Why We Should Stop Talking About K Records, According to Naomi Punk’s Travis Coster
Distorted, bruised rock isn't new to the Pacific Northwest—see "grunge scene, Washington"—but Naomi Punk's particular flavor mucks up the '90s alt-rock radio formula a bit, slathering it in noisy guitars and crashing cymbals. The messy twist is brought to life by singer-guitarist Travis Coster, drummer Nicolas Luempert, and guitarist Neil Gregerson.
The group's members met when they were playing in different bands in their smaller hometown scenes around Issaquah, Wash. Naomi Punk’s second album, The Feeling, was released in April 2012 on Seattle's Couple Skate Records, and later that year, Brooklyn "it" label Captured Tracks picked it up for a reissue. The band is in D.C. tomorrow night, opening for Captured Tracks labelmate Mac DeMarco at a sold-out DC9 show. I spoke with Coster about the band’s history, the lack of jobs in Olympia, and how sick he is of talking about K Records.
Washington City Paper: I’ve read that a lot has changed with the songs from The Feeling LP in the live setting over the years. Is that true?
Travis Coster: Um, yeah, I mean we’ve always been a lot different—pretty heavy live, compared to the record. I feel like we recorded it that way out of necessity because we didn’t have a recording budget and we had really limited access to recording resources and we did it ourselves. So the fidelity of it is kind of limited, which really sucked. But instead of focusing on making it powerful or sound as “live” as possible, we kind of took on a more interpretative approach to the songs. They sound the same, I think. They just sound louder and tighter than the record. And the record’s more like, there’s more of an ethereal component. I think they sound the same as they do on the record, they sound better live. It’s just really hard to capture. We didn’t record it in one room in a week ... Each of us played the parts by ourselves. Drums were played, like, no accompaniment. Recorded on a four-track cassette. All the guitars were overdubbed over a long period of time. And we recorded a lot more guitars than we have in the band. We’re only a three-piece band, but we recorded a lot of guitars ‘cause, like, it was hard to make it sound powerful. The recording technique was kind of its own beast.
WCP: What’s the timeline of the band? When did you guys start playing together and when did you start writing the songs for The Feeling?
TC: We started playing together in September 2009 and all three of us were in other bands, so it was kind of like, we’d play one show, but we’d already recorded a CD. And we played like, really sparingly. We weren’t being ambitious about it at all but we just kept being offered shows and then, eventually, it just kind of—as we kept playing, we just kept playing really cool shows, even though they were only like our third or fourth show, or whatever. And then we would take really long breaks. We wouldn’t play a show for six months, or whatever. ‘Cause our other bands were touring or doing whatever. I guess we started writing the songs that are on The Feeling in 2010 or ‘11 and stuff. And then started recording it at the end of 2010 and it took a really long time to record it.
WCP: Is your main goal to be pursuing the band? Do you have other pursuits back home that you focus on?
TC: I mean, we’re all artists. … All three of us were in school when we started this band. Nick and Neil are studying art and music in school at Evergreen State [College] in Olympia. I’m out of school and I’m just working on making a lot of visual art, and music for this band. I guess those have become more prominent in our lives. I feel like we’ve always been focused on making weird art and punk music or noise music in different ways. It’s never been concentrated on one project in a way that’s received attention outside of weird house shows and stuff, you know. It’s not like we’re really hoping to make a big break. I don’t think that’s a relevant part of it at all. It’s just like, we’re doing the same thing we’ve been doing, but people are, like, starting to get into it for some reason. But we don’t really know why.
WCP: Where’d you go to school?
TC: I went to the University of Washington in Seattle. And we all grew up east of Seattle, near a place called Issaquah. It’s a really small town. We met when we were a lot younger. Now the other two dudes live in Olympia and I live in Seattle.
WCP: When did you guys meet? How old were you?
TC: I met Nick when he was like 14 or something and I was like 18. There’s this really cool teen center in a really rural suburb that used to have a lot of crazy shows. They had a screenprinting studio, and a dark room, and a recording studio there. There’s a lot of really cool stuff. There’s a really rich music history there, and a lot of people go to shows there. It’s cool.
WCP: What’s that scene like? Was it pretty small?
TC: Every band was, like, really, really good and really weird. A band Talbot Tagora used to play like every show there. And our other bands used to play every show there.
WCP: What were your other bands?
TC: One of them was called U. One of them was called Masters and Johnson. And one of them was called Seahouse.
WCP: Was this scene pretty positive and accepting?
TC: Yeah, it was pretty all ages-focused. We would go to Seattle and play houses shows there, too. I feel like it was a really cool scene to grow up in, I guess.
WCP: Did you see something special in Neil and Nick when you were looking for bandmates?
TC: Their band was called Masters and Johnson and they were really good. It was like my favorite band. So, I just asked them if they wanted to jam. That’s pretty much it. And they were just like, into it, I guess. I dunno. We’d known each other for awhile by the time we started talking about that, though.
WCP: Olympia is a pretty storied town in indie-rock lore [thanks to the many artists that have lived there and by being home to the influential K Records]. Is it as wonderful a place as it seems? What’s it like there?
TC: Yeah, it’s pretty cool. It’s really small. I don’t even really want to talk about it. But it’s cool. I feel like we’re just kind of doing our own thing. I don’t think it is as wonderful as it seems, but it is. Yeah, some people think it is, some people don’t think it is as wonderful as it seems. When we’re on tour, everyone’s asking us about [K co-founder and musician] Calvin Johnson and K Records and stuff. The only time I feel like I think about K Records is when I’m on tour and people ask me about it. That’s like a cool scene, they’re not like super involved in current Olympia music that’s happening right now—the thing that everyone’s into right now necessarily.
WCP: K Records isn’t really a big deal in town any more?
TC: I mean, they are a big deal, but it’s like, it’s just old time stuff. It’s kind of like Sub Pop in Seattle. No one really cares. There’s a lot of Olympia bands that are good that people don’t know about.
WCP: Who in particular do you think I should check out?
TC: There’s his really good hardcore band called Gag. A lot of people think they’re like the best band. There’s this newer band called Vex that’s really good. A lot of people know about Broken Water and Gun Outfit. There’s this other band called Lazer Zeppelin that just broke up. They were like my favorite Olympia band. They had members of LAKE, which is a K Records band, I guess. Those bands are really cool. I feel like they’re a part of what’s really cool about Olympia right now.
WCP: So, it’s still a great arts community?
TC: Yeah, yeah. It’s actually insane, I think, especially for the size of the city. It’s, like, a really, really small town. On tour, we go to towns that are twice as big as Olympia and there’s, like, five people that are really into music.
WCP: Do you see a lot of people moving to Olympia because of that kind of thing?
TC: Well, there’s no jobs there. There’s just, like, an experimental college and that’s it. So. There’s people that go there to go to college for that. I mean, it’s the capital of Washington, but it’s really tiny and none of the legislators live there. And none of them are in bands. [Laughs] I feel like it’s kind of self-contained. A lot of people talk about it a lot in, like, a really cool way. I think it’s going to stay—to the extent that it is a really weird utopia, I think it’ll stay that way because it just can’t support that many more people. Just in terms of—it can’t be like Portland or something where people with fixed-gear bikes and mustaches move there because there’s just literally no jobs. There’s like a pizza place and two coffee shops. And there’s like a cool vintage clothing store and record store. But everyone in the city and, like, all the bands you’ve heard of in Olympia already work at those jobs. You’re gonna have to be friends with those bands to get a job at one of those places.
Naomi Punk performs with Mac DeMarco and Calvin Love March 5 at 7:30 p.m. at DC9, 1940 9th St. NW. The show is sold out.