MAYBE this is the first time I have featured…
a New Zealand-based artist/band this year! That might sound reasonable but, as I discover, there is a wealth of great talent coming from the country! I talk to Radio Coma about the scene there and their hot new track, Too Young to Die. I know Jo Kelsey (the band's lead) and have featured her music before. It was good to catch up with her and the guys and ask what they will be doing next; how the Radio Coma came together; whether they are writing anything new – and if a U.K. visit is in order.
I discover the members’ musical tastes and why they gel so well; why more eyes need to point in the direction of New Zealand – and a few new acts we should investigate.
Hi, guys. How are you? How has your week been?
Hey! We’re good - just recovering from our last few shows and planning next moves; lots of exciting stuff is happening this summer!
For those new to your work; can you introduce yourself, please?
Radio Coma is a Rock ‘n’ Roll band based in Auckland, New Zealand. We’re Johann (Bass), LJ (Drums); Ozan (Guitars) and Jo (Vocals).
Can I ask where the name ‘Radio Coma’ comes from? Is there a personal origin or story behind it?
Ozan: I had this mixed, mainly Chinese-speaking radio-noise coming from my guitar amp during a recording session - where I was using some vintage fuzz pedals. I kept it rolling because I thought it fit that dark song nicely - and we kept it in the mix. At the beginning, it became the name of that song but that was an earlier, never-released work - when the four of us weren’t even together.
Later on, when we were struggling with a band name, we also discovered that ‘Coma’ also means the nebulous envelope around the nucleus of a comet; formed when the comet passes close to the Sun - which gives the comet a ‘fuzzy’ appearance when viewed by a telescope - distinguishes it from stars.
It all clicked together. We all loved both ideas and kept the name...
Jo. I know you are from the U.K. How did you all find one another in New Zealand?!
Jo: I got tired of London and the concrete jungle and was feeling totally uninspired. One day, I’d had enough so went out and bought myself a plane ticket to India; sold all of my stuff and ended up travelling the world and having some amazing adventures for a year or two. Eventually, I started (wanting to) settling down and found myself in New Zealand - which seemed like the perfect combination of sunshine, nature and city life.
Ozan had moved from Istanbul and Johann from France to work here. LJ had moved from South Africa for similar reasons to me. I’d been struggling to find musicians - and found Ozan and Johann while looking through endless ‘musician wanted’ ads. We had a few jams, started writing together; were joined soon after by LJ and haven’t looked back!
Too Young to Die is the new track. Can you reveal how the song came together and what lit the spark?
Ozan: The main guitar riff was there when I was trying to form the band and working with a drummer friend. We kind of put the basic riff together - but didn’t know what to do with it. Then Jo took it and came up with the melody and the lyrics. We kept jamming on it when LJ joined the band. That was actually the first-ever song we played all together. I looked Jo in the eye at the first chorus and we knew LJ was the one (one groovy man!). LJ and Johann both had their own take on the groove...
It was there, in a couple of jam sessions, with the full lyrics - it became our first song.
Is there going to be a music video for the song? Any plans for future singles?
No music video plans yet!
Right now; we’re gigging as much as we can and getting our live performances better and better - whilst gaining exposure (as we’re a fairly new band). We have an E.P./album in-the-works for next year, too.
New Zealand is where you are based. I do not encounter a lot of artists from there! Is there quite an active music scene in the country?
New Zealand has a very small but a very active scene.
Currently, there are some great bands we admire and some great bands/musicians came out from New Zealand in the past - especially in the early-1980s, when there was this famous 'Dunedin' sound: an Indie/Pop formation which can be traced back to the emergence of Punk-Rock as a musical influence (in the country) in the late-1970s.
Some great bands active now (who we love) are The Datsuns, His Master’s Voice and Skinny Hobos - you guys should definitely have a listen...
What is it like in terms of venues and labels? Do you feel the band will grow and be able to flourish in the country?
We feel like we’re growing with every gig.
Starting with our first release (in May this year); we’ve been playing shows consistently and we feel like people really appreciate and see the hard work behind every tune and every groove. We’d like to tour New Zealand soon, too. It’s the same as being in any country: I think it’s natural to want to grow and venture out internationally when the time is right.
We haven’t had much experience as a band with the N.Z. labels yet. What we did, so far, was completely independent and our own work - including recording and mixing. However, we are looking for help in order to concentrate more on songwriting and be on the (more) creative side - rather than dealing with all the technicalities.
There is a bit of a venue crisis, to be honest. There are also some good old ones we really love. Auckland and Wellington have a few really active places with great, supportive communities and owners around them. It’s all about the battle between the arts and property developments - pretty similar to what’s been happening in London over the last few years, sadly. Our hometown, Auckland, has been accepted into the UNESCO Creative Cities Network as a City of Music, very recently. We hope this will improve the scene, add more festivals and venues to the table - where they are needed more than ever...
