Photography by: Sam Hanson
By: Anna Hanson
Rogue Valley has been bringing their music to the masses (of Minneapolis and beyond) long enough to have accumulated five albums including their newest release Radiate/Dissolve. Currently Rogue Valley is comprised of Luke Anderson (drums), Linnea Mohn (keyboard/vocals), Peter Sieve (guitar/vocals), Paul Engels (bass/vocals) and Chris Koza (lyrics/guitar/vocals/interviewee) and occasional appearances by Bobby Maher (drums). I had the opportunity to talk with Koza about the band, his solo work, and his kindergarten teacher.
Chris grew up in Portland, Oregon with his two younger siblings and discovered his passion for music at a very young age. “I started playing piano when I was in kindergarten. In first grade my teacher played this song called The Entertainer by Scott Joplin and that was it. She was my hero and I was already enamored with her but that was when I knew I wanted more music in my life.”
Koza says of growing up with his family/siblings, “We got along really well. We took a lot of family trips up and down the the Oregon coast and into the Rogue Valley region.” Obviously the correlation between that statement and the band’s name came with all kinds of assumptions on my end (all of which were dead wrong as usual) and I had the pleasure of my record being set straight. Immediately. It was humbling.
Bleeds: Well that answered my question of where the band name came from.
CK: Yeah but it was an accident.
CK: We have the four albums that we made a few years back and I didn’t want to release the albums under my own name and I felt like those projects were different in terms of scope. We had about 10 name ideas spinning that were all derived from song titles and I don’t know who came up with this one but at this point it’s just….it is what it is.
Before Rogue Valley there was Cat Napping which Koza says is “an example of a terrible name. A name that you wish you didn’t ever have to associate with yourself.” Apparently there is an episode of Portlandia where the band is called Cat Nap but that’s a different (also fictional) band so don’t be fooled by the Google results when you research Cat Napping and get distracted by watching the entire episode before realizing your mistake like my friend (me) did. Just a word to the wise. ANYWAY, after Cat Napping there was Channels which was the same people but, “we just decided to upgrade our name.”
Koza also played music in high school with a band but more importantly before the band this magic happened, “I made music with my friends and we would make up improvisational songs and tape them on cassette recorders to use for our fake radio shows.” If that’s not a miracle then I don’t know what the heck is. “I thought that stuff was gold and I thought it was going to be so popular...it was terrible. But I guess the practice of it is where you learn.”
Somewhere along the way, in between Channels and Rogue Valley, Chris began his solo career. He has an album and continues to do solo shows as frequently as possible. “Just trying to hit it hard, both solo and Rogue Valley,” says Chris. Maintaining a solo career and playing as part of a larger collective is a balancing act. Mostly due to scheduling it turns out.
“If everybody in Rogue Valley was available the whole time these days, that’s the only thing we would do. We would have lots of tours and play lots of shows but they have their jobs and Luke and Linnea have a new baby. We did a couple shows where we had Linnea’s mom come along as a nanny. It was sweet and fun but it wasn't something we could sustain on the road. That’s how we’re going to accomplish some of the touring we want to do, we just have to figure in the logistics of where we are in our lives as individuals. We’ll come up with the right compromises and I’m grateful for the time that everyone puts into the band. That’s why I do the solo stuff, to stay active and make music.”
Chris speaks with a familial tone when he talks about Rogue Valley, and that makes sense as he’s been playing with some of them since his college days at St. Olaf. When I asked how long they’d been together he said, “Oh...we’ve been playing together a really long time.”
When they do go on tour together (like they’ve been doing since their new album debuted this summer) they have a couple stops they’re sure to make.
“When we’re in California we go to In-N-Out and when we’re in Oregon we go to Burgerville. Those are the two things that I’d say people are really excited to stop at because otherwise it’s probably Subway.”
Of all the topics we covered in our short time, Chris sounded the least enthused about the physicality of touring. He says, “It’s not as fun as you’d think to sit in a hot van and listen to loud music while stuck in traffic or driving for seven hours. I don’t know if that sounds fun but that’s what touring is.” I mean, sure that doesn’t sound great but I bet it would depend a lot on the quality of loud music that was playing. Rogue Valley, the class act that they are, of course listen to fellow class acts like Tom Petty, Jason Isbell, and First Aid Kit. “They’re perfect in a way. How can someone make music that’s so flawless,” he asked about First Aid Kit. The correct and only answer is that they’re angels. Sneaky ones.
