Coastal is a terrific band out of Utah, USA that plays a brand of slowcore that is heavily influenced by dreampop and other ambience. We at Somewhere Cold have followed this band for several years, and in fact we interviewed Jason Gough of the band in 2002. We thought it would be nice to catch up with this band following the release of their second full-length CD release, the beautiful and charming “Halfway to You”. Somehow, through their dreamy and soothing music, this band has captured our hearts and continues to win our respect. Gough was kind enough to update us with how the band is approaching their music in 2004…
What was it like playing with Low in the U.K.? Do you have any good stories to tell us about that tour?
Well if you want the full tour recap with tons of pictures go here.
In a nutshell it was the single greatest moment of our lives as a band. There we were, Valentine’s Day, opening for the pioneers of our genre to a sold out crowd of over 1300 people in downtown London at the coolest venue in town. Unless we played terribly we knew by the nature of the audience coming to see Low that they should like coastal. Up till then we’d never played to anywhere near that many people. Plus they were English and I know the English can be pretty unforgiving with performances. That and right before we went on we heard there were all kinds of press people there, including the BBC and members of the bands Suede and Radiohead. But somehow, despite being way nervous, we played the best show ever. The audience was very receptive to us and we even saw people singing along, which was a trip to know our music had reached that far across the world. Plus it was so cool how that many people in an acoustically dynamic 200 year old church could be so quiet and respectful. Right after our set they cleared our merch table and we felt like superstars. We couldn’t have asked for a better show. It has made playing out locally a little bit underwhelming. To this day I still get emails from people who were at that show.
How do the band members juggle the daily responsibilities of family with band responsibilities? Do family responsibilities affect the way you write songs, record songs, and play live?
Well these days it is all about family and work. Since the album came out we haven’t done a thing with coastal. Josh and I have wives and two kids each and between that and our careers we stay pretty busy. I think it’s funny sometimes that we have this other life with coastal and yet on Saturday I mow the lawn in my sweat pants. If we didn’t have coastal though I think I’d feel a bit too normal and disconnected from the outside world. I live in a small town in Utah and it’s easy to feel isolated from the big world out there, which is nice sometimes.
Through the band though we have been exposed to so many great people throughout the world. Plus we take a very casual approach to the band. We have no pressure to crank out albums on any timetable. We aren’t expected to tour. We enjoy moderate success, which thus far is way beyond anything we had ever hoped, so things are cool that way. We aren’t trying to make it as a band. We just do it for fun. Oddly enough I think this perspective has helped us be successful. You can really waste energy on trying to make a living out of a band. By the nature of our genre-being so far out of the mainstream-we will never live off our music anyway. I talk to Al from Low sometimes, and it doesn’t get bigger than Low in slocore, and he says stuff like, “This is no way to make a living.”
As far as your second question…absolutely. Since Luisa is in the band and we have kids and we take a very mutual approach to sharing responsibilities at home we have to record at home after the kids have gone to bed. Not conducive to any music besides slocore really. I’m sure I’d get more done if I bailed and went to some studio all night, but that wouldn’t be cool to leave her to take care of the kids by herself. It makes for slow going on recording, but it can work. It’ll just get harder and harder with more family, but that is our first priority, so that’s the way it’s going to be.
It seems that Coastal has been getting a lot of press in Europe. Why is that, and in your experience what differences and similarities are there between European fans and North American ones?
Europe has always been bigger for us than the States. They seem to have longer attention spans for the slocore sound. We’ve been played on national radio in a lot of countries over there, whereas here in the U.S. that would never happen. They seem more receptive to the sad vibe too. They seem to focus on just a few bands over there and here there are so many bands that you can get lost in the shuffle. That’s how European distribution goes. Here you have distributors that take anything. You get some email from them with like 50 bands a week. No one is gonna sort through all that. In Europe they won’t just take any band, so the bands they do take get more attention. We have been lucky enough in that regard.
