On 01st of december 2013 Klaus Zwinger met with the american singer-songwriter Koji right before and musician and activist opened the Into It. Over It. gig at the Arena in Vienna to talk among other things about the recent tour and future plans.
Heavypop: How’s the tour been going so far?
Koji: The tour is excellent. The tour is almost over. I’m not very tired because I slept all day. We drove from Berlin yesterday because we had to cancel our Berlin show Thursday, so Friday we made plans to play yesterday, and it was one of the most fun shows of tour. And it happened all last minute.
So you completely rescheduled it?
Yep. And we played this really intimate venue and we got to run the door and make the schedule and just play. And there was no pressure, so I think everybody played very freely and it just felt really good. There’s something so regimented and routine about tour sometimes, and to kinda improvise on the go – I think that’s because we all come from the DIY punk scene in the United States when you have to improvise and problem solve, that’s when our best comes out.
So last night was some of the best sets from all of us, because we were really pushing to make it a good experience. And keep a positive perspective and just make it a good time for everybody involved. So we got to, at the end of the show, it was really special, because we got to celebrate Tom from Slingshot Dakota’s birthday at midnight and everyone that worked at the venue had drinks with us and we sang happy birthday and it was really great.
It was kind of like a dream, where it’s like: „Oh, the van broke down, we had just been searched by the police, we got stranded into town, had to celebrate thanksgiving in a place where no one spoke english and then we played a show and then made a make-up show on that Saturday on our day off and then we had to do like everything ourselves at that show and then at the end of it it was Tom’s birthday and we were all singing“. It was just like out of the movie of our lives. It was great.
About thanksgiving, what did you do on Thursday then, when you didn’t play the show?
Into it. Over it. and I went into a 50’s style american diner and had cheeseburgers where no one spoke english which was awesome: to be at an american diner, with Germans serving you burgers on thanksgiving, which is like the most american day. And we watched a little bit of football, on the internet, just to feel a little bit more like we were at home and everybody was getting in touch with their family. It was really nice. This was my first thanksgiving away from home. That was really cool. It made me miss my family, and to be homesick in a good way, it’s so good to have family and to have people that you love. And so even though I couldn’t spend the day with them, to be able to just reflect on that gift in my life was really nice.
You released ‚Crooked in my Mind‚ by the end of April – what’s your perspective on the album now?
I’ve been thinking about that a lot on this tour. This is my first solo tour with the record. I’m coming to terms with what that season of my life was. With how difficult the process was, and the…pains that you go through. And just as a young adult, but also as someone that’s working within music.
So I think about how dark the record is and I think it’s almost shocking to me as I think some people were a little worried when it came out, because it’s just a darker record than I thought it was going to be. So, kinda looking at it now, I see how important it was to embrace that time and to let myself be there. And that’s what’s great about music, is we can spend the time we need with where we’re at in order to grow and move past it. And that’s very important, to me, to be ok and to people that come to shows. And even though I’m on stage on this tour it’s like when I’m home I go to shows like, most days of the week just to be around music, because some people need to move to think, to play sports, to dance, or, some people need quiet and alone time to think, I need music to thinks. So I continue to grow with this record, which is really exciting. I know I made something that was me and I didn’t do the record for anyone else. I mean, I released the record for the people, but writing and recording it is very much reflection time. So I’m still learning lessons. Most of the time when you write a song you don’t know what it means. You have to play it a lot and think about a lot.
You recorded your newest EP ‚Matters‚ two years ago, before you even started writing ‚Crooked in my Mind‚, so why just release it now?
I thought it would be nice because as I said this is my first solo tour since last winter. I just have recordings that I never show anyone. Because my work is personal, not everyone’s work is personal, and I’m not always in a hurry to show people, and I thought I was ready to let people hear those songs. It’s been recorded for over two years, those were the first recordings that I made with Will Yip at Studio Four and it just felt right.
And I write a lot, but I don’t show people. To choose songs to release I find difficult because sometimes I’m not ready to let go of that, because I’m going through it. Like, I don’t want to hear what people think about it, and I don’t want to sing it, because I don’t wanna go there. And I think like, when I’m finally ok with where I’m at with the song, then I let go. It’s almost just like freeing myself from it.
Some of your friends helped you record the album, yet it seems that the album is more focused on you, how is that?
Matt from Balance and Composure and Ned from Title Fight and then Brad from La Dispute, who drummed on the whole record, and Colin from Gypsy, and there’s a number of other artists that are part of it.
They’re the type of players that know how to serve the song, and I’m kinda coming to people as a songwriter, so to be able to work with such talented and disciplined musicians, they really know how to listen to the song, and let that shine through. I was so honored to be able work with good friends, and also such talented friends. Because they’re high-caliber musicians, they play extremely well, and this record to a degree was outside of all our comfort-zones, it was my first full-length and it is their first time working on any songs like this.