Coming from London - where the music industry is so saturated - it’s awesome to be in a place where it feels like people really listen to your music; appreciate and fight hard to keep the scene alive.
We’re excited to see what we can do here...
Tell me about the artists you all grew up on. What kind of albums did you all experience and fall for in the family household?!
This is a very interesting question for us to answer - as we all grew up in different parts of the world and were exposed to different kinds of traditional music; as well as western music. The answer would be very long!
Jo: I grew up as a Classical singer in Birmingham (U.K.), the hometown of Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, so had a strange amalgamation of days spent singing Italian arias; nights in Rock bars - and parents who loved The Beatles. I remember dancing around the house to everything from Sgt. Pepper’s to Aretha Franklin and Etta James.
Ozan has some Turkish influence. Raised in a musical family; he grew up listening to both Eastern/Western Folk music a lot; fell in love with Blues - when he picked up a guitar as a kid and found himself listening to all the Classic Rock, Blues and Funk greats - from the 1960s/1970s - every day.
LJ grew up in church and played (mostly) Gospel and contemporary Christian music - until he started working as a session drummer in his twenties and he had exposure to various other styles and genres…he has no specific musical preference but has strong musical roots in Soul, Gospel and Rock - and can appreciate most genres: from Classical and Jazz to Metal.
Johann (mostly) grew up with French and Spanish music influence until he moved to U.K. - when he was twenty - where he was more exposed to Rock ‘n’ Roll and joined his first local band.
I guess our common ground is Blues and Soul and, of course, we all have Rock ‘n’ Roll in our blood! Sol putting all these influences together and playing them louder and dirtier is kind of what we do really. We just get into our studio, start jamming - and it comes out!
IN THIS PHOTO: Rival Sons
Are there any tour dates coming up? Where can we see you play?
We’re really excited to put on a show with His Master’s Voice on 2nd December at Backbeat, Auckland - and have a few more planned early next year (check out www.radiocomaband.com for more dates). We’re also currently in the finals of the national NZ Battle of the Bands competition - which has given us a lot of shows recently. The final show is in late-December - so more shows and big plans will be announced after that!
Are there any plans regarding playing in the U.K.?
Right now, we’re working hard on N.Z. shows, an album and festivals for next year. As we’re a band of ¾ Europeans, we will definitely be there in the not-too-distant future!
If you each had to select the one album that means the most to you; which would they be and why?
Ozan: I can never answer this with one album. On the classic side: it’s definitely Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti
That album means a lot to me. The story, the production; the lyrics, the Blues; the Hard-Rock, the instrumentation in it - there is a hurdy-gurdy in it!
More recently, in terms of sonic structure and the whole Rock ‘n’ Roll spirit, Rival Sons’ Great Western Valkyrie has had a big impact on me.
Jo: That’s hard! Whatever’s happening in life; I always come back to Led Zeppelin IV
Every single day and state of mind: there’s a song that just makes sense. I’ve also been carrying around this amazing Janis Joplin 1972 live album (In Concert) for years and years. Her energy on stage blows me away. It just seems so raw and real - and I think that kind of honesty is missing from a lot of music these days.
LJ: Mate! That’s like asking me to choose between my mom and dad! Haha. That changes, based on my moods and my musical journey at that time…this last while it had been Them Crooked Vultures (Them Crooked Vultures) on-repeat.
Johann: I am not a big fan of picking favourites but, since Zeppelin is taken, my first thought would be Black Sabbath – Paranoid
Not only because of Geezer’s killer bass lines and tone - but it is also a milestone in the story of Rock albums: so many classics packed into eight songs. I hope we can be as efficient!
What advice would you give to artists coming through right now?
Ozan: Make friends….and then make more friends. Keep doing what you love and what you believe in - no matter what. People on the street, at a bar: they hear the honesty in the music...so be yourself and be authentic.
Jo: Make something you believe in and will put your heart and soul into: a project you’re not fully committed to will fall apart pretty quickly. There is a lot of soul missing from the music industry recently - let’s bring it back!
Also; remember that it’s called the ‘music business’ for a reason - you have to be prepared to treat it that way for a sustainable career doing what you love.
Christmas is not too far away. Do you all have plans already - or will you be busy working?
We’ll probably take some downtime to see family and friends. We’re all ready to start writing more - so lots of time for jamming too, hopefully.
The best thing about New Zealand is Christmas at the beach!
Are there any plans for next year? What goals do you hope to fulfil in the coming year?
We’re working now on an E.P./album that we hope to release next year - and have a few other things in the pipeline. (Just) more gigs, festivals and tours; some more writing - and making as much noise as we can!
Finally, and for being good sports; you can each name a song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).
Ozan: Yavuz Çetin - Oyuncak Dünya
Johann: Platero y tu – Cigarrito
LJ: Them Crooked Vultures – Elephants
Jo: Where I’ve Been - Rival Sons
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