Interview - Koa
On Friday, I had the chance to sit down with Chase Bader (vocals and acoustic guitar) and Conor Kelly (lead guitar) of Nashville’s very own Koa. Other band members include Ryan Ladd, who plays bass, Alex Matthews, who plays the saxophone, Will Youngclaus, who plays the drums, and Ryan McClanahan, who plays percussion.
Capitol Sound: How did Koa come to be?
Conor Kelly: Chase and I have been writing songs together since fifth grade. He moved out to Nashville his freshman year of college, and I was still in Colorado. It took a year to realize that we wanted to do something serious with music, so I moved out to Nashville and we just started writing songs again, and that’s basically how Koa started.
Capitol Sound: What is the meaning behind the band name?
Conor: “Koa” is a wood native to Hawaii and a lot of musical instruments are made out of it. But the word “koa” actually means “strength” and “warrior” in Hawaiian. So us, being as big of a band as we are, we find that’s very important, especially on the road, to keep your values strong within each other and we really profess a strong sense of family with our music, so we just kind of felt that “koa” was the most fitting. A lot of people say that we have a beachy kind of island vibe to our music, so we went with Koa. It’s short, sweet, and it means what we want it to mean. That’s why we picked it.
Capitol Sound: What is your favorite show you’ve ever played?
Conor: My favorite show was probably the most recent 12th and Porter show that we played. I believe it was last month. It was really great. We came off of a huge high from playing the Battle of the Bands at Belmont. When we won that, we got a ton more fans and a lot of the newer freshman got really into it. We were super excited to meet all of these new people that were getting into our music and 12th and Porter was just a bumping show. The audience was really into it and I felt like we were on our game musically.
Chase Bader: There was a lot that we did on tour that was awesome. I think that was when we really came together as a band. We played some shows in Charleston that were really cool. This past August, we did a show in Placerville, California that was amazing. It’s just cool seeing different types of people come together and people we wouldn’t normally play for really getting into the music. I think ultimately, I would have to agree that the Battle of the Bands was amazing. It was a great opportunity to reach a crowd of kids that we go to school with that we never would have played for or known. It just worked out so well that we were playing 12th and Porter the next Thursday, so from there to that show it was just amazing to see how many people came back and I think we really got to people between those two shows. I think we really got our message across and people really understood what we were trying to do.
Capitol Sound: If you could collab with any artist, dead or alive, who would it be?
Chase: Well, the Beatles were the first band that really got me into music. I’d love to work with Paul McCartney. His approach to songwriting, I think that him and I have a lot of similarities. So yeah, I would probably say Paul McCartney.
Conor: For me, it would probably be Jerry Garcia from Grateful Dead. Their lyrics are just really amazing to me. They have a really unique way of writing such bold sounding songs. There are some parts of the Dead that are just ridiculous and there are some parts that are more easy to grasp and pleasing to the ear. You could write a “Terrapin Station” that’s like a 30 minute epic jam and the lyrics are just all over the place, and then you could have something off of the American Beauty record.
Capitol Sound: What do you think your biggest success/wow moment has been so far?
Conor: Probably winning the Battle of the Bands Chase: Yeah, that was unexpected. Conor: Yeah that was very cool, because being in a band for as long as we’ve been, for a year and a half, we’ve had a lot of ups and downs, like one of our band members lost a parent and a lot of crazy stuff happened on the road. Sometimes, the emotions of the band fluctuate drastically at times. So to have such amazing support like winning the Belmont Battle of the Bands and then in addition to that, having everybody come out and see us at 12th and Porter. It was very encouraging to see all of the support that we have behind us. Which is kind of why we’re out here doing this. We have to sell tickets for our Mercy Lounge show for 10 bucks at the door, but we really want as many people to be exposed to us as possible. Three dollars and a sticker, we just want you to come out.
Chase: It sounds like it’s counterproductive to say that we don’t want to make money, but we don’t mind if we don’t make money. At the end of the day, we’re a six, seven piece band, so making money doesn’t normally happen at this stage. So ultimately, we want as many people to come to the show and experience the show. We’re filming a video, and there’s a lot of exciting things happening for us as a band. So the more people that we can get involved with that, the better. Like I said, we’re not going to make money at this point, we realize that. That’s a goal later on down the line, obviously, but we’re really just trying to reach people. And I think that this is the right way to do it for us.
Capitol Sound: What is your favorite album of all time?
Conor: I know that Chase is going to say [The Beatles] “The White Album.”