You think about how Balance and Composure, Title Fight, Gypsy, La Dispute… how all their bands sound, this is nothing like that. This is nothing like what’s going on in the sonic landscape of our scene. So to do something that is completely off wall for everybody was fun. We learned from it a lot, That was really great to do as friends.
Do you plan do stick with the acoustic sound of ‚Crooked in my Mind‚?
I will never make the same record twice. And if I do, it’s because I wanted to. But I think I’m always just going to write and record and perform to where I’m at and what I’m inspired by. As I walk through life and I continue to meet people on the road, and to experience culture, and to experience nature, and to experience all that the world has to offer, I’m gonna bring that into my work. So as the world changes and as I change, so will my sound. And I look forward to that. That’s maybe the most enjoyable thing about having music, it’s almost a map of how I’ve grown in life, and that’s better than any photoalbum I have.
Do you have any concrete plans on further releases?
I came home, and I have a lot of material. I got off my summer U.S. tour and I took a month off and went into the studio and I demoed a lot of songs. So what happens from here I don’t know. I have many new songs. I think what happened to me now after putting out ‚Crooked in my Mind‘ is I don’t worry about putting records out anymore. I did the hard part, which was the first one, and I don’t have this pressure on myself, to do anything but create. That’s not everyday, but I’m sitting here with you now and today I know that the art is where my heart is and that’s where I want to stay.
You are and activist at Colormake, so what has happened since the foundation in 2007?
Colormake has been kind of just what my friends and I have used to do projects together, whether it’s art projects or activism, and I think right now we’re getting ready to start doing new projects, and you’ll see a lot in the future.
But I’ve been over the last few years so honored to work with really great organizations like Humility Now, or Resolve, and work on issues like homelessness, or child soldering in Africa, and doing food drives at concerts in Pennsylvania, just being able to raise awareness and to raise funds and food for people who are going hungry in our communities.
So it’s always been this idea, in music we’re students of sound, and that comes into the spectrum, whether that’s different scales, that give you different emotions, or dynamics, quiet and loud, photography is the same way, it’s lightness and darkness, there’s a spectrum there. And for me, with advocacy, there’s everything from personal advocacy, to, like, global affairs, and I challenge people to engage on all those levels, because I think it’s possible and I want to live a life that shows people, you can make a difference, in your own heart, for your local community, and for people around the world. You just have to take the time. And I think the reward if you choose to pursue service towards other people, the reward there is something that is far better than any material that you can emasse (?). Far better than any status. We’re not defined by our titles or the amount of stuff that we have, we’re defined by our actions and by our words, and by living out our purpose. So I wanna encourage people to be intentional, to be pro-active, to really take action.
That was the big takeaway for me when I was a kid, I went to shows, hearing punk and hardcore bands say, like, you can do this, start a band, set up your own shows, make your own fanzines, print your own merch, do whatever it is that is in your head, live your dream. And it doesn’t have to be to the scale what society says is successful. Success is more about being in the moment and being able to take advantage of the opportunities that are right there in front of you and owning the fact that you are an autonomous being. You have freedom, you have power, and if you exercise that what you’re doing is reaching that infinite potential that you have.
Since you’re so involved with activism and NGOÔs like The Voice Project or Resolve, would you consider, at some point, to maybe become a politician?
Dude, I’m not sure I’m built for that! (laughing)
No matter what my role is, I think I’ll always be an advocate for peace and justice. So if I’m making art or photography, drawing, painting, if I’m singing, or if I’m volunteering, if I’m just meaning a person in conversation, I think I’ll always do my best to be an advocate for peace and justice and love for all people. So, who knows? Would you vote for me?
Well, if I could! (laughing)
Sweet, maybe I’ll run for office here!
And at the end some sentences to finish:
My favorite song to play live on this tour is….
…’Pang and Flash‘.
A song which already really annoys me by now on this tour is…
My favourite Into it. Over it.-song is….
(asks Tom of Slingshot Dakota) …is it ‚Upstate Blues‚, is that the one? (starts singing) Yeah, that’s the one – ‚Upstate Blues‘!
On the tourbus, I often find myself…
…wow, that’s a range of experiences on this tour! Um, I will go with sleeping!
An album I’m really looking forward to in 2014 is…
…all of my friends new records
I write songs because…
…I write songs to say that I am here.
And your Top 5 records of 2013:
Kanye West – ‚[amazon_link id=“B00CV5ZPA2″ target=“_blank“ ]Yeezus[/amazon_link]‘
Paint it Black – ‚[amazon_link id=“B00CA6Y7VK“ target=“_blank“ ]Invisible[/amazon_link]‘
Savages – ‚[amazon_link id=“B00BXSASB4″ target=“_blank“ ]Silence Yourself[/amazon_link]‘
Daylight – ‚[amazon_link id=“B00BDSRGEG“ target=“_blank“ ]Jar[/amazon_link]‘
Sigur Ròs – ‚[amazon_link id=“B00C1GBOU6″ target=“_blank“ ]Kveikur[/amazon_link]‘