Our New York correspondent Tom Monahan sat down with singer/activist Koji after the Run for Cover Records showcase at Brooklyn’s Saint Vitus Bar in October. They talked about the status of his upcoming full-length, the role activism plays in his life, and how much he loves Vegas’ own Caravels and Last Call.
How did you come to sign with Run for Cover Records?
I’m pretty sure Jeff [Casazza – Owner of RFC] asked if I wanted to put out a record, and this was in 2010, when I had just decided to play music full-time. I had already put out self-released demos and a 7” for fun. When I started touring I was really surprised that anyone would want to spend their time, money or resources to share my music, but I guess Jeff connected with it. Out of all the people who solicited me to put out music, I really related to his vision and his way about being a label. It’s understated, he doesn’t overreach, and he’s not concerned with branding or being really flashy; he just puts out records he likes. That spoke to me.
You’ve released a number of splits with other bands. How did those come about?
As far as splits go, I’m not even certain that I would do another one. There were a few people that I made friends with really early on in the music world. One of them was Evan Weiss who is Into It. Over It. and the other folks are the members of La Dispute.
When I did splits with Evan and La Dispute, it was a celebration of that relationship. Being able to collaborate with people I respect so much was a tremendous growing experience, and it was ultimately super positive. They came about really organically, and that speaks to how I’ve run my career so far. I’ve made it about community, friendship and pure creativity.
With respect to La Dispute, I’m not even certain that I would have gone full-time had I not received encouragement from them. And a lot of other friends too, like Into It. Over It., Balance and Composure, Such Gold, Title Fight and Touché Amoré. We all play shows together and have known each other for a long time. I feel indebted to all the people I play shows with, the people that put out my music, and most of all the people who listen to and support my music.
What’s the status of the full-length you’re working on?
Tracking is completed and it’s in the mixing process. I recorded with Will Yip who has done a lot of great records with Title Fight, Blacklisted, Dead End Path and Circa Survive amongst many others. He masterfully captured a batch of nine songs that I wrote for the full-length. Run for Cover is going to put it out and a lot of really awesome people, including some Run for Cover alumni were apart of it, which was really cool. Brad [Vander Lugt] from La Dispute played drums, Matt Warner from Balance and Composure played bass, Colin [sfd] from Gypsy played guitar and Ned Russin from Title Fight, Disengage and a number of other projects played bass on a couple other songs. And it wouldn’t be the record it is without their talent and time.
You have your first full-band tour coming up [now completed]. What’s going on with that?
We are playing five shows, full band. Daniel Fang from Mindset and Turnstile and a lot of other bands is playing drums. Corey [Stroffolino] from The Attending and Defeater is playing bass and singing. It’s a really stripped down three piece, and it will be cool to hear the songs full-band. A three piece band is as pure and bare-bones as it gets, and there’s a good dynamic between the three of us so I’m excited to perform with this new lineup.
Have you wanted to do a full-band tour for a while?
I’ve always wanted to play with a band, but I can’t always so I play many shows by myself. This is a special treat to be able to test out some new material and play some old songs that needed to be played full-band.
You played the acoustic stage at this year’s Warped Tour. How was that experience?
Warped Tour was very good. It was the hottest and maybe most physically grueling tour of my life, and there was a lot to adjust to. Coming from the DIY world where you aren’t playing shows that are populated with 20,000 people, Warped Tour is really intense. It was an overwhelming environment but ultimately it was really positive because of the friendships that were forged. It was great. I would do it again.
That Warped Tour came through Las Vegas, and in addition to playing the festival you played a house show with Into It. Over It. How was that?
Yes! We played a show at the Caravels house. Caravels are one of the very best bands making music right now and some of the best people. The BEST! The house show was almost tear-inducing. It was such a great experience. I loved it, and I think everyone that was there would have positive things to say about it. It was what a house show, a DIY show, and an art experience should be.
Editor’s Note: Check out the Stripped Down Sessions we filmed with Koji that night.
You’ve been on some diverse tours but the one that stands out to me is Never Shout Never. How was that?
The Never Shout Never tour was great. I didn’t have expectations, but something tells me that maybe I did because I was shocked at how great it was. I had my only guitar, all my merchandise and some other belongings stolen out of my vehicle before the first show. When we joined up with the tour, Christofer [Drew Ingle], the singer of Never Shout Never, offered to let me use his guitar until I could replace mine and lent me their full support. Here is a really successful major label artist with a crazy rabid fanbase, but without even knowing me, he offered his guitar to me, and supported me in whatever way my crew needed. I was stunned. I really appreciate him and it speaks to the band’s really great attitude. I respect them tremendously.
You’ve spent some time on the road with our friends Last Call and Such Gold as well. How was that?
That was really great. It’s nice to be able to tour with people who appreciate music for the same reasons and are pursuing music in a genuine way. It is really inspiring to have that with you every day on tour.
You call yourself an “Artist and Activist.” What is the role of activism in your life/career?
Activism is a multi-faceted thing. For me, it takes the shape of international advocacy, whether that is addressing things like food equity, child soldiering, or human trafficking. On a more local level, I am very engaged with environmental and educational issues in Pennsylvania, and really seeking to expand that dialogue and pursue positive change in those realms. That informs my music to a great degree and the subject matter that I cover. I think it’s really cool to be able to use my voice not just for my own creative expression but to be an advocate. That’s an example that I got from any number of punk bands when I was growing up and I’m trying to continue to carry that torch the best that I can.
What or who are the major influences in your life/career/activism?
My parents, my brother and my local scene when I was in my most formative years in Harrisburg, PA. I think Pennsylvania has one of the best scenes in the world. Pennsylvania State produces some of the most compelling work, and it’s not limited to music. There are a lot of great things coming out of Pennsylvania related to all types of art.
Anything else you want to say?
Yeah! I think that everyone needs to check out Mindset’s new record Leave No Doubt and Floral Green by Title Fight. You can’t have a bad year if you check out both of those records.
Editor’s Note: He is speaking the truth.
Interview by Tom Monahan
Photo of Koji by Steven Matview
Get more Koji on his Facebook page: facebook.com/kojimusic