Independent Music Online interview with Karl Koch - 2007
Written by Patrick
Most people know Karl Koch as the webmaster/archivist/band historian of the rock band Weezer. However, he is much more than that. He is also a musician in his own right. I recently had the opportunity to have a phone interview with Karl to discuss his views on the music industry, his collection of unique instruments, and lastly his newest CD release "I Must Find This Karlophone..."
1.What is your background?
Karlophone is just me, Karl. Ive worked for the rock band Weezer since '92,
and developed a desire to make my own music after years of guitar tech'ing
and watching how those guys made albums and played. But i had poor playing
skills, so i was inspired by the sample and drum machine music of the
80s+90s rap groups, and later on, the inspiring work of dj shadow and others
who were making complex and fascinating music with no band - no instruments
at all - just samples. After years of tooling around i got some tracks
together and pressed up my first album "press any key to begin". Looking
back i was probably premature, but you learn by doing, and it set the stage
to grow up a lot musically and make what i hope is more mature stuff now.
Now its all about trying to blend found samples with original music that I
(or friends i 'borrow') create/play, and construct original tunes from the
mixture. By tunes i mean songs - not just a loop or a beat. I think my
attempts at making melodic songs out of the samples and stuff is influenced
by working with a band that makes really catchy rock/pop music - i gotta
make songs, songs that stick in my head - not just "beats" or "moods".
2.What are your songs about?
My songs tend to take shape with the discovery of sounds and samples that
trigger emotive feelings in my head. While they rarely get too specific, the
themes tend to be on the melancholy side. In effect, i'm drawn to certain
sounds/tones/keys/modes, and as i construct a song, i tend to lean towards
instrumental and/or sampled musical ideas that match my internal emotions.
As opposed to sitting down with a guitar and writing lyrics. Oddly, even
with no lyrics in most cases, my songs are about love, lost love, sadness,
nostalgia, heavy stuff like that. I just don't realize it till they start to
take shape. Its a lot more like abstract painting than songwriting.
3.Do you write your own songs?
Yes, though i am using sampling as a key part of the process. i listen to a
million albums and record samples when i find stuff i like. ten i try
layering samples together till i have a part i feel has potential. at any
point i may hear a guitar, keyboard bass or vocal part in my head that i
feel goes with the part i've made. Or a part that should come before or after
it. Anyway, between trying combos and layering stuff i record or sample, i
end up with a rough structured song, then its all about editing it and
adding more parts and sounds till it feels right. Sometimes a song starts
with a vocal sample - "i gotta use that, it totally sets a mood i can hear
in my head". And oftentimes the sample or part that "started" the song never
makes it to the final product.
4.Who are your musical influences?
specific to what i'm creating - on the hip-hop/electronic end: 808 State,
Fatboy Slim, DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist, Kid Koala, Pete Rock, J-Dilla. on
the rock end: moody intense stuff like my bloody valentine, old breeders,
pixies. In general, my musical tastes are vast, i have a whopping collection
of soul, funk, rock, jazz, blues, punk, folk, psyche, you name it. If i
haven't heard it and its old, i want to hear it.
5.What image do you think your music conveys?
this is the hardest question.
6.What are your immediate music career goals?
gain some exposure and recognition: some decent reviews and some
college/blog/podcast/internet radio level airplay, which hopefully will
translate to some cd and t-shirt sales. It would be nice to actually profit,
though i realize my current unlikeliness to perform live seriously hinders
this goal. how about this: Sell 1000 cds. get on 20 college radio stations.
i should be able to do that even working on it part time.
7.What are your long-term career goals?
release at least 3 more albums, figure out how to perform my stuff live and
thereby do some shows someday. and... how about: sell 5000 albums.
8.How would you define the word "success"?
completion of an album you personally love to listen to, for one. i just did
this myself, and i do feel really successful - if nothing else, i'm proud of
what i just created and love to listen to it in my car. 5 years ago that was
impossible for me, so i know i've done something right. And by now I know my
taste doesn't suck - if i like it, i'm sure some people will dig it.
9.Are you looking for an independent label deal or a major label deal?
i am not currently seeking either, but i have certainly entertained getting
an indie deal. primarily to get better distribution and a bit of marketing
power. I haven't pursued this fully to date because i am currently unable to
devote all of my time to it, which to me is a prerequisite to working at
that level. (a prerequisite to a label taking you seriously - they need to
know you're out working as much as possible)
10.Have you had any previous print or broadcast media exposure or reviews?
Yes, my first album (in 2002) was reviewed in the French edition of Rock
Sound Magazine, as well as some online stuff (www.inmusicwetrust.com most
notably). I know it got some light airplay in some small college stations,
as well as some podcast/internet stuff. Overall, very light coverage though.
11.What advice would you give to someone who is new to the music scene and
wants to be successful like yourself?
You don't want to be 'successful' like me, 'cuz by most standards i'm not!
Anyway, you have to devote 100% of your time and energy to it, which i've not
been able to do, so i'm actually a poor example. Plus figure out how to
perform your stuff live, and do shows. this is my biggest weak spot, and i
know not doing it hurts my potential for exposure and word of mouth
interest. And have a kick-ass web presence, myspace or otherwise, and if
possible, give stuff away and lose $ by making new fans happy via free stuff
etc. real fans will come back and buy if they like your stuff. As a music
fan, thats what i do - when a new artist changes from 'just another band' to
'i like this stuff', they've got me hooked and ill spend on them. Also
maintain some mystery - if you're in peoples face ("check us out!") they
don't. People have to want to find you and check you out, and 'discover' you
if possible - no one likes to feel like they got on the bandwagon late.
"I Must Find This Karlophone" is a 10 track musical journey into Karl's world of Electronic/Hip-Hop. Each track kept my attention because I kept anticipating what possible beats or samples he would use next. It all flowed very nicely to me, and I found myself entranced by each of the tracks on this album. This album uses a clever mix of demo tracks (including some unused Weezer member recordings) as well as original musical performances by both Karl and Patrick Finn (a member of various pre-Weezer incarnations).
My favorite tracks on the album include "Now Comes a Decision", "Rocky Mountain Philosophy", and "Indian Summer". Each track has its own unique pace and flow and is very much a worthy addition to anyone's music library, especially if you are a fan of Hip-Hop/Electronic music.
"Now Comes a Decision" starts out with an overall sound that is very reminiscent of the Dust Brothers production on the "Odelay" album from Beck (which is great for me because I love that sound!). In addition to that, Karl makes very good use of sound bites from, what sounds like, old educational videos or movies. These are carefully woven together to make a pleasing two minute and fifty-four second soundscape for the listener.
"Rocky Mountain Philosophy" starts out with a sound similar to that of "Now Comes a Decision" but Karl enters in the use of Keyboard and Synth effects, as well as Guitar tracks added to the mix. The Keyboards and Synth are the driving force behind this track and continually takes it to new levels.
"Indian Summer" is 7 minutes worth of pure hypnotic bliss. Karl uses everything from tambourine and drums, to dial-tones, to guitars in this track. About halfway through this track there is one minute of pure trance that will hypnotize anyone listening, which then cuts back into the original beat from the beginning of the song. This song is an aural buffet for the listener to feast on.
All in all, Karl's 4 years of work on this album really shows. With a tight, and well orchestrated selection of tracks, carefully balanced with beats and moods that can please the ears of any electronic/hip-hop fan.