An Interview with coco b’s basement songs

After having decided that coco b’s basement songs’ firehawks and dirtybirds ep1 was the EP of the Year, I figured it best to contact the guys in the band and talk about their music. The group itself is composed of Kevin Castillo and Bob Penn. In this interview we discuss the EP, future projects, and why peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and the big Okie Dokie are so important.

* * *

PopMatters: So if you could, tell us a little about yourselves and how you came to be as coco b’s. Honestly, your disc was sent to me in a giganto pile of other stuff that I picked out that looked like it would be good, but no press kit came with the stash. So I have to claim nakedness here and just start at the beginning. I found a bit of info on your label’s site, but the fans and I need more!

Kevin Castillo: Well, coco b’s basement songs started after my other band, Retriever, dissolved. Retriever had been around for such a long time, probably off and on for about 5-6 years, that it just started to become lame to continue with it. The democracy that was established didn’t allow much to ever get done, which resulted in very few releases/songs. With the coco b’s, since it’s just Bob Penn (Retriever drummer) and I, it’s way less frustrating completing songs. I think we started recording coco b material around the winter of 2000 and have just released coco b’s basement songs… ep1, have a full-length that is almost ready to be mixed, and a batch of other songs we haven’t even decided what to do with yet.

PM: I noticed you listed Elliott Smith as an influence. I definitely heard that coming through the first time I played your songs. I also heard E (as in A Man Called E, and leader of the Eels) in the vocals. Do you like him as well? I really do love the warmth of the vocals. You’ve definitely got that sound that is familiar and yet fresh. It’s a tone to the voice that we don’t often get to hear anymore. Most of the bands are either raving it up or not signing at all, but that’s not the case here. I know there have been a couple other groups that had nice vocals but the singer was aware of his singing and almost shy about it. Did you ever have those quirks?

KC: I initially started singing somewhat soft as a reaction to not wanting to wake my parents up late at night. And, since I write a lot of songs on acoustic guitar, it seemed to work out all right. As for Elliott Smith or E, I was really unaware of them, or that I sang similar to them until friends started pointing it out, and now I am big fans of each artist. But, I think the hushed vocal thing, for me, is just something that happens rather than trying to imitate or being influenced. I think with the coco b’s, it’s the first time where I’ve been really comfortable with my voice. I’ve been singing, or trying to sing for such a long time that now it’s starting to feel right and not uncomfortable, like so many times in the past.

PM: What I really love about the EP is that it’s just thirteen-and-a-half minutes of this great music, and the length really feels just right. I know you’re coming out with the second “part” of this collection of songs next year. Was there a reason you chose to do a split EP rather than a full-length release?

Bob Penn: We just needed something released. We have so many song ideas and Kevin was starting to get on my nerves in the studio, so we said the collection of songs we had seemed plenty for now.

KC: I know the length of EP was a concern, but once we had an intro and an outro, the EP began to make sense. We just had so many songs we wanted to get done that there was no real objective as to how we were going to pull it all together. The reason we wanted to split the EPs into two was the first batch of songs we recorded (ep1) came out pretty mellow with lots of acoustic instruments, while the second batch of songs (ep2) ended up being a lot noisier with electric guitars, loops, and the use of samplers. Bob and I really haven’t had any problems coming up songs/ideas and so we tried to get as much recorded as humanly possible. There were about 12 songs that we had to choose from for each EP, and it really didn’t make sense to combine the two into one album. I think this way it seems more cohesive. And, I guess I should add that we recently decided ep2 will no longer be an EP, but rather a full length release, which will hopefully be available in early 2002.

PM: Is the K-Double label your own creation? There have been a number of groups I have talked to that pretty much started their own imprint and just release what they like when they like. I really think that’s a great aspect of the whole indie music scene. It would be nice I guess if the majors started noticing that and stop worrying about selling records based on who looks good and who has rehashed the same beats for the millionth time. I miss the old days when your favorite band would come out with an album a year. But with groups such as yourselves, you’re still living by the old work ethic, and I think that’s good. I just wish so many others got to hear all this great music you’re creating.

KC: Yeah, the K-Double Recording Co. imprint is pretty much our own label that I really pushed for. It definitely took some convincing from me for Bob to come around, but I think it has inevitably worked out quite well. I just came to the conclusion, after we were through recording ep1 and ep2, that I didn’t want to wait around for another label to put our stuff out. Bob and I have so many songs and unlimited studio time that it doesn’t make much sense to wait possibly six-plus months for a release to come out. So, we finished mixing in April and had a finished product in May. In the past, I’ve always been a strong opponent to releasing music myself, thinking that if the music is good enough, someone else will release it. But I guess I got sick of the waiting and then getting an end product or record label that isn’t up to snuff. In the near future, we would like to partner with another label or individual so we can concentrate more on recording.

