Oliver Garland grew up in Thailand and was pursuing a professional bare-knuckle boxing career. Harry Dobson had earned a skateboarding sponsorship before an injury prematurely ended his athletic career. Ashley C struggled in his teenaged years with severe anxiety.
These three individuals and their vastly different paths converged at a Bristol party in 2017, and almost suddenly, everything from the past faded in favor of two syllables: KOKO.
“We just got chatting about all things music,” Ashley, Harry and Oliver told tmrw over email, as they were each in different physical locations at the time. “A few drinks later, it almost felt like we had known each other for years. Pretty mad, really! We stayed in touch and the following month, after many band-related chats, decided to meet up and see what happens. We had all been in different bands before, so we weren’t starting from complete scratch. It was complete fire, and we never looked back. We all bring different things to the table in KOKO. It’s hard to explain that magic fully.”
Oliver handles the vocals with Harry on bass/synth and Ashley as the lead guitarist while also helping with synths. Once they gathered to test out their musical chemistry in the garage of Oliver’s father (because what good band origin story doesn’t involve a garage somewhere), it was easy to reconcile that music was what they were all meant to be doing all along despite initially living under the impression each of their lives would be devoted to boxing, skateboarding and graphic design.
“It was so easy,” the boys said, regarding blending together three wildly different backgrounds into a cohesive sound and vision. “We all had very clear ideas as to how we wanted to present ourselves both visually and musically. Another example of how music can bring people from different scenes and lifestyles together, right? If it comes to a vote, three is a good amount of people to have in a band when making decisions.”
Their roots still spring up from time to time within KOKO. The band is fairly fresh and still finding footing, but they have already established a faithful fan base that collectively makes for an high-octane live show. Harry and Oliver’s natural athleticism comes into play on stage.
“We give everything we have in everything we do,” KOKO said. “From writing songs to shooting music videos to performing live. The live show is particularly important to us. It sounds a bit cliche, but we don’t want the show to just feel like another band gig .We encourage crowd participation. We want people to walk away feeling excited, pumped, exhausted and maybe even a little confused.”
Listeners will feel emotions all over the spectrum while making their way through Follow (“We want people to follow KOKO, so during these early days, this is just polite encouragement to do so”), KOKO’s four-track debut EP. The title track demands attention from the jump with pulsating beats. “Freak” uses the same sonic stencil, still pulsating but less daunting, while conveying in the pre-chorus and chorus a message of self-acceptance even if painful:
“Easing the pain just to feel sane
Numb, don’t seem to know
Everything is automatic
Through my veins, it grows
‘Cause I’m a freak, uh (Baby, baby, baby)
There’s nothing else I’d rather be, no (Baby, baby, baby)
Yeah, I’m a freak (Baby, baby, baby)
There’s nothing in this world I’d rather be than a freak (Baby, baby, baby)
The most evocative offering is a stripped down ballad titled “Tell Me Do You Care,” which showcases the group’s range.
“We actually took a completely different approach when writing that song,” KOKO said. “Normally, tracks are written by free-styling melodies and lyrical ideas over beats. But with ‘TMDYC,’ we stripped it back to just piano [and] vocal and built the song from there. As for the anxiety demon: we of course touch on it at times in our music. We haven’t yet written a song solely focused on that subject matter. That’s not to say we won’t in the future.”
For now, though, KOKO has made a concerted effort to keep their messaging simple. That much is obvious from a scroll through their Instagram page, which features a minimalistic black, white and pink colour scheme.
“Visuals are a massive part of who we are,” they said. “The one colour and black and white was decided very early on. Particularly for EP No. 1. KOKO’s aethetic will continue to evolve. Probably from record to record. We want people to spot any KOKO-related stuff straight away. We want people to understand us and what we about simply from a picture or a 10- second video. We are excited to develop the band’s visuals moving forward.”
The evolution is well underway already with KOKO’s sights set on doing more and growing into themselves. However, they clarified that none of it would mean anything without the people supporting them along for the ride.
“Our long-term goal is to tour, tour and tour,” they said. “Build a fan base and constantly develop the KOKO sound and style.”
Listen to the foundational EP Follow below.