A Conversation with Coaster
The Fest is a little over two weeks away! So for the next couple of weeks 36vultures will be releasing a few interviews with some v-cool Fest bands. Here’s my conversation with Coaster! Look out for their new EP, Dueces, which releases November 11th on Community Records.
Coaster was originally a two piece that formed as a school project. Matt Kissinger (Guitar/Vox) and Michael Patrick Burns (Guitar) met at Columbia College when they were randomly assigned partners and were given the task of recording a song. Michael wrote a song about his dead dog and the two formed Coaster around it. They stopped writing songs about dead things and added Seth Engel and Tom Graham on guitar and drums respectively to round out the group.
Their first release, Slow Jams, was released on Community Records in June of 2015. It is an energetic LP. Matts vocals lead the tracks through dancing sways and abrasive verses. He’s a self-proclaimed Procrastination King when it comes to his vocals, but it’ll definitely come as a shock on this LP. He covers all ground from shrieking clever hooks to singing sweet verses – and damn well. Seth and Matt’s take pride in creating unique guitar tones without the help of effects pedals – a shock for a band that went on tour with post rock veterans The Appleseed Cast. Instead the duo utilize a lot of creative neck bends to build their wall of sound.
The band was teetering on breaking up shortly after Slow Jams released when they were invited to go on tour with The Appleseed Cast and what self respecting, fledging, DIY band could turn down a tour like that? So they put aside their internal differences and toured the U.S., playing near capacity venues like Red 7 in Austin and SubT in Chicago. They were able to record one last, unreleased, EP with the original lineup before they lost michael and Tom to the sunny coast of California. They have since replaced their now Californian bandmates with fellow midwesterners Dillon Kelley, on bass, and Marcus Nuccio on Drums.
Matt Kissinger and Seth Engel were kind enough to share their SXSW horror stories with me, talk about the struggles and joys of self recording an album, and indulge my boring music industry questions on PR and the Chicago scene. Here’s a bit of our conversation –
First thing’s first – have you ever played fest before?
Matt: I have not, Seth has.
Seth: I played last year and I played in 2014. It was awesome. I know it’s traditionally a pretty punk festival but I played with Woozy, Donovan Wolfington, Pope, Spirit of the Beehive. It’s all tied into punk, but not quite in the straightforward way that I had imagined. This year is the fifteenth anniversary of Fest, so I’m really excited. I think J. Robbins is doing a set which I’m pretty freaked out for. He’s a really excellent recording engineer as well. He did Frame and Canvas by Braid, a bunch of The Promise Ring records, Dismemberment Plan. I love his music. It’s cool because it’s a crazy three day weekend, but it’s all sort of localized.
Matt: I feel like the bigger something like that gets, the more they let in all different styles of bands. It’s more fun to mix it up a bit.
What was it like touring with Appleseed Cast?
Seth: It was like nothing I’ve ever done before. The thing about touring with an established band that I think is so cool is that, all we had to do was show up and play every night.
Matt: When we did draw people, it blew our minds. When someone was like, “We saw you guys were playing then we saw with The Appleseed Cast we we’re like gotta come to this show.” How the hell did you even hear about us? You listen to us, and you listen to Appleseed Cast and there’s not a lot of musical similarities, but I guess it’s just the circles of that type of music is so much more insular than you think, so people that listen to them would also listen to us. I don’t think that way, but it just happens. It’s crazy. We’re not very post-rock.
Seth: Yeah, I have one pedal as of last winter.
What pedal did you get?
Seth: It’s a Akai Headrush E2, it’s a delay and a looper. That’s the only pedal I have.
It was awesome touring with The Appleseed Cast though, because they’d all been on tour a lot. It was an interesting dynamic too because Chris (from The Appleseed Cast) brought his wife who was also the tour manager and their kid, Ellis. I think he was seven or so, young kid.
Matt: He loved us! He was our number one fan, I think he still is.
Seth: I crashed with Nathan (their bass player) later that summer and we were just talking about Ellis and he was like, “Yeah dude, I think you were his first favorite band. He wouldn’t stop talking about you after you left the tour.” To me, whatever else happened on the tour, even if the band broke up at the end of the tour and never played another show, we were a kid’s first favorite band. That’s the craziest thing out there. It’s so interesting to see how someone that young with no musical allegiances just perceives music every night. One night in Omaha I looked out and he was going bonkers, then I looked up again and he was holding his head over Chris’s shoulder. Damn, little dude rocked out too hard. What a thing to experience at that age.
