From the Basement to Your Stereo The Story About a Songwriter Named Koji
By Jason Gardner
Photo Courtesy of Erin McConnell / Run For Cover Records
One of the more rewarding experiences of music is being able to enjoy said music, whether it is metal, indie or pop, in the company of others who share at least one similarity in taste – otherwise known as a very blatant description of going to a concert. But not every band will play the massive arenas and amphitheaters usually reserved for radio chart toppers and reassembled acts of yesteryear. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though. As you dive further into the sphere of music, the settings become much more intimate and defined in the sense of a community – all the way down to the still very occurring house, hall and basement shows. Many of the bands touring the shit out of the landscape know that fact better than anyone – anything different than that would seem foreign and challenging.
This is the path of one Andrew Shiraki, better known by his middle and stage name of Koji, a songwriter who residents in the ever-rising music state of Pennsylvania. Though he has been touring hard in the time he’s gone by this moniker, both solo and with various incarnations of a live band, his recent spot as support for the much more known act Never Shout Never was a very different experience for a person I’ve only seen play in organized school lobbies, coffeehouses and at points quite recently – fans’ living rooms.
“I haven’t played in clubs alot,” says Shiraki as we chat about the recently ended Never Shout Never Tour. “I’ve always done DIY stuff, like basement shows or fire hall shows and stuff. To be playing for a brand new audience with sold out crowds every night was a really exciting experience.”
It was a learning experience too according to Shiraki, who points out humbly, “I had a lot to learn and I took a lot away from the talented dudes in Never Shout Never.” It is a common theme in interacting with Shiraki, whether he’s talking about being able to be a part of that tour or his inspiration from the enthusiasm and drive of a band like Code Orange Kids – there is an overwhelming element of honesty and positivity to be taken away from a conversation with the glasses-doning man simply known to many as Koji.
“I’m a songwriter and I go see Code Orange Kids to get inspired about my set because they just go so hard and they’re so real [...] People might be surprised because I’m a huge Lagwagon fan and Code Orange Kids is my favorite band right now [laughs].”
Yet, even in his reflection upon recent touring though, the deflection of defeat is ever apparent in his words. “I think a lot of people were confused as to like why I took the tour because it’s kind of outside of the sort of DIY, punk-sphere. And a lot of people make generalizations about people who listen to different types of music and what I found is the audience I played for wasn’t necessarily like... not that they wouldn’t respond to the punk speech or those ideals, but they just had never heard that stuff before.”
But in retrospect, Shiraki and his touring crew had almost every reason to be deflated by recent events. Just before starting the tour, Shiraki was robbed of his guitar and merchandise, prompting him to open up a Kickstarter in order to try and keep what he says was his biggest tour to date from derailing before it even started.
“I set up the Kickstarter to basically give my friends and people I personally know, if they’re in a position to, an opportunity to support me,” says Shiraki. The Kickstarter, according to Shiraki, was funded nearly overnight and ended up near 200% funded by its end. “That said very loudly to me that it’s not just friends and family that support me, it’s really the music community. The fact that everyone’s been so gracious in supporting people that have been victims of burglary or people that run into other types of issues on the road, whether it’s a new transmission or something worse. Like it’s really amazing that we’re part of something were we come together in someone’s time of need. For everything that we as musicians give, it’s really affirming and great to know people care about us on a human level and it’s not just the music. People really see us as human beings out here, working really hard. And they support us when they can.”
The tour went on though, but prior to Shiraki taking a step into a new spotlight on this tour, he went back to continue his work on something rather important to him that he says reminds him where he came from. Filmed literally in living rooms jam-packed with seated guests, Shiraki commenced recordings for Spring Song Vol. 2, the next part in his attempt since signing to Run For Cover Records to “have this piece to remind me forever of who I am and where I come from.”
“For the longest time I was totally DIY, always self-released. Printed my own merch, did everything myself. When I went and took that next step and started working with other people, it was important to me to have this document of where I’m coming from, which is straight out of the living rooms, basements and fire halls.”
But the purpose of this project is not one-dimensional – much like the exposure of listeners at the Never Shout Never shows to the very much present aspect of activism in Shiraki’s life, the Spring Song series also sets out to expose and remind us of the ever-present community supporting artists by putting on these types of shows.
