Interview: Coasts on music as reality TV, American hip-hop, and how a band name reflects a sound
It’s the last week of March, and Chris Caines is video-calling us via Skype from his parents’ flat in Bristol, England. Caines, who provides vocals for pop-rock band Coasts, is enjoying a bit of down time between brainstorming song ideas for the band’s second album and preparing to head out on the road in a few weeks.
Caines’ image, sometimes freezing because of our mutual intermittently poor Internet connection, is bathed in white, with sunbeams, white walls, and a plant in a vase behind him. There’s a resort-like quality to it all. The home phone rings a few times; in another instance, we hear Caines’ mom speaking faintly in the background. It’s all precisely part of the type of serenity you’d imagine the singer would be enjoying before embarking on an international headlining tour that spans roughly four months and wraps in Austria in August.
Throughout the call, Caines is ever the charmer. His smile and British accent, not thick by Bostonian standards but still requiring our full attention, create an air of approachability, albeit pixelated. That’s no small feat, particularly from 3,100 miles away. He’s just as enthused about touring the United States — and particularly excited about American chicken wings — as he is in speaking about his band’s music and his bandmates, James Gamage, David Goulbourn, Ben Street and Liam Willford. He’s won us over.
Coasts play Brighton Music Hall in Allston tonight (Tuesday, April 19) with Knox Hamilton and Symmetry. During our call a few weeks back, we spoke with Caines about how music is becoming more like reality television and which style of hip-hop is better, East Coast or West Coast.
Cory Lamz: You’ve been on tour for a while, and Coasts just released their debut album recently. What’s your greatest tour story so far?
Chris Caines: We’ve gotten so many really crazy moments. Really early on in the band there was a moment where we had a big show in London, and we were a Bristol band at the time — a couple hours away. We had this rickety old van that we drove to gigs in, and we ended up playing in this London show, which was back in the day when we were playing for about five people. We were driving back from this terrible show, in the evening — it had just gone midnight — and the van broke down, the wheel nearly fell off on the motorway, and we were stuck there with no insurance, no coverage. It was absolutely horrendous. We’ve had some pretty horrific times, to be honest.
So what did you do in that situation?
We had to get towed back because it was a bank holiday in the U.K. It cost us hundreds and hundreds of pounds. It was absolutely outrageous. We were in a bit of a hole after that.
Hopefully you haven’t had any experience like that since then…
No, thankfully. It’s only gotten better.
As far as the current climate in music is concerned, how do you categorize Coasts as a band? Who do you consider your peers? Who are your inspirations?
We’ve taken inspiration from so many different avenues. It’s really hard… I think genres are becoming a bit obsolete. People can take influence from absolutely anything nowadays because of the way streaming is going. People have playlists rather than listening to whole albums. You can be listening to a Taylor Swift track, then a Kendrick [Lamar] track, then Kings of Leon. People have such diverse tastes in music because of streaming nowadays, I think.
We absolutely love electronic music, as well as rock music and pop music. Essentially we write pop music with guitars. We’re in a space where there are loads of other artists. It’s like one of those pictographs where the circles are all intertwined.
You brought up streaming, so I’d like to pick your brain a little bit more. Would you say that the shift toward singles, as opposed to albums, and the more genre-less boundaries of music, is a good thing or a bad thing?
I think it’s just a bit more indicative of the way life is going. With fashion, music, art — it’s all very instant. You’ve got TV shows that are all about… Oh, what are they called? The TV programs like The Hills and those sorts of things… [Reality television shows.] Really throwaway. I don’t think it takes away from the music or makes an album less poignant or important. It’s just a different way of looking at music.
For us, we still want to create an album that has a feeling. We don’t ever want to create music just for singles. The actual album format for us is still really important… to have a cohesive set of songs that really work together. I think that’s still pretty important, but for a band especially.
Let’s talk about that for a second. The deluxe version [of the debut] is 16 tracks. I don’t want to say that that’s rare for a debut album, but you certainly don’t see that as often anymore. Why 16 tracks? Was there an abundance of material, or were you trying to portray a feeling or a message or be more poignant in 16 that you couldn’t do in 12?