Matt, you’re from just outside of Chicago, so the move seems pretty natural, but Seth, you’re from Philadelphia. You mentioned that you initially came to Chicago for school, but what about the city made you stay here?
Seth: Joan of Arc is probably my biggest musical influence. The pure variety of their catalogue, even if I don’t agree with everything they’ve done, they’re so ambitious with everything that they’ve done just in terms of evolution. I read something that they started the band with the intention of making music for no audience and I think that’s the coolest, ballsiest thing. That band and Braid and Hey Mercedes! and of course I play in a band with Bob – we’ll two kind of, sometimes. So it was crazy for me to be out here in a lot of ways. I moved out here and I was like, “Holy shit! There’s Tim Kinsella just hanging out at a coffee shop,” and it was so crazy, but I got over that pretty quickly. It’s just in the fabric of the day to day life here. Just walk in Wicker Park and Mike Kinsella is just hanging out doing whatever. Just go to a show and people are there – people who I grew up listening to after all are still just people anyways, so.
Yeah, it seems like Chicago has a really laid back music scene.
Matt: “Laid back music scene” is the best way to describe Chicago. Everybody works really hard but the promotion aspect of the bands – I feel like it’s not as serious as maybe New York or something.
Seth: I feel like the bands that really throw down money for heavy PR and stuff are generally not stuff I want to listen to. All the music I really love here is stuff that kind of gets around by word of mouth. Do you know Nnamdi Ogbonnaya? He’s my roommate and so I talk about this kind of stuff with him all the time. His music is 100 percent word of mouth like Youtube videos and word of mouth. People just go out to his shows and love his music so much. That’s at the point now where it’s across the world. People living in other countries just know his music and that’s crazy.
Do you guys ever get frustrated because there’s not a big management push or publicity team behind a lot of the bands in Chicago, so the culture is a bit isolated. Do you feel like it’s hard to break out of the Chicago scene because of that?
Matt: We’ve talked about it, always in the back of our head. It’s not just the Chicago scene though, we’ve talked about just rock music breaking again, because it’s not at the forefront of popular music anymore and hasn’t been since what? The mid-nineties?
Seth: Even if you think about commercially orientated rock music. What’s the biggest new rock band that you can think of in the last five years?
Matt: Into it Over It is very popular.
Seth: Like even the bands, Nickelback? They’re not new but I feel like the mid 2000’s rock music kind of just – or more popularly orientated rock music just ate itself. There’s no rules. It’s kind of like the wild west.
That seems like a wave though – nineties grunge turned in the early nineties rebelled to into late nineties super pop bands like Britney Spears and Spice Girls, then –
Matt: At the same time Nirvana was popular – Greenday was also popular, then you have offshoot bands like Rancid and stuff. There was just so much more rock music in the mainstream
Seth: Even in the 90’s you still have Third Eye Blind in the late nineties to me it still was pretty poppin. I think about it all the time, “What’s a big rock band?” It’s all fest folk stuff that pretty popular. As far as instrument – a lot of EDM, a lot of Rap
Matt: So I don’t think of it as like a Chicago thing, for me it’s more like why isn’t rock getting big? If rock becomes more popular again then it’s like every rock band.
I’m from Austin, so SXSW is like my hometown party, but I’m interested in your point of view as a touring band coming down for south by? Was it worth the trip?
Matt: I think the main reason we went there is because Community Records wanted us on the showcase. We pretty much just based everything around that.
Seth: We were on the fence about it for a good four months or so. I don’t know what changed our minds.
Matt: Well it was a combination of the Community Records showcase and touring with Ratboys. Tour with Ratboys was fun. We went to Fuzzy a bunch, it’s like this taco thing. My experience one the way down was more fun than my experience there as a band, for a few reasons and it’s a little biased because our van exploded in Waco, Texas.
