Finding inspiration in sources that range from the Chinese philosophical text I Ching to YouTube videos, Luke Atlas and Coleman Trapp (known together as Coast Modern) are two musicians whose songs contain much more than meets the eye. “It’s pop music, but it’s like a Trojan piñata,” Atlas says with a laugh. Themes of disenchantment, identity, and unbalanced relationships hide beneath the colorful allure of unique melodies and at times laughable, yet always relatable, lyrics. For example, on “Guru,” Trapp sings, “Gotta get my diet up / No more eating bacon.”
“Guru” is one of only three songs Coast Modern has released thus far, although the L.A.-based duo is already touring North America. Atlas and Trapp, who met nearly three years ago in L.A. as songwriters for other artists, have supported acts like BØRNS, and are currently touring with The Wombats. Tonight, they will play a headlining show at Rough Trade in New York.
Earlier this week, we met the pair at 300 Entertainment, the label to which they recently signed. Among other things, we learned that Coast Modern is both witty and intelligent, and shows no signs of slowing down.
NAMES: Luke Atlas and Colemann Trapp
BASED: Los Angeles
DESCRIBING COAST MODERN’S MUSIC: Luke Atlas: It’s like being in the rainforest looking for a jungle temple and stumbling across the LaCroix fountain of youth.
THE BEGINNINGS: Coleman Trapp: I did music growing up, like drumming and piano, and just playing around. I really got into music my freshman year of college; I got a beat-making program and it was way more fun than school, so I was not very smart and dropped out. I went to a school that both sides of my family went to in Arkansas—my parents actually met there. So I just made beats and for years produced a lot of hip-hop and rappers. I met Luke about three years ago. He had just moved from Seattle to L.A., a mutual friend introduced us, and we were kind of vibing off each other’s style. Someone had actually showed me Luke’s music a week before I met him, completely serendipitously.
Atlas: It kind of feels like it was meant to be because I didn’t know anyone in L.A. when I moved and then I met him within a week… I had done little [songwriting] projects in Seattle and decided to make the leap [to L.A.]. I wanted to write pop songs and I really didn’t know anybody or how to do it, so I just got lucky I guess. [Growing up] my dad played guitar and got me into guitar. I discovered an old drum machine and a keyboard—messing around on those I could make full songs. That equipment was older than me, but I could put together a beat, some keyboard weirdness, then sing on top. It was like, “I made my own song!” That was the hook for me.
FINDING HIS VOICE: Trapp: I never sang until I was 23. Not once. I actually was told that I couldn’t sing. In kindergarten, I was one of three kids in our entire school that wasn’t accepted into the choir. I was in the recorder section. When I was older, there was this kid who was in a touring acapella group and he was like, “I can teach anybody how to sing!” but after 20 minutes [with me], he was like, “No, you can’t.” So I was 23, making a beat one night, I had a little bit too much to drink and a melody just came out. It felt so good. I second-guess a lot, but not that. So being “on the other side of the camera” is new, because I’m used to producing and writing.
“GURU”: Trapp: We wrote “Guru” and produced it on the same day we did “Animals.” We wanted to keep it raw. We’d been really vibing on modern hip-hop and you can tell that they’re going in and just vibing out, not over thinking it—and people are responding to that. We didn’t want to over think it or over produce it. We’re both really into philosophy so we like to read and share ideas, and that [song] was about trying to be the best you can be in a relationship. It’s about being a slacker and being with someone who’s amazing and realizing you’re not up to par with who you want to be. It’s a very specific story: I dated a yoga instructor years ago, I was a sad young adult, and she was like, “Try yoga, just eat healthy!” And I was like, “No, I just want to smoke cigarettes and be sad.”
MORE THAN MUSIC: Trapp: I think our music and our ethos is beyond just the music; it’s a culture. We love visuals and performance art, all kinds of tactile things. It’s not just about the music. It’s the whole experience, the live show, which we’re still figuring out. We have a vision for a crazy show, but right now we’re just trying to not f-up the basics. We’ve had a conversation about how good music is at connecting people, but what is it connecting people to? When you listen to music it pulls you into this world, but a lot of times there’s nothing on the other side. There’s just the next song. We want to create a strong, visceral, emotional experience.
Atlas: I’m excited to rethink the whole live band experience—maybe it’s a bit weird or theatrical—and really engaging the audience. It’s not just, “We’re here playing for you.” It’s seeing if we can have a bond. We’re still exploring. I was really into of Montreal when I was younger. They do some crazy live performances. He was on stilts with a big dress thing. Or dancing—I saw Christine and the Queens and she’s just dancing. It was blowing me away, just a different experience.
Trapp: It’s funny, I’ve seen very little live music. I have never bought a ticket to a show. Ever. I’ve seen some of my favorite acts—like Robert Plant, The Shins, Air, Rush—but the shows that I have seen have all been gifts. I love music and I’m kind of a perfectionist, so live music gives me anxiety. But performing is totally different; it’s so fun and new. I can just let go and have fun.
PHILISOPHICAL MUSINGS: Trapp: We find philosophy everywhere, not just from philosophers. Even reading fiction you can get some crazy perspectives. I like to read old books; I’m not really into contemporary literature. When you’re writing a book in the past—not about it—the perspective of life is baked in there. Dostoyevsky’s Notes from the Underground—you can’t fake that. It’s incredible insight into how easy this life is compared to what it’s been throughout history. That’s something that’s always on my mind.
Atlas: I’ve been reading a lot of Alan Watts and watching videos on YouTube. We’ll pull up videos and have our minds blown before we write—
Trapp: Like Terence McKenna talking about time.
Atlas: Or the I Ching—Trapp: —which I didn’t realize was the oldest of Chinese philosophy. How we break up matter into elements, they break up time into elements. The overlapping of them creates this interference pattern throughout history, and I Ching is the study of that. That’s such a mind-blowing concept and you don’t get a hint of it in Western culture.
Atlas: There’s more than meets the eye and we like to pull from that. This is a little bit of what we’re thinking about in these songs.
CURRENT MUSIC AND HISTORICAL GENRES: Trapp: Empress Of and Porches are two that have really stuck out to me recently. Mini Mansions, their album that came out last year was really on point.
Atlas: I’ve been listening to Christine and the Queens. I like that a lot. Growing up it was a lot of oldies, like rock ‘n’ roll and Chuck Berry, and then The Beatles and The Beach Boys. The first music I really got into on my own was Weezer and the pop rock world. I was obsessed with Weezer; I would find all of their b-sides. That got me into songwriting too, because there was so much to discover and hear in [Rivers Cuomo’s] work tapes. That was a big inspiration for me.
Trapp: [Growing up] my dad played a lot of classic rock, dad rock—Yes and Led Zeppelin. When I first got into my own music, it was hip-hop. Bone Thugs-N-Harmony was the first time I went, “What is this?” So I got pretty heavy into electronic and hip-hop. In the early 2000s, like 2004, 2005, I got really into the indie rock, electronica scene with Air and Blonde Redhead. Music exploded, genre-wise. We grew up in such a unique time. Genres are new in the timeline of history. In the 1700s we were doing just piano; all the genres are pretty much from the 20th century. It’s not surprising that it would be this rapid that it’s completely melting, unraveling, getting into some meta-genre.
COAST MODERN WILL PLAY TONIGHT, JUNE 16, AT ROUGHT TRADE IN NEW YORK.FOR MORE, VISIT THE DUO’S WEBSITE.