Grooms, operating under the name "Muggabears" until last spring, has teetered on breaking into indie-rock's collective consciousness since frontman Travis Johnson came to New York five years ago to play unnerving, mutilated pop songs. The best part is, this sort of widespread success that could likely come their way by CMJ's end doesn't seem to be something they're all that interested in. The trio's new album is a nod to old-school indie-rock purism a nearly two-year project of crafting 10 creepily good songs to form their full-length debut. Rejoicer is out October 20 on Death by Audio Records. Travis sat down with us to, you know, talk about it.
The L Magazine:In a recent interview, you mentioned that the sound of this new album is new for you in a lot of ways. Can you elaborate on that?
Travis Johnson: Well, one thing–maybe it won't sound new to anybody else–they'll be like, "Oh, yeah, they're doing the same thing they always do"–but, for one, the production.
We recorded with Jeremy Scott, who recorded Vivian Girls and These Are Powers and bands that sound nothing like us, or like each other. And it sounded really cool. Then we mixed with Nicolas Vernhes over at Rare Book Room who did Animal Collective and stuff. And he's kind of a real tinkerer, so the drums sound totally different than we've had before. He kind of does this Joy Division-y drum sound, which I like a lot–especially for a band that doesn't sound too much like Joy Division. Which is kind of weird, actually, because a few times we've played, and people have said, "You guys sound like Joy Division," but I think it's because other people tell me I look like Ian Curtis. It only happens when they see us live, so I think that's maybe what it is. No one has ever said it about our recordings.
The L: So, the Sonic Youth and Pavement comparisons. They're pretty rampant. Is that starting to bother you? Are you wishing people could hear more in your music?
TJ: I do think it's definitely fair–I don't know to how big of an extent, but definitely to some extent. I definitely think we do things that neither of those bands have done, and they do things that we wouldn't really want to do. I think [with] a lot of the stuff on this new album I was definitely trying to forge not just comparisons to those bands but also to what we had done in the past. Like, instead of having a bunch of guitar noise here, what if we all screamed together in a room and then added these crazy keyboards? Which isn't totally unlike something Pavement might do, but instead of going to where we would naturally go and make it, like, "oh, badass guitar noise."
The L: Are there influences in your life right now that affected the new direction?
TJ: Well, let's see. I was really, really into everything the Dirty Projectors had done, up to the point when we were recording–not to say that the new album isn't good, I just hadn't heard it. In terms of the basic songs, a lot of times what I'm thinking is along the lines of a really great Beatles song almost: A really great, emotive chord progression that has a certain feel to it and a certain texture, but it makes you feel something too. It's not just noise, or it's not just a good song. It's both of those put together. The Beatles are an obvious influence. Well, not obvious, but everybody likes the Beatles, so?But then there are a lot of other bands like the Pastels. I was actually listening to a ton of Joy Division at the time, and the Smiths.