Diverse Sounds: A Conversation with Los Coast’s John Courtney

By Brent Thompson

Photo Credit: Andrew Bennett

Earlier this month, the pop/psychedelic/soul quintet Los Coast released its debut album, Samsara [New West Records]. But the band – John Courtney, Trey Privott, Megan Hartman, Damien Llanes and Natalie Wright – has been garnering a following in its hometown of Austin, Tx. for quite some time. A noted performance at 2016’s Austin City Limits Festival and an extended residency at the Austin club C-Boy’s allowed listeners to tap into the band’s hooks and funky grooves. On Friday, June 21, Los Coast will perform at Saturn. The show is part of Good People Brewery’s Saturn Nights series. Recently, Courtney spoke with us by phone from his Austin home.

Birmingham Stages: John, congrats on the release of Samsara. The songs are new to us, but I know your band has lived with them for quite some time.

John Courtney: It’s funny you say that – we spent a long time recording it. Seeing people’s reactions is really exciting and that’s the new part of it. It’s like we spent all this time baking this cake and now everyone gets to enjoy it.

Birmingham Stages: How did the material for Samsara take shape? Are these all new songs or have some been around for a while?

Courtney: It’s actually a mix of all sorts of things. Some of the songs Trey wrote when he was younger and they got reimagined. Some of the stuff I’d written and brought to the table. For the most part, Trey and I basically locked ourselves in a room for a couple of months and just wrote and wrote. Up until that point, all the bands I’d been in had been about just playing shows – which is always awesome – but until I met Trey, I’d never really focused on songwriting and song-building. Once we got together, the two of us just sat down and hammered out. It was a good process.

Birmingham Stages: There is a cliche in music that artists have their whole lives to write for the first album and then get six months to write for the follow-up. With that said, are you continuing to write while you promote and tour behind Samsara?

Courtney: I’m always making demos and cooking stuff up on my laptop. I’ve got bass, keyboards and guitar that run through this program I have. I just like to cook stuff up – going to back to the food metaphor – and sometimes it’s easy and fun, but sometimes I really sit down and pour over it. I like to keep my chops up and I like making stuff in different genres, so when the time comes to put stuff out there I have a catalog of stuff I’ve been working on.

Birmingham Stages: You mentioned different genres and Los Coast is known for exploring different styles in its sound. How would you describe your band’s stylistic approach?

Courtney: I think that we just like to listen to a lot of different kinds of music and I think that the glue that holds it all together is Trey’s soul voice. We really like the idea of every song standing on its own and not being too much like any other song of ours. In pursuing that goal, we started exploring different soundscapes and that led us to dabble in different genres.

Birmingham Stages: Did the songs continue to evolve even after you took them into the studio?

Courtney: Oh yeah, for sure. We were nit-picky about this album. There’s stuff you don’t expect to happen when you go in, but it does. When you’re relaxing and goofing off in the studio, that’s when a lot of cool stuff comes out of nowhere and we say, “Roll tape! Roll tape!” [laughs]

Birmingham Stages: You attended Berklee College of Music. How does the academic side of your training affect your playing and songwriting?

Courtney: In a lot of senses it is second nature – being able to play the scales and know what they are – but I had to learn to unlearn. I found that when I overthought it, the music became a little stiff. So I had to find that sweet spot where it’s in the back of my head but I’m letting intuition still guide me. If I start from just the theory standpoint, it always comes across as forced or contrived.

Birmingham Stages: How do you feel about the current climate of the music industry? The accessibility to listeners is easier than ever, but that also seems to create clutter.

Courtney: Wow, that’s a really good question. It is more difficult to get noticed, but since people can listen to all sorts of music whenever they want, I think people’s ears have expanded and people are more interested in diverse sounds. It’s a challenge to stand out. It’s an exciting challenge, so how do we make ourselves different? We try to be original.

Good People Brewery Presents: Saturn Nights with Los Coast on Friday, June 21. Venture Boi will open the 9 p.m. show. Admission is free and the event is 18 and over. For more information, visit www.saturnbirmingham.com.