“I wanted to show people that all over the world people are making music happen whether or not there is an all-ages club in your town. If that’s not the case, you can take music, just like you can take your life, into your own hands and make something happen with very little or nothing. That’s again the power of music, just being able to show people that you can really do something about your life and how you’re living. That’s what this whole series is about.”
The crazy thing is that we’re only half way through 2012, and it’s already shaping up to be the most exciting year so far for Shiraki. Case in point, he’ll be a part of the entire Vans Warped Tour this summer as a part of the Acoustic Basement – and its difficult to tell which one reason he’s most excited to be there, whether it be fostering his message of giving back and positivity, learning and spending time with other non-profits that are a part of the tour or just being able to see Title Fight everyday.
“It’s really exciting to be able to take a positive message and share it and carry it on. I feel like we’re going to be able to reach a lot of new people on Warped Tour just like we did with the Never Shout Never tour. I just love the group of non-profits that they have on the tour. A lot of folks are friends of mine and people that I’ve supported for a long time. It’ll be really cool to dialogue and spend one on one time with people who are coming out to Warped tour to talk about important issues, kind of expanding all of our consciousness as a music community.” “
Shiraki has often taken the time he is on stage or hanging out before and after sets to speak with those looking to hold conversation, whether it is about causes Shiraki has supported – such as his work with Resolve and Invisible Children – or as our particular conversation dictated, Shiraki’s passion for coffee and tea.
“I’m not the person that hides in the green room, not that I usually have one. What I mean to say, is that I live for that community aspect. I think that a show is a spark for new ideas and creativity and action. A lot of really good ideas are born from just interacting with people and so from that, a lot of people leave, whether they want to start a band or they want to get involved with social justice causes, that’s something that happens every year at not just at Warped Tour but at every music show. Or every art event. That’s a spectacular thing to be a part of. I’m going to be out every day meeting with people just learning just as much as I’m sharing myself.”
Being a part of Warped is also partially special to Shiraki because of his background, growing up on bands like NOFX, Pennywise, Alkaline Trio and The Bouncing Souls – though the idea wasn’t necessarily a no-brainer. “I had my reservations because in recent years, sonically it’s been something that wasn’t really interesting to me. A lot of the bands and the culture behind them wasn’t really something that spoke to me. But, I grew up coming to Warped Tour [...] I lived to go to catch Warped Tour when I was 12 or whatever. I think for any kid that goes and experiences that environment, there’s that magic to it and you dream of being a part of something like that. It’s incredible to be on it this year. When they came to me and they were explaining who was going to be a part of it... Title Fight, A Loss for Words, a lot of people who are friends of mine that I respect very much, of course I want to be a part of it. Not only am I kind of achieving some sort of childhood dream, I’m able to do it with all my friends. That’s a gift.”
Also on Shiraki’s itinerary is a third trip to perform at The Fest, the annual punk rock gathering in Gainesville, Florida. Besides playing with a brand new backing band this year, as compared to touring down to the event last year with Such Gold doing said duties, Shiraki considers it an honor to be invited to participate again this year.
“Fest is one of my favorite things I do every year, and this year I’m playing with a full band. We’re really kind of taking another step [...] The coolest thing about live music is being able to kind of breathe new life into old songs and do something different.”
It’s almost as if doing something new is really only second nature to Shiraki at this point, whether it be writing music or where he’s touring this time around. One thing is certain though – it doesn’t seem like there’s anything that is going to stop him.
“I think it’s important to challenge yourself and to be open to new experiences. That’s the best way to learn – to go outside of your comfort zone.”
Age is Just a Number A Tale of Nostalgia and Hope for the Future featuring Code Orange Kids By Jason Gardner
Photos courtesy of Topshelf Records and Deathwish Inc.
If you’re anywhere past the age of high school or perhaps even more so your college years – like I am – hearing the music of your younger years can often trigger a predetermined cycle of memories and emotions that harken back to your earlier days as an angsty youth desperately searching for meaning and direction in your life. It would be difficult to pinpoint this exactly for everyone, but let me put it in perspective from my eyes – terribly singing Sum 41’s hit “Fat Lip” at karaoke the other night reminded me just how far removed I am from that song’s heyday back in 2001. Please note, that was my sophomore year of high school.
