KOYO: ‘We never set out to be a prog rock band’

Leeds KOYO return with new single Ostracised released today. After the critical success of their self-titled debut, frontman and guitarist Huw Edwards talks to TOM NEWTON about their upcoming second album and reflects on their past year of festivals and recording.


The new single Ostracised is released today. Explain the song and the writing behind it.

Ostracised was born out of a jam I had with Tom where he started to play that Bonham-esque drum groove which eventually inspired the rest of the song. The new album was going in two fairly distinct directions and Ostracised was inspired by a desire to bring these two sides together in the same song – the heavier, more raucous side and the catchier, poppier side. We’re really influenced by new psych bands such as Tame Impala and Unknown Mortal Orchestra. I had a sound in my head that was basically a darker take on that, but still with all the lushness and warmth from the synths. Almost like a Deftones meets Tame Impala-type thing. I think Ostracised is the closest we got to achieving it.

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You have started phase two of KOYO, with new songs, a new album due and a new line up. How have things changed since your debut album and has the new album got a renewed sense of freedom and optimism?

Well, it’s all been a bit crazy, really. The new album is another snapshot of the band, one that almost already feels like it’s behind us! We’re incredibly happy with it and immensely proud of it, of course, but just in terms of how things have already moved on line-up wise since we made it. Since our debut we became much more of a live band, we toured extensively, we settled upon a solid line-up with Seb joining us on guitar. The first album songs became more organic, which you can hear on our Live at RAK album released earlier this year. Along the way we wrote a bunch of new songs, and we wanted to capture that together. The new album is that time. Using our standalone single Before as a blueprint, we wanted to capture that rawness, while at the same time sounding more polished and more immediate – all while staying true to where we’ve come from. Quite a task, but I think we came close to achieving it. Now we have Charlie to introduce, who recently replaced Seb on guitar, so that’s who you’ll be seeing on stage. Seb needed a different challenge and we wish him the best of luck.

Your self-titled debut got rave reviews largely from the Prog-rock music publications. Were you surprised at the reaction and do you see yourself as a prog band?

At the time, yes. We never set out to be a prog rock band. All we’ve ever done is get together and write what sounds good to us. But, looking back, we’d be fools not to admit that it’s pretty damn proggy! I think what I’m trying to say is it felt like an accident. So I suppose I do now see us as something of a prog-rock band, but I think mainly because we blend so many influences together. There’s so many directions we can go in. I think the new album still does that, but in a way that sounds maybe less prog-rock and hopefully more “KOYO”.

Having toured your debut around the UK and played a Download festival last year. What has been the highlight for the band during this time?

Releasing the first album on vinyl and finding it in our local record shop, playing Download and Reading and Leeds and recording our live session at RAK studios. Hopefully they’ll be more to come over the next 12 months!

Your new material seems more radio friendly, in particular the lead single Circles. Was this a conscious decision or a move to a more accessible sound?

We knew we wanted the new album to be more immediate. The first album takes a few listens, which we know is kind of the beauty of it, but in this age of extremely short attention spans a band like us rarely gets a few listens. There are songs on the new album that are definitely more like what you’d expect from us, but we simply wanted to play to different strengths, to develop as songwriters and refine our ideas, giving songs more identity by building them around the strongest ones, rather than having what sometimes felt like too many. It was a less is more approach. But there was definitely never a desire to do anything we didn’t 100% believe in just because we thought it might land us on radio. We wrote around twenty five songs, we chose the one’s that excited us the most, and songs like Circles were simply more exciting to us than some of the more predictable ones.

Are there any plans to release your new album physically and again on vinyl like before?

There will be physicals. Vinyl? We’d obviously love to and hopefully eventually yes. I guess it all depends on the label and our distributor, too early to say right now.

You were all, or mostly all music students in or around Leeds during the recording of your debut. What did you take from your experience there and did it aid in your understanding of writing and producing music?

Definitely. We all learnt so much during those years and it definitely helped us to develop a lot as musicians. I think it’s important not to get too caught up in that world though. I think a lot of people end up writing music as though they’re trying to pass an exam, almost without realising and even after leaving they’re still writing music as though they’re trying to impress or better other musicians or meet certain criteria. I think even our first album was so OTT partly because of that way of thinking having been surrounded by so many incredible musicians all the time. There’s definitely so many good things to take from it, but I think it’s important to be aware of certain things like that. At the end of the day, people just want to feel something when they listen to music. I think if you try and stay true to what you feel, you have a pretty good chance of achieving that.

What dates and festivals do you have lined up for 2020 and which are you looking forward to the most?

The plan for now is to keep releasing singles every two months. We had Circles in late September, now we have Ostracised, they’ll be a few more early next year and then we hope to drop the album before summer. For a band like ours, it feels important to keep releasing content, to stay in people’s minds or otherwise we’ll just get lost amongst the onslaught of new music. We just want to make the most of all this music we’re so proud of and make sure it gets heard. So at the moment we’re just excited about that. Festivals wise keep your eyes peeled.