Seth: It made the scariest noise I’ve ever heard an automobile make
Matt: We limped to this gas station that we thought was going to be open at two a.m. It was like one a.m. We left 1919 Hemphill. Corey Willis from Annabel lent us “The Bone Collector,” which is a huge marc three van and it exploded on the highway leaving 1919 Hemphill. Then it started making this crazy noise again. We pull into this gas station that wasn’t open – it was the middle of the night. The car dies, because it has been dying (the battery) the whole time. We’re freaking out. All of our cell phones of course are at like 4 percent. We find this Econolodge, we drift in there. The van is just the noisiest thing ever. We woke up everybody probably. We bring it into a mechanic. They open it up and I’m thinking, “We’re gonna get it fixed and get down to Austin, no problem.” We’re like an hour and a half away from austin – home stretch! We have a show that day. So we pull into the mechanic when it opened, 9 a.m. The guy opens the hood, turns the car on, closes it, and says, “You’re fucked.” The repairs were going to take a week. I’m freaking out. So I’m a little biased about my experience because the whole time I had to figure out a way to get home. Not even because we live in Chicago and the drive is super far, but we have all of this gear, a lot of us had work the following Monday. So I went down, the lady at the shop was nice enough to drive me down to the city. We were outside of Waco, in Hillsboro. Of course every Uhaul place is booked up. We rent this Uhaul van, drive it back up to Hillsboro. We’re just throwing money at the wind at this point. Seth and Dillon are rolling around in the back of this U-Haul on the way to Austin with all the gear and all of our belongings. We get down there and we’re the band that rolls up in a Uhaul where everyone else has cool trailers and stuff. Sweet. We play our show and I’m like, “I need to buy a car the next day.” I just wanted to relax, check out some sxsw bands, but I had to purchase a vehicle. So I did that. Which was insane.
Wait you bought – You own a vehicle that you bought in Austin?
Matt: I own a volkswagen passat while I was down there. I was thinking about buying a car while I was down there anyways, so it definitely pushed my hand. I bought the car. I was running to Chase to get the bond to buy this car, then make it to this Community Records Showcase and I’m just exhausted. Our friend from Germany was at SXSW and he came to the Community Records showcase and he invites us to this show he’s playing and I would have loved to, but I had to buy a car! So I missed all that shit and I didn’t catch Pinegrove. So I’m a little biased. The Community Records showcase was a lot of fun. That was outside, playing outside is awesome.
Seth: I do think if anything, for me the tour was a great testament of the quality of everyone as people, because we’d never toured with Marcus and Dillon before. Especially when the shit with the van went down. Everyone freaking out inside as we all were, we all totally kept it cool and got through the situation. That made me feel really good about the band as a whole. That’s the most important thing: When shit really goes down, what do you do and how do you handle it? Everyone was totally cool.
So do you think you’ll go to SXSW again?
Seth: I would do it again, but Lifted Bells played one show and Coaster played two. I’d do it again but we would have to make it worthwhile. I don’t know though. I was talking to the Pinegrove dudes, they had three shows every day. Alex G was playing a bunch of shows and he had 103 fever and he still had to play three shows everyday.
Matt: If the demand is there, it’s worthwhile. We were searching out for shows. We had the two shows booked, but if the demands not there then why go all the way down there?
Seth: It was surprising because I was expecting every mom and their mom and grandma to try to tour down for southby, so what are the shows going to be like? I imagined it would be the same as trying to tour down to Fest. There was one show that was last minute that was kind of weird but other than that it was awesome, just really really awesome. Iowa city, I’ve never played that city before. That show was really rad.
Matt: I’m excited for Fest. I feel like it’s more a niche
Seth: A punk rock version of southby.
Are you working on something new with Marcus and Dillon?
Matt: We recorded with the new band and it’s been a lot of fun. It seems so much more natural, organic. No pesticides!
Because you [Seth] are recording and mixing the tracks, is it hard to separate yourself from the song as a musician and walk away with a complete, final mix?
Seth: Well, I’ve been mixing professionally for a while, so I’m sort of used to that feeling of having to walk away from the recording. It’s another thing to write the song and play on it and then record it and mix it. I still love the song at the end of the day, but it takes me a good several months. I get this joy of being the first person to listen to these songs and shape how they come out, so when it’s done I just don’t listen to it for as long as I possibly can. When I got back, I pretty much always feel proud of the creation. I can’t really judge it objectively, levels and clipping tracks.
