Koa, the hottest new band out of Belmont University, wants nothing more than to make you dance.
“So what do you guys think you’re trying to communicate with your music? Is there any message you want to spread?” They thought for a second. Eyes darting around the coffee shop, the boys of Koa searched for the answer as if it lied within a nearby customer, or in a work of art hanging on the wall. For the first time since the interview started, they all fell silent.
“Happiness is only real when shared” Said Will. The others nodded their heads simultaneously in approval. I too nodded, thinking how truly perfect that phrase captured Koa’s essence.
Best described as a funky, indie-rock soul band, Koa radiates good vibes no matter what they do. Whether through their catchy tunes or simply by talking to the guys, Koa has the power to make everyone’s day brighter. Formed here in Nashville at Belmont University, Koa is composed of Chase Bader on lead vocals/acoustic guitar, Conor Kelly on electric guitar/backup vocals, Ryan Ladd on bass, Will Youngclaus on drums, and Alex Matthews on Saxophone. I had the pleasure of interviewing Conor, Ryan, and Will about the band, where we discussed everything Koa; starting with the band’s conception.
Though a newly formed group, Koa’s roots can be traced all the way back to the early 2000s in Colorado, where Chase and Conor met in grade school.
“We met up in 5th grade in Denver and we went to school together up till our junior year of high school.” Said Conor. “Throughout that time we had a little band with some other friends, but it was always Chase and I who really knew what we wanted out of our music. So then I started playing with a solo artist in Colorado, and Chase moved out here for his first year of college at Belmont University. Eventually I realized I wasn’t doing what I wanted to do with my life, so I came to Belmont so me and Chase could start this band together.” It was at Belmont that Conor came across Ryan Ladd. After being impressed by Ryan’s bass playing with his other band Neon Soul, Conor asked Ryan to track a few songs with him and Chase. The two quickly realized Ryan was the bassist they’d been searching for.
Once Ryan became a member, he recruited fellow Neon Soul band mate Will Youngclaus to play drums. Both Ryan and Will agree their previous experience working together attributes to Koa’s tight, rhythmic groove.
“Me and Ryan have been really locked in since we first started playing together” Will exclaimed.
“Yeah it has worked out well for the band to have a really tight rhythm section” Said Ryan. “The tighter the rhythm section is the better the band is, and that’s just how we approach our groove.”
Once sax was added to the mix, Koa’s unique sound started to form. Each day Koa grows, their style continues to shape into something new and exciting.
“I think our style is continually developing. I don’t think we’ve gotten to the point yet where we’ve officially realized what it is.” Said Conor. “I feel like we’re all a product of influences, and you just pull out the essence of who you are as a musician and you put it into the pot, and then Ryan puts his essence into the pot, Chase puts his in, then Will puts his in, then you just stir it up and get the sweetest musical gumbo.”
As one eats up the musical gumbo Koa creates, the influences of varying genres and artists is apparent, but so thoroughly mixed together it creates a sound like no other; making their songs incredibly unique and hard to describe. Some have said their music has a Bob Marley-like feel, while others have compared them to The Dave Matthews Band.
“I think when we’re on our ‘A’ game we’re as funky as James Brown on his worst night.” Says Conor. Though a left-handed compliment, it correctly depicts Koa’s one-of-a-kind sound.
Take the title song off their EP “Cool It Down” (currently available for free download on bandcamp). It opens with a funky keyboard/bass line, accompanied by a smooth groove on drums. Chase enters soulfully on vocals, while an upper harmony adds a special sweetness to the line. The song rocks on in a laid back, funky-smooth manner; every instrument playing its own soulful line while managing to stay locked in with the other parts. Like all of Koa’s music, it soothes the soul while creating an unstoppable need to dance.
“Cool it Down” is but a mere preview of the great things to come from Koa, especially in the upcoming week. Koa’s first official show will take place at The End this Wednesday the 20th, followed by their EP “Cool it Down” being released for free off bandcamp on the 24th. After that, who knows what’s in store for Koa. Their biggest goal in the future is to stay happy, healthy, and make a few bucks while they’re at it.
“We hope this band will be something that can support us all financially.” Said Ryan. “I mean we don’t have to be the biggest thing ever, but that’d be awesome too.” The boys of Koa have made it clear they’re in it for the long hall; ready to greet anything the future brings with good vibes, a funky groove, and an open mind.
As the interview drew to a close, I asked my final question. “Anything else you guys want to say?” Without skipping a beat, Conor replied, “Just come to our shows and dance”. Nodding their heads, the others smiled and repeated, “Yeah, come to our shows and dance!” I couldn’t help but smile. After thanking the boys for their time, I left the coffee shop feeling my day had just gotten a whole lot brighter. Walking back home, I only thought about one thing: happiness truly is only real when shared.
For more on Koa, check out their facebook page (www.facebook.com/thisiskoa). You can hear their single “Cool It Down” and download it for free at itskoa.bandcamp.com.
Be sure to catch Koa at The End TONIGHT with Bashly, Staying For The Weekend, and Keeps (18+, tickets are $5. Doors open at 8) and watch out for their EP “Cool it Down” to be released on the 24th on their Bandcamp page.
– Nora Nalepka