Interview: Road warriors Kopecky Family Band talks tour, strange instruments and Star Wars

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The Nashville sextet Kopecky Family Band managed to give their new LP Kids Raising Kids the rises and falls of a masterful mixtape.  The band – this month’s WXPN Artist to Watch – doesn’t write songs, it evokes emotion.  It captures the weightlessness of new love and the enveloping lows of loss with the same poignancy.  Kopecky Family Band have been touring pretty intensely for the better part of the last five years, and recently, with the release of their LP, are opening a lot more eyes and ears to their enlightened music and celebratory live show. We caught up with Guitarist and Singer Gabe Simon on their way back from a quick jaunt in Canada to talk about writing on the road, the future of Star Wars, and why coming home is like nothing else.

The Key: Do you have any favorite cities to play on tour?

Gabe Simon: I really like playing Chicago; it is sort of like our second home.  We also just played Phoenix, and it was a lot of fun, I love playing Phoenix, and I would love to keep playing Phoenix even though it is kind of far away. It is a great place to play.  Really cool music people and Arizona is absolutely beautiful.  There is also this place outside of San Francisco that is probably my favorite place I have every played. I like Philadelphia too, I am not trying to hate.

TK: We are looking forward to you coming back.

GS: We are really looking forward to it too.  The people are really cool and open and accepting.  We have had a really good experience there, being taken in by the city, so we really appreciate that.

TK: Do you write music on the road? 

GS: This trip we’ve been doing a lot of writing.  We have been really enjoying the Northwestern influences.  This is kind of the part of the country that you tend to write a lot of sad songs for.  We don’t usually do a huge amout [of writing] on the road, but this trip we’ve been doing a bunch of writing and it has been really fun.

TK: Do you have a certain place in the country where it is easier to write?

GS: You know, I am actually more of a weather guy.  It depends more on what is going on vibe wise.  Cause the weather changes the way your body feels and affects the way you write a song.  You write based on how you are feeling.  I feel cold, so I am writing what I think cold feels like, or rain, or what heat feels like. Actually, I don’t feel very inspired to write when it’s hot.  There are so many beautiful parts of the country and we see so much, but when we’re coming home, we like to write about that, because we are gone so much, so it is nice to come home. It is about writing what you feel, not about what you think you have to put down.

TK: How has your exhaustive touring affected how you perceive growing older?

GS: I feel like it’s one of those things where you feel like you aged a lot.  Being home is just one part of life, but when you are on the road you are fending for yourself and working with a team. It is like being in the Middle-Ages and traveling around trying to catch peoples attention.  I feel old, even though we are young.

TK: Has your extensive touring helped shape the sound of your band?

GS: Definitely, yeah.  We are constantly missing home, and I think that is a story that we like to tell and a sound that we are trying to embody.  We are not limiting our sound to a specific area. People say we make Southern Rock.  No, we don’t, we make rock that has southern elements to it, and it is all because of the traveling.  It is all the traveling we do, and not being able to be home. We are with the exact same six people all the time, what does that feel like? So, we try and tell those stories and the stories of the people we meet, and then they become the sound of the people we meet.

TK: Did you have any challenges recreating your live sound in the studio?

GS: I think the biggest thing we talked about when we first went into the studio to work on the album was wanting to make an album that was bigger than our live show, so it could be something that we could work towards.  Versus just making what you sound like.  There is the emotional aspect of a live show that you can’t bring to a record.  You can’t see someone’s face live, you can see them jumping up and down, moving, getting the crowd activated.  You can’t do that with a record, because I am not in front of you to take play it for you.  Playing live, you can sonically make it feel like a similar experience, but you can’t recreate all the little sounds from the album.  Instead, live, you can create a different feeling, an emotion, an excitement that you tried to create in the album by making it ‘bigger.’ I think they create different experiences, but mutually beneficial experiences.  You present an emotion, as opposed to a sound.

TK: How many instruments do you play?

