Max Pain and the Groovies Were Skate Kids Who Wanted to Rock

Coming straight out of Salt Lake City, Max Pain and the Groovies earned the attention of ears across this great nation with their debut album, Electro Cosmic, a valentine to garage rock and psychedelia. If you listen carefully, you can hear influences as varied as the Make-Up, Black Lips, and even Motörhead. But it was not a musical bond that initially brought together the five members who formed Max Pain and the Groovies — it was a different sort of instrument. "We grew up skating together," singer and keyboardist David Johnson tells New Times.  "We'd travel around the country on skate trips."

In 2010, Johnson and his friends decided to continue traveling the nation together, but this time as a band.

"Our first show we played, we didn't even have any lyrics."

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There was a slight problem, though. Neither Johnson nor the four other members — bassist Kallan Campbell, drummer Troy Coughlin, and guitarists Dallin Smith and Shane Preece — had any formal musical training. "We all had a wide range of influences. We knew we wanted to play rock 'n' roll, but we didn't have any real direction we wanted to go," he says. "Our first show we played, we didn't even have any lyrics. We made them up on the spot. It went well, so we kept going."

Luckily, the band eventually found its groove. And the group's fuzz-heavy sound helped hide the members' relative inexperience as musicians. 

Though Utah isn't known as a hotbed for music — especially psychedelia — Johnson says his hometown of Salt Lake City has a solid scene worth discovering. Plus, being smack-dab in the middle of the country means they're not too far from any state, which helps when it comes to touring. Even a flight to Florida — where Max Pain and the Groovies will head for their first Sunshine State shows — is a reasonable four-hour flight. "I'd been there on vacation before, but this will be my first time playing music there. Our good friends Plastic Pinks are from Miami, and they helped set up this show."

When the band comes to Gramps this Saturday with local rockers Dénudés and Heavy Drag, audiences will hear songs from Electro Cosmic along with tracks from the band's forthcoming album, Ancient Grease, recorded in Salt Lake City and expected to drop in October. Johnson promises it is even more upbeat and faster than their first rodeo in the recording studio, but he voices disappointment that he can't share it sooner because of the long wait at the vinyl plant to print records. The group is starting a nationwide tour.

Despite being two albums into a rock 'n' roll lifestyle, Johnson doesn't see a very big difference between where he and his bandmates are now versus when they first toured the nation in their skating days. "We still skate a lot. We start our days in each town looking for a skate park."

Max Pain and the Groovies. 9 p.m. Saturday, June 18, at Gramps, 176 NW 24th St., Miami; 305-699-2669; Admission costs $5.

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David Rolland is a freelance music writer for Miami New Times. His novel, The End of the Century, published by Jitney Books, is available at many fine booksellers.
Contact: David Rolland