Chase: Yeah, “The White Album” just really opened my eyes. I had never heard anything like it, and I think I didn’t like it at first, but there was something about it that made me keep coming back to it. I feel like that’s how I am with a lot of music. I’ll listen to a band for the first time and I just won’t get it, I won’t like it, but then I’ll come back to it because something intrigued me. It’s such a diverse body of work, but I just listened to it nonstop for an entire summer, and it just changed my life.
Conor: From a guitar playing perspective, I would say that I’m most influenced by the Allman Brothers Band. So probably in terms of guitar playing and songwriting, I would probably go with “Eat a Peach.” As a really sonic influence of what you can do with sound, I would probably go with John Mayer’s “Continuum.” Chase: That’s a big one for me too. And “Sleep Through the Static” by Jack Johnson. That’s another one that’s just so simple but it’s my favorite sounding record and the songs on it are just phenomenal.
Capitol Sound: If you could record another genre, what would it be?
Chase: I love Jazz. I think that’s one thing as an engineer that I want to get more into is recording and producing Jazz. I started playing drums before I played guitar, so I was really influenced by Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa and all those guys, so Jazz was a huge thing for me.
Conor: For me, it would probably be a genre of Indian music, it’s an East Indian classical music called Qawwali. And since I started playing slide guitar, what happens is you put the slide on and you’re not pushing down on any strings, so the instrument becomes fretless. A lot of Indian classical music is played on fretless instruments. So with a lot of my slide playing that I’ve really been getting into lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of Ali Akbar Kahn and I’ve been listening to an Indian mandolin player named Srinivas, who’s been really cool. I think if would be really hard to play that kind of stuff because they usually stay within one key signature and the whole song is in one key. Predominantly in Indian music it’s a B flat, so you constantly hear a B flat in the background, but to keep the listener engaged with just that one note going in the background, I feel like that would be really hard to do. That’s pretty intriguing to me.
Capitol Sound: What is the best advice you’ve been given by someone in the industry, or someone else?
Chase: In terms of singing, I had a guy, he’s actually the owner of Soulshine [Pizza] and I guess I’d never really considered myself a singer until I really started trying to focus on it and figure out what made me different from other people. I remember playing one of our first shows at Soulshine, and we’ve kind of developed a really cool relationship with the owner there. I just remember him telling me that he spent so many years trying to sound like Gregg Allman and his heroes and stuff like that. And you know, he does pull it off really well, but he told me that when it comes to singing, or anything really, as long as you’re authentic and you appeal to what makes you different and you don’t try to be anyone else, you’re going to have a great, successful career. You’ll just be able to express yourself and enjoy what you’re doing, because looking back, he wishes that he would have stayed a little bit more true. Hearing from somebody like that who has been through it was kind of like, yeah that’s really important for sure.
Conor: I would say that in terms of running a band, and running a business at times, for me, my dad told me once that the guy that is most successful at the end of the day is the guy that works the hardest. So I always felt like that was incredibly important. Because in my mind, when I think of that, I’m like “well, if all it takes to be the best band is to work really hard, I’m gonna do that,” you know what I mean? So having something tangible like that and working your back until you fall over, I love doing that and I love being able to feel that. But in terms of music, I remember talking to Derek Trucks after I met him at a show and he told me that a lot of his playing, it’s not about the notes that you do play, it’s about the notes that you don’t play. So I’ve really tried to apply that to Koa and I find that the trick sometimes is finding a way to disappear at times but still being there. So probably that, the less is more mentality.
Capitol Sound: What’s coming up for you guys?
Conor: We have a lot of big announcements coming up for this summer. We can’t disclose a lot of that, but we have some really big things planned that Koa’s never done before. We really feel like it’s going to break us into a huge market. This show at Mercy Lounge is probably, at least up until now, going to be the pinnacle of Koa’s musical ability. We’re really putting a lot of time and energy into the show and we have some really cool industry people that are interested in coming to check us out and see what we’re all about. So really just promoting this show in particular. And then we’re also in the studio right now cutting our first record, so we’re really excited about that too.
Koa will be performing at Mercy Lounge on Friday, November 14th. You can purchase tickets below. And be sure to check out Koa’s most recent release, their single False Calls, which is available for free download. http://www.ticketweb.com/t3/sale/SaleEventDetail?dispatch=loadSelectionData&eventId=4254714&pl=mercylounge https://soundcloud.com/thisiskoa/false-calls
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