GS: I am pretty good at probably four maybe?  And I can play more than that.  I think the reason we switch instruments is because the guitar is not the perfect instrument for every song.  And we have learned instruments too.  We are not the most proficient horn players, but Corey (Bass) and I started playing when we were younger, and we have gotten better over the past few years just by playing so much.  We have been training ourselves to get better at it, like, with tone and all those things, but when we first started getting back into it, we really didn’t sound that good, but we worked through it and things change as you keep trying, so we taught ourselves a bunch.

TK: Are there any instruments that you wish you played that you don’t?

GS: Man, we were at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, Arizona, and there were literally hundreds of thousands of instruments, and I think we wanted all of them. But there are so many instruments around the world that are just crazy.  Real often we think of guitar, or keyboard, or drums, but you don’t think of these exotic instruments from around the world.  Whether it is, like, a stick that is shaped like a V and there is a strap tied between it and you hit the stick and then hit the string and make noises with it with your tongue.  That would be a cool instrument to figure out how to use.

TK: What instrument did you start with?

GS: I started on horns when I was in fourth grade and then I took up the guitar in middle school.  I actually played bass for most of my musical career prior to being in Kopecky [Family Band]. I was a bass player, and our bass player was previously a guitar player.  Some of us were trying play instruments that we don’t normally play, it’s pretty fun though, it just kind of worked out that way.

TK: Do you all live in Nashville?

GS: We do now; we have been there for about the past five yearsish.

TK: Are you from scattered places?

GS: Yeah, actually I grew up in South Carolina, and Steven, our Guitarist is from South Carolina, but he also grew up in the Philippines.  Corey, our bass player, grew up in North Carolina, David, our drummer, grew up on Denver, Colorado . Marcus, our Cello player, grew up in Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas area.  And Kelsey grew up in Minnesota.

TK: That’s nice to be able to tour and hit everyone’s hometown.

GS: Dude, it is great, always someone’s loving parents to take care of us when we need it. We try to stay with friends, and relatives people that we can talk to.  It is actually really fun, much more fun than staying in a hotel.  Staying in a hotel is nice for the privacy, but when you get to meet people and figure out what you are going to do every night it is fun. Actually, it’s exciting; you get to meet new people.  People normally you’d be like, ‘I don’t know if I would trust this person alone, but with six people I’m totally fine.’

TK: Do you think your sound has been shaped at all by living in Nashville?

GS: Hm, probably yes, but I don’t think we intended it that way. I mean, we all grew up in different places, so I think we all brought our sound from different places to Nashville.  Maybe that is what the Nashville sound is.  Nashville is a lot of transplants; it is a lot people bringing their sound there, so we do have a Nashville sound in that melting pot aspect of it.  But when we started off, we didn’t play a huge amount in Nashville. We were trying to play everywhere else.  We like the fact that Nashville is our home, our sacred little place, and we like coming home to it and not feeling like we are working, you know?

TK: Besides Kelsey, of course, who would you most like to sing a duet with?

GS: Gwen Stefani.

TK: Are we talking Gwen Stefani now?  Or a certain era of Gwen Stefani?

GS: No Doubt.  Tragic Kingdom Era.

TK: As a big Star Wars fan, how do you feel about Disney buying Lucasfilm?

GS: You know what?  I actually think it is a good thing.  The last couple films were a little ehh, and I think there has been a lot of good Star Wars content created on the side, you know? Like, Marcus (Cello) reads a lot of the side novels, and some of them are a lot more interesting than the Lucas concepts.  I think they are going to bring in a director who is going to be respectful to the whole series, but at the same time vamp it up.  Do what JJ Abrams did to Star Trek, you know, make it more exciting again and get people reengaged in the whole series again. I think it could be really good, and I am really excited.  And it’ll be less cheezy, it got a little cheezy. Episode 1-3 got a little cheezy and after that they started making all the Star Wars tv shows, and he actually started making more kids content than he is making movies for all minds.

WXPN Welcomes its December artist-to-watch Kopecky Family Band to MilkBoy on Saturday, February 2. Tickets and information on the show are available here.

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