Oddly enough, a band such as the hardcore foursome better known as Code Orange Kids strikes a similar retrieval of thoughts and questions about my teenage years. Most importantly – what the fuck was I doing with my life that these kids seem to have it so figured out? Out of high school, collectively still teenagers and recently signed to highly touted independent label Deathwish Inc., the band, made up of drummer/vocalist Jami Morgan, guitarists/vocalists Reba Meyers and Eric Balderose and bassist Joe Goldman, have already made quite a name for themselves with a vicious live set and a hefty handful of feverishly abrasive tracks over their various releases – including their Cycles EP and most recently a split with Full of Hell via Topshelf Records. Totally locked in on their own brand of heaviness, the band has logged miles upon miles touring including a recently wrapped support slot for Touche Amore and Defeater. It’s certainly a sight to see live – on top of the band slinging guitars, knocking over micstands in mid-jump and stomping the stage like a trio of Godzillas – the varying vocals of the collective members and pure energy poured out in their set is both exhaustive and engaging to even those unfamiliar with the band.
But as impressive as our first glimpses into the brand of gritty screamo-spiked hardcore have been, the remainder of 2012 might simply enough hold the key to unlocking the full picture for this band with their debut LP set to come out later this year on Deathwish. The experience up to this point is tough for the band to put into words.
“It’s really crazy,” admits drummer and vocalist Morgan over the phone as we chat about how the deal with Deathwish came about. While Morgan said the band talked to several labels, of which seemed to be great in the band’s eyes, the influence of Deathwish on the Kids’ musical and mental outlooks steered them towards a deal with the undoubtedly well-regarded label. “My friend Clayton [Stevens] from Touche Amore called me and and was like ‘Hey, I was talking to Deathwish and they’re going to offer you a deal.’ We were really excited. That label is part of the reason that we’re a band. There’s so many bands on that label that have shaped the way we think musically and about everything.”
That bond between Morgan and Stevens extended through to the duo behind Deathwish – Jacob Bannon and Tre McCarthy – not only in that they were interested in what Code Orange Kids were doing, but that they too saw something special about this band.
“I got a text one night from Clayton from Touche Amore demanding that we work with [Code Orange Kids],” recalls Tre McCarthy of Deathwish. “I told him that they were already on my radar. I believe a typical snarky exchange followed, something like, ‘Get them off your radar and on the label!’, ‘Don't tell me what to do, or else I won't, and then it will be your fault!’”
“But listening to them, or watching videos,” says McCarthy, “didn't hold a candle to the first time I saw them live in a 200 square foot space in Allston[, MA].”
Bannon’s tale tells a similar connection of interest between him and McCarthy after Converge shared the stage with Code Orange Kids at a show in Braddock, Pennsylvania. While perhaps not as struck with the group’s younger standing as others, Bannon sees something different in the approach to art that this group of Pittsburgh natives take in their music.
“I was much younger than them when I started Converge, so I relate to their position. Youth isn't exclusive to them as there have been relevant bands as young or younger creating music for decades in punk and hardcore. In fact some of the most influential hardcore [and] metal releases to this day were written by people around their age. A lot of what Code Orange Kids collectively have reminds me of the natural drive I have towards art and music as well. It's a collection of qualities that are tough to describe, but I get excited when I see these qualities in newer bands.”
The extending hand of Deathwish to Code Orange Kids was quite difficult to sink in, as Morgan admits to “being pretty floored” over the offer to join the Deathwish family.
“At the age we’re at, all the people who are working at Deathwish have known these guys forever,” says Morgan. “We’ve had interactions with those people, but when we signed we didn’t know anyone. So when we went to just go meet them, it was really cool. Now, they’re just really great dudes. Jacob Bannon is a huge influence on us, the art and the music in Converge. It’s really cool to some extent to have the approval of those people. I mean if we didn’t have their approval we’d still do exactly what we do. But, it’s cool to see Jacob Bannon chiming in on issues relating our band.”
That sense of family has fostered itself even early on as the band meets and interacts with bands both in and out of the Deathwish family. Morgan is reflective both of Touche Amore’s support during their touring with them, including loaning equipment, offering advice and just being around to hang out. On the flip, fellow Deathwish band Birds in Row, touring outside of their native country of France, bunked up in a van with Code Orange Kids to create a very packed, yet incredibly tight-knit atmosphere for this tour. Yet, the influence of every person they’ve met so far as part of the family has definitely given Morgan and the rest of the band a valuable lesson.
