The upbeat whistling and click-clack percussion that opens "Float" are deceptive. Even though the track, which kicks off SoCal indie-pop duo Pacific Air's debut EP, LONG LIVE KOKO, has an uplifting air about it, band member and the song's vocalist says it was born of another emotion. "'Float' focuses on the struggles of success and whether you need it," says Ryan Lawhon, who's made money writing jingles and commercials. "It's about the toll the ups and downs that the music industry can create it took on my psyche. I wrote that when I was in a lull and it felt right."
From that dark place, he felt inspired to start a new project this past March with his brother Taylor, which they originally dubbed KOKO, after "… the name of a boat that my brother and I wanted to move on and live permanently." That didn’t happen, and eventually they settled on Pacific Air -- after realizing how many Kokos were out there, including apes, venues and "hundreds of artists" -- and began writing the synth-heavy, expansive songs heard here and on the band's forthcoming LP.
One unusual source of inspiration for the songs on the EP is new age music, which Ryan says he enjoys much in the same way a lot of people like classic rock -- because it's what their parents listened to. Part of the influence he and his brother drew from artists like Enigma, Enya and Ray Lynch is their use space. "I'm a strong believer in not adding anything unless it's going to play a part," he says. "I don't like the extreme maximalism that so many artists have." With that in mind, he says he worked hard to make songs like KOKO's "So Strange" have his intended effect. "There's constant swells and different pads moving and weaving in and out," he says. "It's all so subtle that it doesn't change the song. On the radio, you'll probably never hear it unless you're in headphones."
This economy of instrumentation on the EP is something the band is very proud of; they fought hard to keep it sparse as possible (initially arguing with producer Chris Zane about the piano on "Roses," because Ryan says, "I'm one of the only people, I think in the world, that doesn't like piano") and including Auto-Tune briefly on "So Strange." "I just wanted to play with it and say, 'Hey, maybe I can just turn that into one tiny production value that won't distract the song,'" he says. "I love the tone of it, so I wanted to fit that in somewhere. It works nicely. The only two things that are happening are the voice and organ."
The one thing the Lawhons didn't minimalize when making the record, though, was their waistbands. While recording their album in New York, they dined at Lower Manhattan's many fine restaurants, and Ryan estimates he gained about 10 pounds. "We really focused on Nolita," he says. "Probably my favorite spot was Despaña, which was this little Spanish deli. And we didn't really go into pizza too much. We mainly stuck with delis, sandwiches and Thai food." Don't worry about the Lawhons' health, though. Ryan says, "We lost the weight when we were back on tour. It's more difficult to maintain that type of eating on the road."
LONG LIVE KOKO is out 10/16 via Republic Records. Stream it below:
LONG LIVE KOKO EP by Pacific Air Music