Interview: Five Minutes with KARMACODA
Image credit: Bill Shupp
This week we sat down with vocalist Jessica Ford, producer Brett Crockett and multi-instrumentalist Eric Matsuno, who are the key members of romantic pop outfit KARMACODA. The trio will be officially releasing their shimmering single ‘Make Me The One’ on Friday the 12th but you can catch a glimpse of the unforgettable single at the end of this interview. KARMACODA have quickly established themselves on the scene, having won numerous awards (3 Davey Awards and an International Songwriting Competition, to name but a few). Their success has left us in eager anticipation for their upcoming LP – Slow Down, Melt and Catch Fire (slated for release on the 28th of May) – which will no doubt to catch the public’s attention in a similar manner.
Join us as we chat with founding member Brett Crockett (aka B) with a few, well-placed comments from Jessica and Eric to add colour to the proverbial portrait of the band.
Set the tone for us. Why the arts?
B.: I had a very musical childhood. Growing up I became obsessed with music eventually getting my first guitar and keyboard in my teens. After I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area after college I joined several rock bands and recorded often in the famous studios in the Bay Area and LA (Music Annex and Sound City Studios). It was during this time I became interested in recording, producing and mixing because I couldn’t get the sound in my head to come out of the recordings other recorded and produced and mixed.
Jessica: Music runs in my family, I played the flute as a child, then piano, then singing, then guitar. I danced ballet before I ever sang. I also did tap and jazz. My entire family danced and sang. We would do local community shows together from time to time, but mostly I am the singer in the immediate family, the one who pursued a career in it. I have a cousin who does the exact same thing as me and a brother who is a music producer.
Eric: For as long as I could remember, I was known to love music. My mom and pop were the entertainers in my huge family of some dozens of cousins and it was my dad who played Santa for all of them. My mom plays the ukulele and dad played the harmonica and had a pretty mean whistle. I adored my sax playing uncle-aged cousin and always knew that music would be a big part of my life.
Which comes first when you’re producing – the sound or the idea?
B.: The music always comes first. We start with musical “sketches” that I typically come up with in the studio which try to convey a particular mood and vibe and that fits the KARMACODA aesthetic. I then pass it along to the group, with a “temporary” title, to see if they think it’s something we can work on.
Jessica: B. sends me the beginnings of songs, tracks that are about a minute in length. I sift through them, choose what I want to work on at the moment and begin to create. When B. sends me tracks he gives them a name or title if you will. He chooses the name randomly from a percussion instrument’s name or synth sound name. Let’s say one was called “Kindred” or “Traps” or “Feels”. He uses these as titles. I then like to play a songwriting game with myself… I use that title as my key inspiration and write about it. I make sure that that word is somewhere in the lyric or the song hidden. It is so fun to create using words I would probably never put into a song like “Kindred”. The lyrics written around these songs end up creating deep lyric content with new inspiration from deep in my soul.
Does your material feature any collaborations?
B.: We have a large group of musician friends all over the world that we like to collaborate with. On the new album “Slow Down, Melt and Catch Fire” we worked with drummer Andy Korn and keyboardist Eamonn Flynn on nearly every one of the songs. We love to see what they will come up with and it’s always a delightful surprise.
What’s on your current playlist?
B.: I’m currently addicted to a custom Spotify Frank Ocean playlist I created. And Miles Davis “Kind of Blue” is always on heavy rotation.
Tell us about the chemistry you have with your fans on stage.
B.: We try to create an environment and setting that draws our fans into the music. Often times this is with computer-generated video imagery that responds to the music we’re playing and automatically adjusts the content and motion as we perform.
What techniques do you experiment with to get your original sound?
B.: We make use of loops when we begin creating songs and use those as inspiration and then begin to record instruments and vocals on top of them, sometimes replacing them with original parts or stripping them away. It’s like sculpting with clay, always adding and taking away.
Take us through a day in the recording studio.
B.: We primarily use two studios: our main recording and rehearsal studio on Treasure Island located in the San Francisco bay and my personal home studio. Song sketches usually begin in my home studio (or on my laptop when travelling) and then musical tracking is done in the Treasure Island studio because it’s full of a wonderful assortment of instruments. Because my home studio is so intimate, that’s where we usually do vocal tracking and where I do my guitar and keyboard overdubs. It’s also where I mix the records. Because we are always recording, it’s part of our writing process, it’s very fluid. We don’t follow the process or write, arrange, record and mix. It’s all going on, all the time.
Was there a specific moment in your life where you thought, “this is what I want to do”?
Jessica: I’ve always known I was going to sing. Since I could belt out a note, I was going to be a singer. There was never a career path that was a plan B. I took very well paying jobs
as a young adult, not to settle into and make a career out of it but to fund my training
and have money to get to gigs and get in the studio. A “real job” was a means to an end. In 2005 I decided to quit my full-time sales position and jump in knee-deep to “singing for a living” and I never looked back.
What do you keep close by while you’re playing a set?
B.: I play guitar and keys (and sing) while performing. If I’m not playing guitar or keys I always have an egg-shaped shaker to play to add percussion. I’m probably not very good at playing it but I totally commit to it.
Any emerging artists on your radar?
B.: He’s not really emerging, you could say he’s emerged, but I’ve been recently into Frank Ocean’s music. So original. Billie Eilish is doing interesting things. I saw her perform at last years Grammy’s and was really moved.
What gets your creative juices flowing?
B.: Life, art, movies, books, other people. I don’t understand “writer’s block”. If I’m writing and recording, I know if I just go into the studio and spend the time in there something always comes to me. Often times I will go for long walks with a song in progress and write down ideas as they come to me. I think it’s the act of moving, either walking or driving, that’s a catalyst for me.
Take us through your collection of gear, tech or software that accompanies your creative expression.
B.: Loads of guitars and basses (acoustic and electric), U47 microphones, vintage Fender Rhodes pianos, Ondes Martenot, loads of other vintage synthesizers from the ’70s and ‘80s. We like to take the old synths and make them sound modern. Our only real outboard recording gear are really good preamps.
Any side projects you’re working on?
B.: KARMACODA takes up all my time. I’ll occasionally do a remix for a friends band.
How have you refined your craft since you entered the industry?
B.: I believe it’s true that to master something you need to do it for at least 10,000 hours. We honed our playing, writing, producing, recording and mixing skills by committing to spending the time. It’s not difficult because we love it.
Breakdown the news for us: what can we expect from you this year?
For the new album “Slow Down, Melt and Catch Fire” we’ll release 3 singles this spring and at least one video (the video for “Make Me the One” will drop soon) with the album release early this summer.
Famous last words?
We love you.
By Sarah Britton