“All the bands, they’ve just wanted to help us out and treated us with respect even though as far as respect we don’t even deserve [it] at this point,” says Morgan. “They treat us that way and it helps us to know to treat people and bands with respect all the time.”
Though certainly a high point to start off 2012 with the signing, the year otherwise has been anything but quiet for the band. Besides their seemingly non-stop touring, the quartet most recently put out a split with a particular band that Code Orange Kids has looked up to and respected for a long time according to Morgan. “Full of Hell played in Pittsburgh when we first started as a band,” begins the tale of the split put out by Topshelf Records last month. The friendship between the two groups progressed as Full of Hell would return again and again to play Pittsburgh, leading to a particularly strong bond between Morgan and Full of Hell’s vocalist Dylan Walker. “Just talking about the ideas behind our bands,” says Morgan of the weekly phone calls that would occur between the two. “It’s not conceptual in any way, shape or form, but about how there’s an idea and a theme and things we want to come across about our bands. It’s not just like playing this loud music, like the art and the music and the lyrics. We realized our ideas are really similar, even though it’s a totally different angle.”
But the biggest thing on the band’s plate right now is their Deathwish debut, which Morgan says for the most part is already written and ready to be fine tuned, more than likely as you read this article. As far as where they’ll go for the LP, connecting and bringing things full-circle seems to be the plan this time around. “We’re gonna record in June and it should be really fun. We’re touching on a lot of different things. The record’s probably going to be about ten songs and it’s going to have a mix of everything that we’ve done. The heavy stuff and the dark stuff, the punk stuff. [...] Lyrically, it kind of ties into everything else in a way that, it’s about me. I write all the lyrics. I come up with the ideas behind it. It’s all things I struggle with basically. I struggle with some depression and stuff like that and it’s the way I’ve always been able to deal with it by writing about it. We kind of have some themes that have been going through our 7”s and our tapes that hopefully will come full circle with the record and then we can do something else. It’ll be the same thing, but maybe do something else with the content after that. But it ties into everything.”
With the music done, at least for the most part, the band also already has Converge guitarist and production stalwart Kurt Ballou on deck to engineer their upcoming record. “I figured we’d get some shit like, ‘All the Deathwish bands do that,’ but I just didn’t give a shit. If we can do this, let’s do it,” says Morgan. “I want to be able to experience cool things in my life and that’s definitely one of them. We didn’t overthink it too much, but I think it’s going to be really cool. [...] I don’t think our record is going to come out sounding like anybody else, no matter who records it.”
The plan, according to Morgan, is for the record to hit sometime in the Fall, but between now and then the band has plans to tour Europe with Defeater and hit a few festivals in the midst of all that – as well as put out another song as part of a four-way split some time this summer. Code Orange Kids is no exception to the road though, as the gig life has kept them busy this time around since December – a reflection of their work ethic and punk roots.
“I don’t think that bands should be internet bands though. They gotta hit the road and get in the car. We used to tour in a truck. You’re never gonna get anybody’s respect unless you do that. That’s how you connect with people, that’s at least what I think hardcore punk and all that shit’s about. Anybody who doesn’t agree with it just doesn’t know. Even the bands that have done this forever still do it, and they do it for different reasons. But like, it’s something thats kind of addictive about it and you love it. But it gets hard sometimes. We’ve been touring basically since like December and it’s [...] May now. A lot of bands do that and it’s been tough and everything, but it’s so worth it to see your band grow and that you had a part in going somewhere and doing your thing the best that you could do it.”
Morgan says the plan is to go a little easier this summer though, “so we don’t totally burn ourselves out by the time next year comes around because we really want to hit it hard next year once the record comes out.” Apparently, their schedules aren’t quite packed enough to have the desire to say something like that about what their future might have in store.
Yet for a band this young, it doesn’t even seem like there’s any pressure or stress to consider for the band, whether it be a potentially daunting touring schedule or the anticipation of recording their first full-length. Even from the standpoint of their age, which Morgan admits he isn’t really sure about. “We’re just trying to take advantage of it,” suggests Morgan considering the youth of the band. Though others seem to be completely boggled by it considering the way the music industry has worked in recent years, Bannon and the rest of Deathwish couldn’t sound more in tune with what the band has planned in the immediate future – only a further symbol of the bonds formed and strengthened through the two’s now conjoined future.
“As with any band we work for here,” says Bannon, “I'm just grateful that they trust us to release and promote their art and music.”