By David Taylor
WTBU DJ David Taylor sat down with Bay Area indie rockers Carpool Tunnel ahead of their show in San Francisco on July 2nd. They discuss the band’s influences, touring, and future projects.
David Taylor: Ok, so first question: what’s it like being a local San Francisco band?
Brad Kearsley : It’s amazing to be in San Francisco.
Ben Koppenjan: Yeah, it’s great. San Francisco is a melting pot for musicians, really any artist in general. So, at least for Danny here [gestures to Danny] and Brad, who both grew up in San Jose. Spencer and I both grew up in Southern California — I grew up in a small town, so coming up to a big city like this is great because we didn’t have all these little DIY spots. A lot of the shows that I went to growing up were at people’s houses. And, you do have some of that in SF, but there’s all these awesome DIY venues that are volunteer run that so many of our friends now work at, which makes it awesome to play at and such a great scene. For people that are reading, if you want to come to SF and incorporate yourself in the scene, it’s so welcoming. It’s not hard to find your place, which is nice.
Danny Stauffer: Everything Ben said. I also want to add that Carpool Tunnel formed in San Jose. Then we all decided to move into the same house together in San Francisco. This was my and Bradley’s first time moving out of our childhood homes, which was pretty impactful for us. Living with our band was a great life. It was an insane year. It was really great because we’ve met some of our closest friends, who are also musicians, just from going to shows, talking to bands and saying, “hey need a place to stay tonight?” We would have the bands come over to our house and make really good connections that way. We’ve made some lifelong friends and tour friends.
DT: So what’s it like living together?
DS: [smiles] It was pretty gnarly. It was great. We definitely know each other, and we know we could tour forever now… without killing each other.
BKe: Definitely a chaotic good. The first few months of living together was an ultimate grind. We took the summer off from work and school. We hadn’t known each other for very long, but we were really good friends, so we said, “Let’s f**king go.” We moved to the city. We’re doing our thing. Then, we started going to school. Spencer tried going to SJ state, and I tried going to college in SF, and so did Danny. And, it did not work [chuckles]. So we figured out pretty fast that it gave us a lot of trouble, but we have definitely grown as people and as musicians immensely, just from living with each other.
DT: Are you guys full-time musicians now?
BKe: We also work side jobs.
DS: First priority musicians.
BKe: That’s a good way to put it. Yeah, we will not say no to a show that we want to play.
DT: What does Carpool Tunnel mean?
BKe: Carpool Tunnel, to us, means we hangout. We’re just trying to be people. In a sense, it’s like we’re carpooling through a tunnel, together. You’re riding with your friends through the darkness and into the light.
BKo: Yeah, I kinda see the tunnel as life itself. You go in one way and come out the other, and let’s do it together. It’s always better with friends.
DT: Describe your song-writing process.
BKe: Well when we lived together, it would be any time we had free time, we would go downstairs. We had our practice space downstairs, and we recorded downstairs. We would say, “hey, I came up with this riff. Let’s jam it out for like five hours and write something.” Or, we got distracted while practicing our set, and so someone would play something that we thought was really cool, and we worked on that for a couple hours instead of doing what we needed to do.
DS: I think that’s normally it. We have really chill practices. It’s not super disciplined. We’ll all be hanging out with instruments in our hand, and someone will play a little dittle, and someone else will go, “What was that?” Then we expand off of that. And that’s how we most naturally write our songs.
BKo: Yeah, it starts out with small parts. Brad or someone will bring a little lick or whatever it may be, and we build.
DS: We like getting the base of our song very naturally, so the majority of the song will come pretty quickly. But we’ll work on that for a long time, and we’ll add a lot to that. But we want to keep the initial feeling the same. Musical improvisation is a great form of self-expression, so those songs that come from that tend to be the best because it’s you expressing how you feel.
DT: So where do the lyrics come into play? It seems to be that the music comes first.
