Eugene rock band Common Koi is kicking the dust off its shoes. After months of forced time apart due to the pandemic, the band has reunited, recorded a new song professionally and played its first virtual show in February. Common Koi has maintained the ambitious and excited energy it so clearly captured in its premiere last fall, but it’s impossible for a band to not change after a pandemic-induced separation. It's been a year of reflection, solo projects and songwriting, and Common Koi is back but different — and that’s a good thing.
Common Koi launched into the Eugene music scene in the fall of 2019. Its story makes forming a band seem effortless. The four members are all from various locations in Oregon and Northern California and met at the University of Oregon. Frontman Skyler Coy asked now-drummer Stephen Strong if he wanted to start a band. At the time, Coy and Strong were hardly acquaintances, but Strong was stoked. He got his roommate, Jack Keith, involved, and a couple of weeks later they found Kira Gelbaugh at a hip hop ensemble. They wrote their first song, “Cloud,” the same night Gelbaugh joined.
The group romantically reminisces about its first two weeks together as a band. “I had never been with a band where everyone's talent came together so quickly,” Gelbaugh said.
The band’s excitement created a quick turnaround period, and a couple of months after its inception Common Koi played its first show in front of “at least 200 people,” Coy said. Common Koi also credits this quick turnaround period to the immense support from local bands like Laundry and Novacane.
Common Koi's process has shifted since it's early days. Initially, “when we got together our songs came together in one practice, and then the song would exist,” Coy said. “We were focused on pure energy and vibes. The lyrics didn't have to make sense. We were just so goddamn hyped to be playing.”
During COVID-19, there’s not as much pressure to create a 45-minute set in one week for a crowd of hundreds. As artistically frustrating as a pandemic is, it aged Common Koi faster than a typical band.
“Now things have kind of become a little more methodical, they've slowed down a little bit,” Coy said. The group used to write a song in a day, but “now we spend months on songs,” he said. “You know, it is through a very slow process where I come to them all excited like, ‘I wrote one more line, guys!’”
The band’s lengthier and more collaborative songwriting process is reflected in its newer music. Its recent song “Off my Mind” isn’t the typical run-of-the-mill mosh song one might expect at a house show. The song doesn’t abandon indie rock entirely, but certainly peppers in blues guitar with a little bit of edge. The varying musical influences are gelled together in a way that presents variety without being distracting. Common Koi’s music reflects the wide array of talent and influence coming from each member of the band.
Drummer Strong is drawn to hip hop and beats of his own on Soundcloud. Gelbaugh’s been playing bass for ten years and has dabbled in most genres. Coy started out playing guitar to get girls and ended up falling in love with blues. Keith was a jazz band kid but gravitates towards indie rock now.
“I mean, personally, that's my favorite part about this band. Our best songs are just perfectly all of our tastes, which are so incredibly different,” Keith said.
Common Koi’s focus on authenticity in creating music has gained the band enough traction to be recognized by an advertiser that wanted to use its music in a project. This past year, Common Koi booked it to Oakland to record in 25th Street Studio, one of the nicest studios on the West Coast.
“The way the engineer and everybody kind of treated us it felt like we were a real band — like we were meant to be there,” Strong said. “We weren't just some kids over our heads anymore.”
Common Koi played shows for hundreds and earned its place in a big studio all within the span of a year — a year half spent isolating in a global pandemic. When asked where they see themselves in five years, the band members agreed on touring across America and playing on the biggest stages they can get.
But ultimately, “as long as we're writing and playing music that we enjoy, that's kind of the essential factor for me,” Coy said.