An Interview with Rogue Valley's Chris Koza

Rogue Valley (Credit: Justin Blair)
Rogue Valley is performing at the Hotel Utah this Wednesday night (8/27) and we recently had a chance to catch-up with lead singer, Chris Koza. As of this writing, tickets can still be found here.

SFBayAreaConcerts: We’re totally psyched you’re coming into town. You’re going to the Utah. The Utah is definitely one of my favorite venues. It embodies this old California aesthetic, but it’s in the middle of south of market. What do you look for when you guys are looking for venues?

Chris Koza: {Laughter} Well, we just look for a place that’s somewhere on the beaten path. We aren’t too into big venues, so we try to find a place that has a reputation and that people like to go to. It’s a familiar place. A lot of people that we know in San Francisco have heard of it, and have been there or been to a show. It’s got some character, that’s for sure.

SFBAC: {Laughter} That’s a great way to describe it. For sure, definitely. So for the tour right now, you said you guys have some friends around here. Anything in particular you’re looking forward to do while you’re going to be in town?  

Chris Koza: Yeah, we’ll probably play a little pickup basketball, maybe go down to the pier. San Francisco is one of those cities that has a powerful kind of energy that surrounds it. Just being in town feels so different than being in any other city. And that’s one of our favorite things about coming to San Francisco, is to drink it in while we can.

SFBAC: Well, I definitely agree with you there, for sure. It’s a good time of year for that. So your last set of albums were broken out into the different season cycles: Spring (Crater Lake - iTunes), Summer (The Bookseller's House - iTunes), Fall (Geese In The Flyway - iTunes), Winter (False Floors - iTunes). What inspired this kind of focus on these natural, heuristic elements? What made you guys decide to go in that direction?

Chris Koza: Well I think a lot of it stems from having traveled around the country playing music, and getting a chance to see different parts of the country and the seasons. So it was an easy way to craft a song cycle narrative that embodied so many different songs. I’d say travel made a big impression on that project. We’re living in Minnesota where we have four distinctive seasons.

SFBAC: You know, I feel so much of your music is about being in transition, being in cars, visiting different places. It’s interesting you guys try to conjure this it sounds like.

Chris Koza: It’s just what came naturally {laughter}.

SFBAC: I was listening to "Mountain Laurels" (iTunes) recently. And the harmonies are just crazy. What’s your inspiration behind those harmonies? When did you first start thinking about that?

Chris Koza: Yeah, well there’s a lot of strong vocalists in our band. And growing up playing music and making music, I was involved in a lot of choirs. So when I started making pop music, folk music, I always felt that strong harmonies just helps to enhance the melody. And more people singing – if people sing together well – it’s stronger than just one person singing. I like using the vocal melodies and harmonies as an instrument. It’s one of the most unique sounds in music, is the human voice. And to use it as an instrument.

SFBAC: And the male-female dynamic you guys have, listening to Geese In The Flyway (iTunes), it’s great too how you guys do different things with different vocals. It really is like a separate instrument. And that’s part of the whole mix.

Chris Koza: I think there’s no certain spectrum of frequency range that another instrument can hit.

SFBAC: Well you know, speaking of travel, you had a track included in the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and I'm thinking about all the travel, and all the different cycles he’s going through, it has to feel like a perfect fit for what you guys are doing.

Chris Koza: Yeah. I hope that they found it, because they were searching for music that embodied some of those things the movie goes with. It seems like a natural fit to me after the fact of course. I don’t know what kind of process they went through to find the songs. But I’m glad that it’s on there. We’ve had a lot of people that have found our music because of that.

SFBAC: You know, it’s funny, because so much of that movie is about travel. And we’re talking about some of the themes we were talking about before, and I was thinking – rivers, valleys, moons, these motifs – it seems like such a perfect fit that completely makes sense.

Chris Koza: Yeah. I thought it made sense too.

SFBAC: I was importing some of your stuff into iTunes, and for some reason the genre wasn’t coming up. And I was trying to think, where does this fit? It’s psychedelic, folk, indie, rock. Do you classify your sound? Or are you not limited to that?

Chris Koza: I generally say Americana, which to me is a bit of a copout. It’s just a bit of a hodgepodge, like you said. There’s definitely songs that are pop oriented, and songs that are more acoustic based or folk based, and songs that have as you said a bit of a psychedelic flavor to them. So all in all, since it’s about travel, and travel only in the US, it’s Americana. It’s road music, transition music. I think Americana is the right genre.

SFBAC: That definitely makes sense – for sure. You were talking about acoustic before, also. I feel like you guys do a great interplay. There’s some songs that I listen to that I think just could work completely acoustically, and there’s some stuff you guys go big with. What makes you decide when a song is going to be a more subtle song, versus a song that has just a ton of dynamics to it?

Chris Koza: Basically if I start adding stuff to a song, and I add stuff and I like it more, then I keep adding stuff. If I start adding stuff and I like it less, then I stop adding stuff, and take it away. So, whatever seems to support the overall focus and energy of the song is how I try to scope the arrangement. At least for those songs, that’s the process behind it.

SFBAC: Excellent. Very cool. Well we’re psyched to have you guys in town. We’re looking forward to it, for sure.

Chris Koza: Awesome. We are looking forward to it too. It seems like we’ve been getting out there once a year. You know? One of these days, we’ll try to come out there and play it up real huge. But for now we’re just real glad that there are some people who are excited that we’re coming back. We’re looking forward to putting on a good show.

SFBAC: I think the Utah is going to be great, too. It’s a great space, it’s going to have an intimate sound – I think it’ll be great. I think you guys will be able to have a good show. So thanks a ton for making time for us. We really appreciate it. 

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