NAPA — The members of indie pop band COIN refuse to find a comfort zone.
Whether it’s finding and sticking to a musical identity, looking for lyrical inspiration, understanding who they are as men and what they want to say, or even losing a member in the process of making a record, everything is changing.
“I think the moment you think you figured out who you are as a band or what you wanna be, you then move on to the next thing,” guitarist Joe Memmel says. He, singer-keyboardist Chase Lawrence, drummer Ryan Winnen and bassist Zach Dyke are sitting in a semi-circle, discussing whether COIN is in a satisfactory place. It’s May, and several months later Dyke will announce his decision to leave the band to pursue another career.
“You conquer it, and then you realize, ‘I’m done with that trend, and I’m gonna try something new,’” Lawrence adds. “It’s just like in fashion. … As soon as you wear it twice, it’s like, ‘I’ve exhausted this.’”
Something the band members do understand more now than before is how each other thinks and works; how each is motivated—even as each changes from the place he was in as the band wrote and recorded its sophomore album, 2017’s How Will You Know If You Never Try.
“That’s probably a very healthy place for us to be, going into new music,” Lawrence adds. “There’s always gonna be new palates, new tastes, new flavors. Your tastes change, but fundamentally, we’ve always known who we were and who we wanted to be. And that just keeps just shifting album to album; becoming more distilled and more defined.”
Memmel, who Lawrence says is “a beautiful singer,” is from Maryland and was studying commercial voice. Lawrence, from West Virginia, was studying songwriting. Dyke, an Illinois native, was chasing an audio engineering degree.
Between this conversation and September, he decides the former is more important to him, and announces on Sept. 10 that he’s leaving the band to become a sound engineer and producer.
Memmel and Lawrence met in a music theory class. Winnen had just moved to Nashville from Cleveland, hoping he would find like-minded musicians to jam with.
“I was dating a girl who sat beside them in class, so she volunteered me, and here I am,” Winnen says. The band released two EPs before signing with Columbia Records and releasing a self-titled debut in 2015.
That first record had a sugary pop sound, with up-tempo choruses, quick strumming and spacey synths. It wouldn’t have felt out of place in the post-punk explosion of the early 2000s, alongside the Bravery and the Killers.
Then, 2017’s follow-up made enough noise to get the band more attention. That album had more of an emphasis on rhythm, which hewed closer to the R&B-inflected pop of bands like The 1975 or Foster the People. Where the debut pushed pace, the follow-up sought to pull emotion out of the listener. The songs brimmed with nostalgia.
Dance pop tracks like “Boyfriend” and “Talk too Much” (which charted toward the top of Billboard’s alt-rock list) were interspersed with hazy slow jams like “Malibu 1992.” Suddenly, what the band was doing was getting more attention. Lawrence likens COIN’s growth to cross-country skiing.
“We’re really happy with where we’ve landed because the people that we have are here to stay, and we’re really grateful for that,” Winnen adds.
As COIN wrote and recorded its second record, Lawrence struggled to finish songs, or rather, he struggled to decide he was done and let go. The narrative of making the album became about him learning how to give up control. So it might surprise fans that after reaching the point where he trusted himself to give the songs up, he’s now back at the starting line, dealing with some of those insecurities.
“You’re, like, back in the thick of it,” Dyke offers up, after Lawrence makes the confession.
“But I think it’s in a better way, a healthier way,” the frontman adds. “Somebody told me recently, ‘Just see the song in the universe it is, and whatever happens, happens.’ It’s just a song, you know?”
Before, Lawrence would stress over making the songs too pop, too rock; too COIN. Now he knows that at some point he just has to let his songs exist, and says that’s freeing him up to “experiment indefinitely.” Same actions, but a different cause. But now he says he knows there are bounds to how many different things the band can try, and he works to stay within those bounds.
Knowing more about making music can be detrimental for people like Lawrence. It was simpler when he didn’t know as many recording and producing skills.
Adds Dyke, “When you start to laser-focus on what you are trying to accomplish, you are no longer open to things just happening, and when you’re open to things just happening on their own, you can come up with a lot better ideas.”
Perhaps, eventually, he decided to take his own advice.
COIN is currently finishing its third album, but the members are trying to not to concern themselves with the big picture or sonic theme for the LP, Winnen says. They’re not being inspired about any specific sounds or lyrical themes. Instead, they’re more motivated by writing as a team.
Before, each one would come up with ideas that were then passed around online. That’s been happening less and less. All members, current and former, were involved in each step of the process, though on the band’s newest single, “Simple Romance,” the bass part was written and recorded by Mark Foster, of Foster the People.
“The collaboration itself has been what’s been breeding the new music,” Winnen says.
What are COIN’s new songs going to be about? Lawrence doesn’t have an answer for that at this time. In fact, he describes How Will You Know If You Never Try as an album about having answers, and the band’s forthcoming record as being about questions; asking the powers that be about the musicians’ place in the world. The band wrote all of the songs over two months, and they’ve been done since at least May, when the band was combing through them and finding the 13 they wanted to have on the record. This likely means that Dyke’s influence remains.
The first taste of new material came in the form of “Growing Pains,” which has Lawrence singing over a sparse rhythm section before a guitar joins in for the chorus, picking up the pace. The song is a red herring for the rest of the album, the group says. It sounds like it could fit on How Will You Know If You Never Try, but it’s not representative of anything else COIN wrote for the new album. It’s meant to be a transition or pivot.
“I think ‘Growing Pains’ also kind of reminds me of our earliest music, before anyone knew about us,” Winnen says. “There’s a spirit there that we captured that’s really cool. And I don’t think it necessarily ties in to all of the new music that you’ll hear on the album. Like Chase said, it was like a cool sort of segue, to be like, “Hey we’re growing up. Here’s this thing kind of like COIN. Kind of not.”
Follow editor Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter.