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Saturday, April 20, 2024

Couch Concert: Carpool Tunnel

Meet the San Francisco-based band with a laid-back Californian quality, complemented by an indie-rock sound 

By CLARA FISCHER — arts@theaggie.org

Carpool Tunnel’s career began like any great modern love story —  on Tinder. Well, not exactly Tinder: The group initially met on the app Vampr, which lead singer and rhythm guitarist Ben Koppenjan described as a “Tinder for musicians.” 

One van and a clever name (courtesy of a friend in Santa Barbara’s whiteboard crowded with ideas) later, the band has made waves in the music scene with a laid-back sound described by lead guitarist and backup vocalist Bradley Kearsley as “a blend of modern and vintage, like classic 70’s rock… very California.” 

The group is composed of Koppenjan, Kearsley, bassist and high harmonist Spencer Layne and drummer and backup vocalist Junior Reed. 

“We kind of clicked instantly,” Koppenjan said. “[We] started focusing on Carpool Tunnel, came up with the name within a week, and then within a month or two we had already bought a van and played our first couple shows.”

His statement about the band’s cohesive nature isn’t self-righteous, either. Even over Zoom, the chemistry between the bandmates was clear to see, and their collective laughter and apparent delight at each other’s stories testified to the fact that they actually have a genuinely good time together. 

More than just a natural fit, though, Carpool Tunnel has put hard work into their journey to get where they are today. 

“We would drive to San Diego just to play one show and drive back the next day to go to work,” Kearsley said. “The best way to grow as a band is to play as much as possible.”

As far as the creative process goes, finding the perfect sound can vary in difficulty. “The toughest thing sometimes is just finding inspiration, especially during times when it’s just hard for us,” Koppenjan said. “At the beginning of the pandemic, we all went to Brad’s grandma’s house in Santa Cruz, and [being in] a really beautiful house with beautiful nature all around us, songs came really easily to us because we were trying to shift our focus away from everything that was going on in the world.” 

Kearsley agreed, building on Koppenjan’s point and describing his personal process. 

“Sometimes I’ll just be feeling something for a couple of weeks and it builds up inside to the point where I have to sit down and just play some music and something usually comes out of that,” Kearsley said. “Music is a comfort for us — to write a song about something is to get it out of your head and put it into the real world and have it be its own thing.”

When asked about the expectations versus reality of being on tour, the four shared a laugh. 

“Growing up, you kind of think of bands touring as this glamorous thing, but there’s definitely cheap hotels,” Koppenjan said. “But it’s so worth it when we get to a new city that we’ve never been to before and there’s people that show up to see us play music — that’s the most amazing part about it and makes all the other stuff in between worth it.”

They all joked about the abundance of John Denver being played on the journeys through mountain passes, proving that there are still plenty of good times on the road. After a lengthy story detailing a typical day in the life on tour (including frozen windshield wipers, a broken hotel sink, a cockroach in a Taco Bell crunchwrap and — naturally — more John Denver) all the members agreed that life on tour has been treating them well so far. 

“It’s the ultimate highs and the ultimate lows, and at the end of the day, it’s just a great experience,” Kearsley said. 

One of the aforementioned ultimate highs of their time with Carpool Tunnel has been putting their records on vinyl. 

“I tried so hard to get our music on CDs, and I have literally hundreds left because nobody bought them,” said Kearsley with a laugh. “So to be able to have vinyl and also sell has been really cool.”

It’s easy to see why seeing a physical representation of their hard work is so important to Carpool Tunnel. The foursome cited The Eagles, The Strokes, Wallows and more as some of their musical influences — all highly-acclaimed groups that made their way onto vinyl as well. 

Even though Reed has only recorded one single with the band (their most recent, “I’m Always Thinking About You”), he says that their 2019 hit “Better Now” is one of his personal favorites.

“There’s something about the original recording they did in their house that is so charged, and everyone’s working together in a tighter way than previous to that,” Reed said. 

And that’s exactly what makes Carpool Tunnel such a compelling musical act: They have undeniable chemistry that shines through the speaker. Their sound is reminiscent of rock days already past, while still pulling themselves forward in a new direction for the modern age — a blend of old and new that’s perfect for the ever evolving, historically reverent city of San Francisco. 

When asked further about the city, Reed, a San Diego local, says that the music scene in San Francisco is “unlike anything I’ve seen.”

“People are just super hungry in such a condensed area,” he said. “It’s a big community.”

For readers in Davis, the band recommends going to concerts at Turtle House, a collective that often hosts shows with local artists, where they’ve played themselves. 

And to any aspiring musicians out there, local or not, they have one thing to say: keep trying. 

“A lot of people are going to tell you not to,” Kearsley said. “People still tell us not to — but we’re still going!”

Carpool Tunnel will be featured in an upcoming Couch Concert with The California Aggie. You can find out more on our Instagram page, and a video of the performance will be posted to our YouTube channel.

Editor’s note: Due to unforeseen circumstances, the Couch Concert was canceled until further notice.

Written by: Clara Fischer — arts@theaggie.org

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