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Three chords good, two chords better, one chord best—Spacemen 3's psychonaut Sonic Boom said it, and OC's Cosmonauts live it. They'll take the simplest things you can build a band out of—amps ratcheted up high enough the vacuum tubes start to sizzle, tangled-up melodies that could go on forever—and ride them to the horizon line, chasing the purity of sound and intent that fans of 13th Floor Elevators liner notes know well. No gimmicks, no tricks, not even any shortcut pedals.
"I hate when bands use pedals or other types of equipment as a fallback," says guitarist/vocalist Alex Ahmadi. "So many bands just hit a delay pedal, and boom! It becomes some psych bullshit."
So Cosmonauts eradicate the bullshit. Ahmadi started the band two years ago with fellow guitarist/vocalist Derek Cowart, pursuing a rumor that Cowart liked the Brian Jonestown Massacre. With their only shared musical experience together totaling out to the time Ahmadi saw Cowart play acoustic guitar at a house party, they decided to make a band—and a pretty loud one at that. Their first show was on Halloween, and they showed up with incomplete costumes. "I was supposed to be a bandito, but I didn't have a sombrero," says Ahmadi. "Derek was a Beatle. Our costumes sucked."
Happily, the actual band didn't suck at all. Their 2010 tape on Burger Records (with the elephant on it!) reverberates at the slightest touch, but beneath all the exhilarating clatter is the same sense for a catchy hook the Reid brothers in the Jesus and Mary Chain used so well. That tape's vinyl rerelease on esteemed semi-local label Permanent underscored the point: Cosmonauts are a pop band at heart, but a psychedelic band by sound.
Now, with two import 7-inches lurking in their discography and the release of another Burger tape called New Psychic Denim that includes their signature cover of the Beach Boys' "Little Honda," Cosmonauts are preparing their debut full-length—and a new vinyl EP set for release by Reverberation Appreciation Society, who put on the sprawling Austin Psych Fest each year around South By Southwest. With that label, there probably couldn't be a better match. And with new drummer Jen Agnew fully installed into the system, they're ready for the last few steps on an album bassist James Sanderson says will be called If You Wanna Die Then I Wanna Die.
"The new LP is a little more versatile than our last, though it's got a couple of songs from our tape EP on it," says Cowart. "Everything's recorded a little better, so it'll be a bit easier to tell what's going on."
But hopefully not too easy. One of the best things about Cosmonauts is how they can deliver a sweet little song with jet-engine volume and intensity. When they play loud, it gets good. Even if it causes trouble.
"One time the owner of a bar told me in between every song we played we were too loud," says Ahmadi. "I don't get it."
This article appeared in print as "Psych Out! The Cosmonauts are a pop band at heart, psychedelic by sound."