BKo: Yeah, I’ll just start singing and improvising. You know, some ideas will come out. I’ll just base it off of what the song’s making me feel. I’ll usually scrap a ton of stuff. But I’ll think, “Hey that line sounds good or that line sounds good.” I’ll slowly build off of small pieces that ultimately make the whole song. Usually once I get a couple good lines, I’ll realize where the song wants to go, which is pretty much how the song gets written, too.
BKe: The shortest time a song has taken to write was one practice session — about eight hours. But, the longest has been over a year. We still work on a song that we wrote over a year ago. Sometimes, we’ll be satisfied quickly. Other times, we’ll know something is there, but we just haven’t found it yet.
DT: If you guys could have your soundtrack to a movie, what movie would it be?
DS: Holes. [laughs]
BKo: Holes is a great movie. I agree with that. I think it’s one of best the movie renditions of a book.
DT: So we’re sticking with Holes?
BKo: I feel like it’s got to be something more iconic. [to his bandmates] Where would “Impressions” be playing? Some beachy vibes? Like Endless Summer or something.
BKe: You know that penguin movie, Surf’s Up?
DS: Yeah! That’s it. That’s the movie.
DT: If you guys could have written any one song, what would you have written?
BKo: I’ve got one. “One of These Nights” by The Eagles. Really any Eagles song [laughs].
BKe: I wish I was The Eagles.
BKo: Who doesn’t wish they were The Eagles?
BKe: The Eagles? Joe Walsh? [laughs].
DT: What was the first CD you guys ever bought?
DS: The first ever album I bought on iTunes was Ten Thousand Fists by Disturbed. I remember when I bought this, I was all angsty and metal-headed. Don’t listen to it that much, but that was the first I ever bought.
BKe: First album I ever had — I didn’t buy it because my brother gave it to me — was Third Eye Blind’s red album, and that’s still my favorite album of all time. Not the best album — but my favorite.
BKo: Okay, this one’s kind of embarrassing. This was when iTunes was just getting popular, and it was probably All American Rejects or something. It was when I was still watching Nickelodeon and stuff.
Spencer Layne: My old theatre teacher knew I had a crush on Avril Lavigne as a kid, so when I was twelve she gave me an Avril Lavigne CD, Let Go, and I still have it. It’s in my car.
DT: Listen to it often?
SL: Way too much. [laughs]
DS: That’s the song I wish I wrote. [band laughs]
DT: How’d you guys meet?
BKe: When I lived in San Jose, I played in five bands, and I was going to play in all the bands because I wanted to play in a band. There was this app that popped up. “Tinder for musicians.” It’s called Vampr. Both Danny and I downloaded the app the same day. Ben had just moved to San Jose, and we all matched to join a bar/wedding blues band. We just wanted to play blues standards to make money as musicians. Within an hour into that, we said f**k that.
DS: We had Brad being a blues-trained guitarist, and then we had Ben coming from Santa Barbara with this surfy, SoCal vibe to him. I grew up listening to Warped Tour, emo metal music — very different styles. First day we met after getting the app, we said, “Okay, what’s the band name? It works.”
DT: How long did it take you to realize it clicked?
BKe: First day. Ben had this old song he had been working on. We wrote it and recorded it in two days, and we thought, ‘Hey this kind of slaps.” That’s when we wanted to make music we liked. That’s when we realized we needed a bassist. We got Spencer through the same app. The thing is, I don’t know anyone else who’s used the app successfully. We just happened to all meet.
DT: Musical influences? What drove you?
BKe: The Strokes, Freddie King. Tame Impala. Catfish and the Bottlemen.
DS: The album If You Can’t Hang by Sleeping with Sirens is the album I learned to play the drums to. I was really digging it at the time. It was the middle school phase. That type of music, the drums are so technical. It was no melody and all rhythm. As a drummer, it blew my mind. So, I started with that. Then when I met these guys, I adapted to make more of a melody sound rather than a fully rhythm-based band.
DT: Was it an adjustment?
DS: Definitely. I was a double-bass playing drummer – mainly. I did a little bit with my hands and a lot on the kick drum. And playing with these guys, I had to adapt to a medium.
