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.”