PM: What’s the Orange County music scene generally like? I spoke to Baby Carrot out of San Francisco last month and they said the scene there is pretty diverse. I was curious if you guys pretty much stuck to your own guns or ever mixed it up with other bands and were influenced by them or not.

KC: There really is no Orange County scene as far as I’m concerned. There are a whole heck of a lot of punk bands that hang around town, but none that I would find very significant. I was pretty into a friend of mine’s band, The Lassie Foundation, but they broke up fairly recently. They were pretty cool with lots of My Bloody Valentine-esque melodies. The only other Orange County band that I consider worthy of mentioning would probably be Smile. Those guys have been doing some pretty interesting stuff lately. Orange County seems to be a weird place as far as music is concerned. I personally don’t know of anybody in OC doing anything close to what were doing. Which kinda sucks, because it would be nice to be able to play shows locally with “like” bands. Even in my last band, Retriever, we never played shows in Orange County. We would always venture to San Diego or Los Angeles. And I foresee the coco b’s probably doing the same thing.

PM: Another aspect I love about your songs is definitely the lyrics. I especially like the line about the tennis courts in “Bluebird”. You really know how to bring these vivid images into your tunes that I think listeners can relate to. When I listen to the songs, I kind of get these flashes of cinematic scenes in my head, or maybe the songs take me back to the time when I was a teenager. It’s a nice feeling that the songs invoke, I think. Do you take a lot of time with the words, or do they just come naturally and quick?

KC: My approach to lyrics has always been fitting words to melodies. I try to not take too much time finishing lyrics. But, mainly I just try and make as much sense as I possibly can using various funny word combinations or scenarios. Sometimes I’ll have something specific in mind like on “Big Okie Dokie”, which was written and is about Shaq during the Lakers playoff run, or other times I’ll use words that just sound good together.

PM: What’s the significance of the firehawks and dirtybirds in the title of the EP? I think you’re the first band I’ve asked a specific question pertaining to the title of their release. Usually these things are just self-titled or pretty easy to figure out, but I was wondering about your title since it does seem to conjure up some interesting images and ideas when you read it.

KC: I don’t know exactly where we came up with dirtybirds, but Bob can explain firehawks. I guess I just liked the way it looked and sounded.

BP: I also play drums for this hard rock band in Riverside, CA called Wagner. When Wagner first formed, we had some trouble finding a band name we could all agree with. Kevin and I started presenting my other band with some awful heavy metal names such as “Firehawks”. They hated it, but we still think it’s a keeper.

PM: Do you have your own studio setup or do you go somewhere to record the tracks? I ask because a lot of the bands I have spoken to have often had their own home setup, ranging from a four-track machine to your basic eight-track recorder. The production on the EP is just really nice. Some releases I get, it sounds like either the band didn’t have the funds to get a decent mix down or production job done, or they just didn’t give a shit and wanted to get as lo-fi as possible.

KC: We have our own studio set-up in my current living situation. Our studio is basically housed in a loft above an auto parts warehouse. We’ve got a couple of ADATs and a pretty decent mixing board, giving us 16 tracks to work with. The loft makes it very convenient to record at almost any time. I guess we’re pretty lucky to have that luxury. The loft contains quite a few instruments I’ve been collecting over the years; various organs, pianos, guitars, samplers, and a bunch of outboard gear.

PM: Do you guys have interesting jobs outside of playing music, or are you doing well enough to sustain yourself on your tunes?

KC: Bob and I both are social workers in the Orange County, California area. It would be nice to make a living at playing music, but realistically I don’t know if it will ever be possible. We just started coco b’s basement songs and plan on seeing where it takes us. But who knows. We have a lot of plans for the K-Double Recording Co. as well, but I personally, at this point, would not count on music as being my primary source of income.

PM: I’ve saved this for last, but I have to ask. Tell me about the whole peanut butter and jelly sandwiches thing. Are you big fans of that classic? I used to have one of those every single damn day of my life for lunch back in first grade. For some reason, I still dig ’em. Has to be grape jelly, though. Some folks I know don’t like jelly with their peanut butter. They make me weep.

BP: Every time Kevin calls me at home in Riverside, he calls during one of my many peanut butter and jelly sandwiches moments. Knott’s Berry Farm jelly (ALWAYS).

PM: Who do you favor in the NBA?

BP: We have stopped many recording projects due to the fact that we love the Lakers & Clippers. We have great pre-season seats for one of the Lakers October games this year. The big Okie Dokie is going to bring us another RING! Not even the ZONE D will stop the BIG DADDY.

PM: What’s your favorite Steely Dan album? I can’t ever make up my mind on that one. Lately, I’ve come to rediscover Pretzel Logic and can’t seem to get enough of it. And do you have any last words before we run out of space?

BP: Easy — The whole box set!! I still get tears in my eyes with those recordings. Just put on the song “Home At Last”. So much swing.

KC: We just want to thank Jason for taking the time to interview us, and for those reading this, be sure to check out k-double recording co. at: