by Aaron Kinney
Summer may be winding down, but surf rock outfit Koko Beware are spreading the summer vibe year-round with their lo-fi, beachy tunes. Their strange-but-good debut album, Something About the Summer, hit last week, in the midst of their first major tour. The Georgia-based group’s played cities in Tennessee, Illinois, Ohio and New York—and they’ll be playing Jacksonville’s Burro Bar August 30. We caught up with singer Ashley Beresch about the tour, the album and the band’s name.
EU Jacksonville: Koko Beware. Is that a reference to pro wrestler James Ware’s stage name?
Ashley Beresch: Yes, yes, it is. When my husband Ryan started the band with his friend Albert, who’s our bassist… Ryan was a folk singer. He’d done a lot of, like, acoustic guitar work, but he was starting to branch out into more rock and roll. He was really influenced by The Beach Boys and Dick Dale. He and Albert started playing together and they’d written some songs and were like, “Well, now I guess we’re gonna perform.”
Albert, at the time, was a super retro wrestling fan. He was watching a bunch of old (WWF) types. He just really liked something about Koko B. Ware, and so he chose that as our name.
EU: Not a lot of surf rock out there. What drew you to it?
AB: There’s something really nostalgic about it. We all really love Phil Spector’s stuff—the ‘60s girl groups. The Ronettes, The Shangri-Las, The Chantels. Those were also huge influences for us. There’s just something really fun about surf rock. It can be really light, it can be towards the heavier side. I think you can incorporate it into a lot of different styles, which is pretty fun.
EU: So, it’s that variety, that adaptability, that gives it the appeal.
AB: Yeah. We all have so many musical influences. We all listen to a lot of music. So, you know, when we’re making music, we draw influences from whatever we’ve been listening to most recently. That can change on a day-to-day basis. So, if there’s something that surf rock lends itself to, we have that flexibility…
EU: Was it the style you set out to create, or did you arrive there after a lot of experimentation with different genres?
AB: Ryan and Albert started playing… they didn’t really feel like doing folk music anymore. Ryan had done it since he was 16. Albert was playing in a couple other bands. They decided they wanted to start a girl group, but the problem is, they’re not girls. I guess the match for ‘50s and ‘60s girl groups is stuff like The Beach Boys’ surf rock. That’s sort of the boys’ side of it. That was always their intent. Our earliest songs were written like surf pop. And I think over the past year, since I’ve joined and we’ve been playing more, there’s definitely been a shift. It’s a little more garage-y now. It’s a little more rock than pop, our newer stuff. But the tremolo leads and beachy lyrics, I think that’s gonna stay.
EU: How receptive to your sound has the public been?
AB: Really good. It’s kind of surprising. I think that—I don’t want to sound pretentious or anything, or like I’m assuming something, but I think we have sort of a universal sound. Like, it toes the line with a lot of different genres. That whole adaptability thing comes back into play. You can like pop music and find something in our music that you like. You can like rock, or punk, or surf, or oldies, new stuff, lo-fi—we just mix it all together. We have an awesome local fanbase in Athens, Ga, and Augusta. And right now, with this tour, we’re just sort of trying to expand that and get ourselves out there. For us, it’s all about performing for people and putting our music out there, because that’s what we love to do.
EU: It’s a fun sound. Kinda like The Beach Boys meet The Ting Tings.
AB: Yeah, yeah, I can see that. We have a really fun time. When we’re onstage, we’re always goofing off. We dance a lot. Ryan, you know, he always is doing some crazy, over-the-top moves… We don’t take ourselves too seriously.
EU: And the album, Something About the Summer, is good. That came out not long ago.
AB: We’ve just been premiering it to the press over the past two months.
EU: What’s your goal? Just have fun with it? Make people dance?
AB: Yeah, I mean, we want to travel with our music, we want to tour, we want to hopefully get back into the studio early next year. I think the dream is to spend a month working on a new album, just writing and recording. That would be awesome. We’re gonna be on tour up until the end of this year, just traveling the U.S., Mexico and Canada.
This music, we’ve sort of made it our life, to be Koko Beware. It’s not like I’m a student or an employee at some job. We’re musicians.
EU: So, this is your full-time job?
AB: Yeah. We actually all quit our jobs. Our bassist was in school and we convinced him to stop going so that he could come on tour with us. It was just a really opportune time in our lives. We’re all young. We don’t have any commitments that are super-serious. Of course, it helps Ryan and I are married. So, it’s not like any of us are leaving a spouse or kids or anything behind.