BKe: I used to listen to only pop-punk. I was in pop-punk bands. Then, Ben showed me The Eagles, and I was like, oh sh*t. Then I started listening to the Beatles, and he showed me Tame Impala. And I realized I had to start doing something else.
BKo: I grew up listening to a lot of different stuff. I grew up listening to the Eagles, America, Billy Joel, Elvis Costello, even some rap from an early age. I listened to Eminem. I got into Reggae. And that was how I progressed, and I realized I wanted to do music. I was doing theatre, too. I just dropped theatre to do music.
SL: When I was younger, I was introduced to little bits of music from friends. But when I really involved myself with music I was in this program called School of Rock. I grew up with classic rock: Pink Floyd, Zeppelin, Beatles — the whole shebang. We’d play shows at the local theatre. We’d go learn an entire set of Beatles songs and then play them for our parents and whoever else decided to show up. Then from there, I started to build my own taste and went out and saw new artists, and I started to pick up on bands like Queen of the Stone Age, Royal Blood, Tame Impala. Car Seat Headrest is a newer band that I really love. A lot of those bands helped shape my sound.
DT: What brought you to your respective instruments?
DS: My dad played drums. That was a huge part. He was an amazing jazz drummer when he was in high school. Then, he taught me the basics when I was around twelve. I’m so grateful to have a person so close in my life that has the same passion for the instrument that I have. It’s a connection that I don’t have with many other people.
BKe: When I was in fourth grade my brother played drums. His friend played guitar, so I convinced my parents to get me a guitar when I was in fifth grade. I played for about eight months, then realized how hard it was. I was really into sports at the time. I screwed up my hips and fractured both of my knees when I was thirteen, so I couldn’t do anything. There was a guitar sitting in my room, so I picked that back up. It was something to obsess over while I couldn’t do anything else, and eventually that’s when I fell in love.
BKo: My mom always wanted to be a singer. She sang to me as a kid. I think it runs in my family. My great great aunt had sung with Sinatra, and she used to do TV ads back in the 50s. My mom put me in singing classes when I was around six years old, and then I stopped for a really long time until I joined a vocal ensemble. We went to Italy and sang there. After high school, I wanted to keep doing it.
SL: Flea. 100% Flea. Love that man.
DT: If you collaborate with any musician, who would collaborate with?
BKe: Alex Turner.
DS: Kevin Parker.
BKe: Don f**king Henley.
SL: Paul McCartney.
BKo: Kevin Parker.
DT: So if you guys weren’t doing indie-Cali rock, what do you think you would be doing?
BKo: Reggae. Psychedelic blues.
BKe: Indie-bedroom pop.
DS: I think it’d be super dope to play drums for a hip-hop artist. That type of music, pocket beats, would be really fun.
DT: Have you guys incorporated other types of music, different genres, into what you’re doing?
BKe: We really just play whatever we feel like. Yesterday, we messed around with a reggae song.
BKo: Yeah, I don’t know if it will ever be a song, but we enjoyed playing it.
DS: Whenever one of us gets a new instrument, that brings inspiration to practice. New pedal, new guitar, new cymbal, new drum kit. Anything to spice up the sound.
BKe: I just bought a wax-steel guitar, one of the slide ones. So, we’re going to see how that sounds.
DT: Do you have a favorite song that you’ve released, or a favorite song in general?
BKo: I’d say “Impressions.”
DS: My favorite unreleased song is “Nostalgia” — coming soon to your ears.
BKe: My favorite would be “Flora.”
SL: “Impressions” for me as well. Unreleased would be “Forget My Name.”
DT: What’s next?
BKe: On the 20th [of July] we play an East Bay festival called Summer Love, then Jetstock on the 27th. Then we go on tour from August 9th from August 24th, starting in Berkeley, Reno, Denver, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, and Orange County at the Santa Anna Observatory. Then we go and record our album for two weeks.
DT: You guys forgot Boston.
DS: We need a better van that won’t break down. [laughs] Next summer we’ll be there!