Geoff Koch:
The TVD Interview

Okay, so I really like Nashville-based musician Geoff Koch. He’s got a pretty voice and plays pretty songs, and I like him, and if you like pretty voices and pretty songs, I highly recommend giving him a listen.

Koch was one of a dozen musicians to participate in a Chevrolet (yes, as in the car company) documentary called The Chevy Music Showcase. Koch has three albums you can give a whirl: Throwing Rocks at Your Ghost, Live at Lucas School House, and If It Feels Good Don’t Do It, the latter of which was produced by Wilco’s and Uncle Tupelo’s Ken Coomer, who also played drums on the album. I caught up with Koch by phone for a quick chat just before his set at the Casbah in Durham, North Carolina.

I am new to you and your music, and since I may not be the only one, tell me about yourself.

Well, I grew up in St. Louis, MO.

Oh, I love it there.

It’s a great town. I lived there my whole life, and I went to college at University of Missouri in Columbia, and it was around that time I realized I just wanted to play and write songs and make songs. By the time I finished college, I knew that’s what I wanted to do that more than anything else. Around 2004-ish, I started to record my own songs and just got to the point where I didn’t want to just play Nirvana and Neil Young and The Beatles. I love them, and those are some of my early influences, but I wanted to play my own melodies and songs. It was around then I started putting out my own CDs, and I’ve been touring around the country making music since about that time.

Last August, I moved to Nashville, and I’m really happy. I always knew it’s where I wanted to be. It was a toss-up between L.A. and Nashville for a little bit, but logistically, Nashville is still close to family and St. Louis, and it just made the most sense. Also, for my purposes, Nashville is more of a songwriters’ town.

It is, absolutely.

I just knew, you know, if I’m going to do this for the rest of my life, I need to be around it and be in it. I need to be around the best people who are doing what I’m doing.

Definitely. Going back to where you’re from… A couple of years ago, I took a road-trip out to the Midwest, because I hadn’t been there much, and I spent some time in St. Louis. I had a really great time there. It was tornado season, and sirens were going off, and I was scared shitless, because I had never really experienced tornadoes before, and I still had a great time.

Awesome! I am so glad to hear that.

Yeah, I just feel like, ya know, Midwestern towns are maybe under-rated by a lot of people who, like me, might have grown up elsewhere, like on either of the coasts.

That’s interesting about the tornadoes, because I kind of remember when that happened, because it doesn’t happen too often that St. Louis gets a tornado. It’s usually Indiana or Kansas. They usually miss most of Missouri. But about what you were just saying… Yeah, being born and raised in a big, small town or a small, big town like St. Louis – however you want to put it – people like us, from towns like that, can develop a bit of a complex or develop a sort of jealousy or feeling of missing out or even, you know, inadequacy, because they’re not in the Northeast or Los Angeles.

Well, I think it’s probably pretty common for most people to hate where they raised, until they’re older. You know, they just want out, and once they’re out for a little bit, in a lot of cases, they’re like, “Damn, home is pretty rad, actually.” [laughs]

Yeah, and I don’t feel like I was raised someplace where I was, like, the center of the universe. I don’t have that jaded thing. I really like exploring the Midwest and throwing my touring net wider and wider and wider. It’s great to come home, but it’s also great to get a taste of the American Southwest for a while or big city life, like New York or Los Angeles, or to go down and see what New Orleans looks like. All of that is really great and valuable.

So, you were saying that some of your earlier influences were musicians like Nirvana and Neil Young?

Yeah, I grew up on Neil Young. My dad, in the early, early years, would play his records, along with The Who, all The Beatles stuff, The Police, some Cream, some Led Zeppelin. So I grew up on some classic rock as well. When I started gravitating toward acoustic guitar, I wanted to learn some of the songs that I grew up on, so I got a Beatles songbook and a Neil Young Harvest songbook, and oh, you know, I want to learn how to play Nirvana, so that too. I don’t think I sound anything like Nirvana, but I loved their passion. They were such a unique hybrid of pop punk. Like, In Bloom is so pop-y but with meatier guitars and big, kicking drum sets, and dirty noise. Dirty pop.

So, yeah, that’s where I was coming from, and I was also really interested in some stuff that was coming out of Milwaukee and Chicago, like a band called Braid and another called The Promise Ring. I learned how to play a bunch of those songs. I loved them.

Like anyone else who is pushed by music, you start to search for what else is out there. I didn’t just listen to what I grew up on. I didn’t just stick to that. That was maybe one of the advantages of growing up in St. Louis. I heard about all these big cities. I heard about all these other things. I wanted to know what else was out there. I wanted to know what was not in my own hometown.

One of the most interesting things I found in my early searching days was how similar some of the chords and patterns musicians from different genres use. Like, Dave Matthews uses some of the same chords and patterns as Braid or The Promise Ring might use. Like, they’re doing some of the same stuff on the guitar. A band like At The Drive-in, their song “One Arm Scissor” has a couple chords and hand positions that Dave Matthews uses.

I can see that. I think that’s kind of typical for music that ends up on the radio. Do you think that’s intentional?

I think it goes back to doing what you can with what you have. You know, like the math rock genre. They use some of the same chords as bands like Braid and At The Drive-In, who have been on the radio, but you’re not going to ever hear that on the radio.

Math rock?

Yeah, it’s a genre. Well, it’s what I call it, anyway. It’s like making art for art’s sake, or playing these chords just because you can play them. There’s validity to that. It’s great. Sometimes those math rock bands will use all these chords, and you’re not going to hear a single chorus for the next seven minutes. Just really detached, disjointed song parts all woven together. As far as the chords used and hand positions, though, who knows what’s going to end up being popular on the radio. [laughs]

Well, last but not least, what’s next for you?

Well, I’m finishing up my next album, and I think it’s going to be called Follow the Voices. That’s the working title, at least. I’m really proud of this next album. I’ve been working out some of the songs, and I think it’s going to be really good, and I can’t wait for people to hear it.

Geoff Koch is performing as support for Gregory Alan Isakov this Saturday, May 11th at 9 p.m. at The Basement in Nashville, TN. You can buy his albums on iTunes.
Photos: Carra Martin Photography

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