It’s our career. It’s what we do every day when we wake up until we go to bed.
EU: You’ll be performing the Burro Bar August 30. Have you performed in Jacksonville?
AB: No, we haven’t performed in Florida. It’ll be one of our first Florida dates. It’ll be our first time in Jacksonville, so we’re super-excited. We mostly played, up until now, just Georgia and South Carolina. Then we planned this first mini-tour, where we’re just doing a loop of the Northeast and the Midwest the past three days. We’re gonna go to Pittsburgh, Brooklyn and New Jersey over the next five days. Then we’re gonna come back home, chill out and come down to Florida.
EU: Is this one of your first tours?
AB: Well, we’ve done a couple of short weekend tours. I think our longest one was five days. So, the first that we’re pretty much on tour for three and a half months. That’s our first big tour.
EU: Has that been rough?
AB: Yeah, it’s been stressful, you know? Ryan and I do all the booking ourselves. I think that’s been the most difficult part, finding a place to play. In every city that we want to go, because we just sort of looked at the map and… I think what we started with was 80 cities that we thought it’d be awesome to play. And stuff falls through last minute all the time. Bands are like, “Oh, we forgot we had something else going on.” And you’re like, “I drove, like, eight hours to get here.” It’s definitely tough. We’re always on the road. That’ll be nice, not having to drive four to eight hours to get to the next venue. And not every place meets expectations. Sometimes you’ll have a really awesome show and then… It’s tricky, but at the end of the day we’re doing what we love to do. We knew that there were gonna be tough parts about this, but so far we’ve managed to keep our cool.
EU: Have you had to couch surf and shack up in cheap motels a lot?
AB: Yeah, that’s pretty much all we’ve been doing. We’ve tried to contact all the friends or acquaintances we know in each city we go to. We’ve been pretty fortunate so far. Most everywhere we’ve gone, someone we know has said, “Hey, you can crash at our place!” or someone that we meet at the show comes up to us and we’re like, “Do you know of anywhere we can stay?” They’ll let us crash. We’ve slept on childhood race car beds, when we were in Tuscaloosa the other night. That was probably my favorite so far. And we had to do one night in a motel. It’s definitely our preference to be able to stay with people. It makes it a lot more intimate for us. You get to know people, you get to make friends and connections. For this first tour, that’s really what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to get to know people and let people get to know us. That helps us get our name out there.
EU: But it’s not so bad, right?
AB: No, it’s totally rewarding. For every slightly terrible thing that may happen, something super-awesome happens. You get to eat the most amazing pizza you ever had or make 10 new friends in an hour.
EU: Where have you taken your tour? Where are you going to take it?
AB: So far, we’ve done Athens, Augusta, Tuscaloosa, Memphis, Chicago, Columbus, Brooklyn and Secaucus, N.J. We’re taking a few weeks off, just to regroup. Then we’re going down to Florida and heading west and sort of just doing a big circle. Back up and around.
EU: You said you’re going to Canada and Mexico, too?
AB: Yeah. We’re doing Tijuana, Vancouver and Toronto. And Montreal. We want to hit up a couple smaller cities… While we’re at it, we might as well. Other people in the band have been lots of places. When Ryan was a senior in high school, he took off for a couple weeks and drove all the way to L.A. and couch surfed around for… six weeks, maybe. Our bassist has traveled a lot of places, too. I’m pretty young, so I haven’t really gone that many places. Chicago’s the furthest west I’ve ever been and New York’s the furthest north. It’ll be interesting to go west and see California. I’m so excited to see that. And of course I grew up in Florida. I lived there until I was 8, so being able to come back and do two weeks there is sort of a homecoming for me.
I don’t think any of us have been to Tijuana and Canada—that I know of. They might not be sharing something with me.
EU: Toronto’s beautiful.
AB: We almost went there for our honeymoon. It’s gorgeous. And I’ve heard amazing things about Vancouver, too.
EU: Are these places that you plan to revisit?
AB: Oh, definitely. You know, one of the most difficult things about planning a tour is, we haven’t been to many of these cities. A big part of it is just establishing ourselves there, so that we can come back. But yeah, we want to do all of this again. So far, every city that we’ve been to has been amazing.
EU: I hope you like Jacksonville, too.
AB: The last time I was in Jacksonville, I was 12 or something, so I’m excited to go back as an adult. I’ve driven through it a million times but never had an opportunity to stop.
EU: Thanks for your time.
Koko Beware – Burro Bar, Aug. 30
by Aaron Kinney