Tell us about the recording process for “Halfway to You”. How did it differ from the recording of your other CD’s?
Well the biggest challenge was that we were all farther apart. Josh now lives 30 minutes away and both our jobs have gotten more intense, so finding time is hard that way. The other challenge was that when we started we had no new material. All the songs on this new album were written in the studio and only Eternal was ever played live. Our first CD was 85% songs we had been playing for awhile before we recorded. Consequently I wrote most of Halfway to You. Josh did bass and Luisa backing vocals, but everything else was me. I suspect this is why many have said it feels more intimate than our other work. That and we had to be really quiet with the kids asleep right above the studio room.
The images that your music creates for listeners are very vivid. How do you, as songwriters and a band playing the songs, set out to create such pictures/images/moods with your music?
I like to say there is this formula and that we are very calculated as a band, but we aren’t. Most of the time I never write lyrics down and just sing the first thing that comes to me and stick with that. Melody drives our music rather than any attempt at a theme. General themes are isolation, sadness, lost love, but we dabble in some subtle happy themes. I think the music is very open to interpretation. There’s a lot of space to fill in the gaps for the listener. We don’t exactly bombard the senses. In fact I’m not entirely offended by people calling our music mood wallpaper to be taken in as a background element.
How do you think you’ve grown as an artist (and a group of artists) over the past few years?
I think the new album is more mature than our last effort. There’s more variety of instrumentation. While we didn’t feel we had anything to prove with the first CD, we felt we had established our sound and whatever we did next was without any large expectation. If anything there was an attempt to get back to sort of the original recipe of harmonies, more bass, and drums. Between the self-titled and this new album we experimented a bit with eps that had minimal percussion, bass, and less harmonies. That’s mainly because Jim was gone during that time and Luisa was pregnant, so it was harder to get her into the studio.
Do you have any advice for young artists setting out to write songs and record them?
This is such a cool time for musicians with all this technology. I’ve been in bands for years and have nothing to show for it because we never got in a studio for lack of money. Nowadays anyone can have a studio with just a home computer and some decent mics. We’ve hardly spent anything on coastal. Nothing out of pocket actually. We’ve been really lucky that way. My advice is to just do it for fun. Have perspective about what you are doing. Get a decent job. Finish schooling, even if something comes along and looks really good. I believe in my music, but I’d never risk supporting my family over it. If I was still single coastal would be a totally different story. I’d be more apt to tour and live the life a bit, but in the end musicians who make a living out of it usually have to compromise a lot to get there.
If there was an artist or band that Coastal would like to work with, who would it be, and why?
I think certain electronica artists are very talented at what they do and have thought it would be cool to collaborate with someone like that. A friend of ours remixed one of our songs once as an electro track and it was amazing what he did with it. I have no abilities or gear to make music like that, but I appreciate it. Somewhat along those lines, I think Eno or Harold Budd would be cool to work with to really explore the ambient dreamscapes that we touch on sometimes. At this point it would just be nice to work in a proper studio with nice gear. I’m hardly an engineer. I can get stuff down and mix to what sounds good to me, but I’d save a lot of time in a professional environment.
What CD’s are you listening to these days?
The last CD I bought was the new Kings of Convenience, but after that first track I couldn’t get into it. Way too poppy for me. I’m currently rediscovering the classics, Swervedriver, Curve, The Cure and Depeche Mode.
What’s your favorite part of being in Coastal?
Being able to be in a band with my wife. The other freedom we enjoy not having any real record label commitments. Being able to truly make the music I’ve been wanting to for years and having people really connect with it.
What is in the future for Coastal?
We have no reason to stop making music. We might do it at our own unhurried pace, but given the nature of our music I suppose that’s a bit apropos.
Any other comments?
We really appreciate the support of people like you and your readers. I mean at the end of the day we make music for ourselves. If we like what we have done than mission accomplished. But to know we have people like somewhere cold that really appreciate what we are doing is just icing on the cake, so thank you again! www.coastalrock.com