In a perfect world, Chris would tour places that met his only qualifier of “any place that’s really beautiful.” He would do a brewery or winery tour or an Alaska tour but his top priority is songwriting so, “definitely Winnipeg Folk Festival.” He would also like to tour the southeast region of the States, “mainly because I haven’t spent a lot of time down there. Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas...I don’t know if they want to hear our music down there but...I’m gonna give it to them.” For now they keep quite busy playing all over the nation as well as festivals like Iceland Airwaves.
Chris did a few shows with another Minneapolis favorite and Nosebleeds alums, Little Fevers and it’s always wonderful to find out that something actually was as awesome as it looked. Koza says of the collaboration, “I liked playing with them because it was different than doing my own thing and writing my own songs. I got to just add to music that’s already out there. It was fun. Even when there were only four people at our show in Philadelphia we thought it was sweet and that we should play there again. We are horrible optimists.”
To say Chris is a versatile musician would be an understatement. For live performances he sticks mainly to vocals and guitar with some occasional piano or harmonica, but for recording he plays, “euphonium and bass guitar. Also a little bit of ukulele and a little bit of mandolin.” Y’know, just a couple three, five, eight instruments. But that’s all, guys. Jokes, he’s also going to learn the cello.
Bleeds: If you had to start over with a brand new instrument, which would you pick?
CK: My rock and roll self would pick up the key-tar. Because it’s not that different than what I do and it looks real sweet. You can go places with that. But I think I’m going to learn the cello because I love the way that it resonates. You know the human voice is so unique and string instruments, the viola and the cello are resonant and as expressive as a human voice.
Outside of songwriting and rehearsals and shows and all the scheduled things that come with being a touring musician, Chris still makes time to enjoy the things he likes. To narrow the question of “what else do you do?,” I asked what the average Sunday looks like for him.
CK: Probably get up pretty early and, I do some music a lot of Sunday’s at a church. I’d lead some people in some hymns and then go to the YWCA and do some exercise and play some basketball probably. Maybe run around the lake. Then I’d practice some guitar. Maybe go to the park. Maybe hang out with some friends, drink some beer, go bowling. Sunday’s are fun.
My pal Nancy was a classmate at St. Olaf with Chris and when I asked for some help with questions she excitedly told me to ask him about his favorite basketball player. My NBA knowledge before I asked this question was 96% Space Jam and 4% just knowing the names Larry Bird and Scottie Pippen. My NBA knowledge after researching Chris Koza’s favorite basketball player, Arvydas Sabonis, is now 90% how to spell Arvydas Sabonis, 8% knowing he’s married to the first ever Miss Lithuania, and 2% Space Jam (because that’s forever, amen). So the topic that provoked the least enthusiasm was the dreary parts of touring and the topic that provoked the most enthusiasm was hands down the favorite basketball player (good lookin out, Nancy). Chris answered immediately, “Arvydas Sabonis is my go to favorite. He’s 7’3” and can shoot the three, pass like a point guard, and he played on the Trail Blazers which was my team for a while. He was a rookie in the NBA because he stayed in Lithuania to play over there and when he came over here he was passed his prime but he was still so good.” Then he quotes something the announcers would say, “He’s not MY Vydas, he’s not YOUR Vydas, he’s OUR Vydas!” Get it? Because his name is Arvydas and it’s wordplay? Cool. Koza continues, “The announcers would have a lot of fun with his name. It’s pretty difficult.” Preach, Chris.
If Chris hadn’t fallen in love with music he says he would, “do something with space or astronomy and physics or something sexy like that.” But for now he’s going to keep doing the music thing for as long as he can. In his downtime he reads about theoretical physics, just like everyone else and he prefers the Minnesota State Fair to the Renaissance Fair but is mostly just glad they both exist.
Rogue Valley’s latest album Radiate/Dissolve is a great listen.
You can also hear their song The Wolves and the Ravens on The Secret Life of Walter Mitty soundtrack.