The regular edition of the album is 10, so I guess that’s the compact version of it. Sixteen tracks was basically our feeling that, for us, it feels like a gradual build toward where we are now. We’ve picked up fans along the way, some only really, really recently, and we want them to get a sense of what we’re about as a band — how we were from the beginning. “Wallow” and “Stay,” which are from our first EP — [were included] for people to understand as a band, and what we’re about as people, I think it’s important that we show them absolutely everything that we’ve created up until now. In that sense, I think it was important for those to be on the deluxe.
If you had to generate a bumper sticker for Coasts as a band, what would it say? At your core, what are you guys about?
We just make music that we love. I think that comes across when we play live. We pride ourselves on having a really good live show. It’s about having fun and letting yourself go essentially.
What is your songwriting process like? How do you generate songs and ideas?
Recently we’ve been doing slightly different than the way we used to do it. Recently me and Liam [Willford], who are the chief songwriters, have gotten together and started from scratch. He might have had a really nice chord sequence, and he’ll just play it on acoustic guitar and we’ll bash out a song in half a day and then move on to another song. We’ve written quite a few that we thinking are pretty special pieces. We’ve written probably about 10 really strong ideas.
At the moment, yeah, we’re just writing like that. Like chords, getting the bases of a song. We’ve always really focused on that. We wanted to write and make sure that we wrote songs to take their time and sing along to them. They’re really simple, but they have our stamp on them.
You’ve also worked with other people, one of those being Fraser T. Smith [who co-produced and co-wrote Adele’s “Set Fire to the Rain,” among other songs by Sam Smith, Ellie Goulding and Lily Allen]. When you collaborate with those producers or songwriters, what is that interaction like? What level of influence do they have in the process?
When we worked with people it was more just because… We’d had the album pretty much written. We wanted some songs that were slightly different than what we’d had before. Fraser was a friend of a friend pretty much. We just liked the idea of working with him. He’s worked with Kano, who is one of my favorites — that was a big draw. It was really naturally, really. He didn’t push or force any of his ideas upon us. He just let us do what we wanted and gave us tips. Obviously, he’s had an absolutely incredible career and knows a lot of stuff, so it was really good to be a sponge to his way of working and pick up some tips and songwriting. I don’t see a negative to it, to working with people.
Bands mainly don’t like to let anyone else in. I don’t think we’re really precious about it. With my voice and Liam’s guitar work and stuff. It’s always going to sound like Coasts. There was no danger that it would be convoluted by having anyone else in that process.
Are there producers or collaborators that you’re beginning to think about for the second album that you might work with?
Not at the moment. As I’ve said, me and Liam have started writing and gotten some really good ideas down. We’ll see how we feel. If we feel like we’ve already got a really strong album that we want to go ahead with, I don’t think we’ll need to. It might be something we look to at some point just to freshen things up. We’ll kind of see how it goes.
How did you come up with the name Coasts? Why that name?
We were becoming a bit distant with the music we were making. It was the same five of us [previously] and were hitting dead-ends with it. We weren’t enjoying what we were doing, so we decided to go back to basics. We completely forgot everything else that we were doing. We just wanted to make music that made us feel good again, so we hauled ourselves away, didn’t play a gig for half a year to a year, and we started writing music. Some of the songs that we wrote — really early versions of — like “Stay” and “Tonight,” that we wrote really early on. When we wrote those we had a good feeling about what we were doing, and so we really had a sound before we came up with the name.
With Coasts, we wanted something really simple and really direct that perfectly encaptured what we were writing. Coasts we felt like was a really good reflection of that: it’s got that nostalgic, summery, vibrant feel, but you can also write a dark track, like “Wash Away,” that would also fit that name and that narrative that we were trying to create.
And that is also consistent with the visual treatments. All of your videos match that same feel, too.
Yeah, we wanted the videos to be really cinematic and… I don’t want to use the word “epic,” but you know what I mean? The explodes in the chorus… We wanted to have the artwork and the videos and the whole aesthetic around the band be really clear.
East Coast Hip-Hop or West Coast Hip-Hop?
Who would be your favorite East Coast hip-hop artist?
Umm… that’s tough, man. Genuinely, where was Tupac from?
He was from the West Coast.[laughs] I might change to West Coast, then.
So East Coast is like Jay-Z, Biggie, Nas, and then West Coast is Tupac, Snoop, NWA…
Yeah, I’m going West Coast. Sorry, East Coast.