Matt: You’ve gotten over it more, but in the beginning your vocal parts would be so low in the mix. I get it though, hearing yourself over and over again is weird.
Seth: I don’t know, maybe it’s reactionary. I know a lot of drummers tend to mix drums louder. I think I consciously try to avoid that, but I find myself doing the opposite. I’ll mix whatever I’m doing in a really quiet way. I also don’t master music, so when someone else masters it, I know it’s not all me. I can judge it a little more objectively.
Do you have to set a deadline for yourself so you know when to stop mixing it, or have you gotten to the point where you can feel internally that the project is completed?
Matt: He has a group talk with the bands usually.
Seth: I tend to do rounds of mixes and send them out to the bands asking for their notes. I remember with Slow Jams we had a deadline because of The Appleseed Cast tour. I remember going on tour for Southby with A City on Film, listening to the tracks in the car, and thinking, “This is not done.” I didn’t have my computer with me so I had to wait a couple of weeks. That one really came down to the wire. I remember Michael saying it was fine, it didn’t need to be revised anymore and I thought it did. I had to do it. I mix until I really hit the wall. When I’m at the point where I can’t judge whether or not the music composition is actually good, that’s when I know I’m getting close. When I’m only looking at technical elements – Can I hear everything? Is everything hitting the right way? Great. That’s all I need to know. Then I can step back and enjoy it in like six months.
Matt: It’s really weird to have had this record done for so long, we play a couple of songs live, but it hasn’t been out. We’re constantly playing these unreleased songs. Now we play a bunch of songs that aren’t released yet. I’m excited for this EP to come out, but I’m more excited for the LP. It’s this never ending cycle of wanting to write new songs, record them, and get them out as soon as possible. I just want this out.
You mentioned making Slow Jams was a hectic process, how so?
Seth: It was just a lot of time crunching.
Matt: A lot of last minute stuff. Under pressure is the best way to work.
You’ve got a new rhythm section – does that mean the poppy rhythms on Slow Jams are going to be different on the new LP, since the EP was written with the old band.
Matt: The EP was written with the old band, but I’d say it changed a bit from Slow Jams. The new LP is definitely our most diverse. It’s more straightforward rock, but it’s all over the place. Gregg from Community Records said, “I love it, it’s like rock, but the songwriting is a lot more mature.
Slow Jams is fun. I can’t listen to it without getting hyped up and wanting to bounce around.
Matt: There’s definitely that element with the new LP
Seth: It’s still definitely poppy, but I think tonally we’re getting even more outside the box.
Matt: It’s tonally denser.
You mentioned not using pedals on Slow Jams, how are you changing up the guitar tones?
Seth: Our note choices and the way we voice chords are more complex.
Matt: It’s definitely not a “wall of sound” dense, more like –
Seth: Angular. Angular is the word.
Matt: The whole pedal thing – I love playing without pedals because then I don’t have to press pedals.
Seth: It’s fun to hear the effect on someone else’s guitar and try to figure out how to create the sound myself, if I can.
Yeah! For sure, the guitars sound really cool on Slow Jams.
Seth: It’s a lot of neck bends and stuff.
Matt: We record the guitars simultaneously. We’ll set up our amps, I’ll run over to press record and we face each other while we play and try not to laugh. We play the guitars together so there’s this sense of – it’s eternally frustrating sometimes because we never punch in. I think it gives the recording a different life. We lock in together.
I could definitely see that. It sounds cohesive, like you guys are blending together to make one solid guitar sound.
Seth: I think we do that with every recording. We will split up the distorted guitars and the clean guitars, but we still do all of the guitar takes together.
Matt: But now Seth got a pedal so I don’t know what’s going to happen on this new thing.
Seth: My guitar will just go [to the rhythm of a metal detector] “woop-woop-woop-woop”
Matt: It’s not that the songs for the LP are dark or anything – I’m still writing about being lazy and stoned a lot. I’d say we have some poppy jammer and some slow ones.
Seth: We’re roasting the whole spectrum of musical feeling
Matt: It’s different because Marcus plays right on the beat where Tom will play a little behind. The drummer is what totally sets the tone for how a groove was establish. Tom was like a reggae drummer – He is. Straight up loves 311 and RXBandits and Marcus is this punk guy. Playing our old songs with him pumps new air into the songs.