Any place you find bored kids with good enough drugs you’ll hear the sound of weirdo kids banging out their regional update on doped up psychedelia. In Southern California, the place is Orange County and the band is Cosmonauts. Though the 4-piece hails from a quiet suburb, their music is anything but. The songs on Cosmonauts’ debut LP (Permanent Records) are a noisy blend of Brit pop hooks and surf riffs that melt into reverb-soaked jams, all played as loudly as possible. Live? Well, let’s just say this is one band that’s not unfamiliar with having the plug pulled on them.
I caught up with Cosmonauts guitarist and singer Alexander Ahmadi for a quick chat about Orange County, the current craze for cassette tapes, and why guitar pedals will never be as good as an amp turned all the way up. You can stream Cosmonauts’ newish EP and forthcoming single on their bandcamp.
How long have Cosmonauts been in existence?
Since summer of 2009. That’s when Derek (Cowart: guitar/vox) and I (Alexander Ahmadi: guitar/vox) met a friends house show. We didn’t play our first real show as Cosmonauts until Halloween 2009 at a warehouse in Anaheim where James (Sanderson: bass) was a Mary Poppins.
Why did you start a band?
Because we were living in Orange County and we don’t like the beach too much. Shit’s really boring. Derek and I had grown up down the street from each other going to rival high schools, but we just kind of understood each other when it came to music. We know what we each other want to get out of it.
How would you describe your music to someone who’s never heard it?
I’d tell them to ask someone who’s not in the band.
What are some records that are influencing your band right now?
Lately I’ve been listening to the new Pangea record Night of the Living Dummy, on our local label Burger Records. Also the new Night Beats 12″ on Trouble in Mind Records. Night Beats are friends from Seattle, Washington, and their new recordings are fucking great. We’re definitely going to be doing some touring with them this year.
What are your main musical influences?
Rock ‘n roll and obvious stuff like shoegaze and 80′s noise rock stuff. Some punk and twee-pop and some stoney stuff and THE LENNON/McCARTNEY SONGBOOK.
How do you write your songs?
Lots of times it’s just Derek and I. Sometimes it’s the whole band.
What was it like growing up in Orange County?
Pretty close to what you’d think. We grew up in a place that has lots of social stigma, which is always weird. People expect Orange County kids to look a certain way and that makes it really easy to hate all the kids that do fall into the Orange County stereotype. We’re from “North County”, not the beach cities of “South County”. North County kids aren’t as pretty, have bad attitudes, and act like brats way more than South County kids. But that dissatisfaction breeds a much more artistic and weird community.
You guys are from sunny Southern California, which I think comes through in your music, but there’s also a lot of gloomy British noise rock influence in there. Any reason you’re drawn to that sound?
Well, like I said, we’re from North County. And I guess Derek and I spend a lot of time inside taking drugs and complaining that it never rains here.
A lot of the bands Cosmonauts get compared to used pedals to get their tones, but your band doesn’t. What equipment do you use to get your sound?
Derek’s got a 1972 Fender Super Reverb 4×10 and I’ve got a 1974 Music Man 4×10 which gets confused as a bass amp sometimes. But we just like the natural break-up of amps a lot more than anything we can get with pedals. And it just makes more sense that way, y’know? Because all those pedals are doing are trying to imitate the sound of amp with speaker break-up. And even though we dig lots of drug and psych rock, sometimes the tones are too shiny. I’d much rather prefer buzzy and clingy guitar sounds.
Two of your records have been released on European labels. Did they approach you or vice versa?
They approached us. Our first 7″ was on Goodbye Boozy, an Italian label that’s done stuff with some of our American friends like the Moonhearts and Ty Segall. Our second 7″ is coming out on Bad Afro Records from Copenhagen. Bad Afro has only done European artists until recently. They’re also releasing a 7″ by our friends from San Francisco, Royal Baths. They’re an awesome fucking band and I’m really glad they’re going to be heard in Europe.
Both your record and EP were released on cassette before any other format. Why did you go this route? Are you going to put out another record on cassette?
The entire reason for the cassettes is our local label Burger Records from Fullerton, California. Burger started around the same time we started the band and they’ve been helping us out ever since. Burger released both the cassettes and the first one got released on 12″ vinyl by Permanent Records (Chicago, IL). Burger’s been responsible for the local tape craze. All Orange County bands either have tapes released by Burger, or have released cassettes themselves. Burger’s also going to be releasing our new 12″ this Fall.
What’s a Cosmonauts live show like? Any particularly memorable ones?
I guess the ones that are the most memorably aren’t necessarily the ones with the most bodies or anything, just for some reason or another you can really get off that night. One of our favorites was definitely a house party we played at the Fuzzplex in Oakland, California. We always love playing in Northern California.
You’re known to be a very loud live band. Are you going to start passing out earplugs like My Bloody Valentine?
Cosmonauts have already been on one tour across the States and are about to go out on another. Any chance you’ll make it to the UK soon?
We’d love to, but we don’t have any money for plane tickets jut yet. So buy all our records and we’ll come across the pond.