” moniker seemed to fit that.
“I didn’t initially see a tie there,” he said. “It was just a good, unclaimed name that we went with. But there’s that idea of it being something really romantic and kind of innocent … and magical, and if you look at horror movies, there’s this sort of nasty undercurrent to prom. So maybe it’s something pretty with something vicious underneath.”