During normal times, backyard shows throughout the Coachella Valley are packed with younger people enjoying hidden musical gems—such as the band Koka.
Koka is a four-piece consisting of Edith Aldaz on vocals, Sebastian Camacho on bass, Ricardo “Ricky” Saavedra on drums, and Ubaldo “Uba” Norzagaray on guitar and synthesizer. The band’s indie-pop music is rather unique, mixing vibes from Clairo, Soccer Mommy, and Crumb into their own sound.
Koka just released a new single, “Did You Fall Asleep Yet.” It’s a three-minute dance-along that features a pulsating, Blondie-esque beat and vocals. I recently spoke with the band members about Koka’s genesis.
“During my senior year of high school, my plan was to just go to college and live a boring life,” Camacho said. “It wasn’t until my English teacher, Mr. Jonathan Adler at La Quinta High School, had a conversation with the class about doing what you love. That was really the point when I decided to take Koka seriously. It wasn’t even Koka at this point; it was just a friendship between me and Edith, who was, at the time, just a girl I knew who could sing. We met Uba through some mutual friends, and some months later, he posted that he got a guitar. I invited him to come write some music with us.
“We started searching for a drummer for our live shows about a month after we released our first song, and that’s when we met Ricky. Originally, Edith was singing and playing drums, which I thought was cool as fuck and unique. After a while, she preferred getting someone with more experience, so we were super-lucky to find Ricky—and more importantly, get along with him.”
The first song the band released was “Tissue,” a lo-fi, slow-tempo groove track. It wasn’t until the song was finished that the members of Koka began to view themselves as a band.
“We were just writing music for us,” said Camacho. “Once we finished and decided to release our first song, we all agreed to start doing more band-related stuff. Uba had the idea to do a photo shoot, so once we released the song, there’d be a photo of us to go along with it.”
Added Norzagaray: “We were focused on releasing good music before we began to think of a name. After we finished ‘Tissue,’ we all brainstormed names, and Koka was one of the ones I wrote down. We wanted something that sounded catchy and was easy.”
Added Camacho: “Some of the other names we thought of were ‘Cheque,’ but we thought that most of our Spanish speaking listeners would pronounce it ‘che-kay,’ so we didn’t go with that. There was also a time when Edith was obsessed with apples, and there was a type called ‘Gala’ that I thought was cool, but we eventually went with Koka. We wanted to make sure we had a name that we all agreed on.”
“Tissue” found success on SoundCloud, and is currently sitting at nearly 12,000 streams.
“We really had no plan in the beginning, and not much of an idea of what we were doing,” Norzagaray said. “We just uploaded it to SoundCloud and shared it on Twitter and Instagram. The initial success it had made us freak out, as we got 1,000 listeners in a week! We immediately got to work on releasing another song.”
The band followed up with two more tracks, “An Inside Stay” and “Baby’s Breath.” “Baby’s Breath” has 43,000 streams on SoundCloud, and 12,000 on Spotify. The quality of the band’s recordings has improved with each release.
“Our idea of mixing and mastering was panning tracks and changing audio levels,” Camacho said. “There are a lot of issues with them, but I actually like them. They were perfect for the time being, and those are the songs that created our audience. Our newest two songs are produced by Brian Harrington, and if you listen back to our original tracks in comparison to our newer songs, you’ll hear a huge difference in quality.”
As for those two newest songs, “With Time” came in April, and “Did You Fall Asleep Yet” was released Aug. 1.
“The idea is to work toward a full-length album soon, but as of right now, our main focus is creating good music,” Norzagaray said.
Aldaz added: “We have a lot of different ideas recorded right now, and we have three songs, plus a cover, that we are currently working on completing.”
A recurring theme with local bands is an increase in productivity during the pandemic—and Koka’s latest two releases are their first since 2018. The band has made a point to get together, as safely as possible, during the pandemic.
“We try to meet up at least twice a week, but sometimes, schedules conflict,” Aldaz said.
Added Saavedra: “It’s been super-hard to continue meeting during this time. We are doing our best, though, and are doing all that we can to continue to meet.”
On top of working on more music, the band has started creating a playlist for Spotify listeners. You can find the first one here.
“Each of us will pick five songs we like for that month, and we’ll put them all in a playlist called Koka Radio,” Camacho said.
While the band remains productive, the members of Koka are missing the tight-knit backyard shows that they used to pack with fans.
“People are still throwing shows, but they aren’t approved, and it’s really dumb for them to be doing that right now,” Camacho said. “We are going have to wait awhile until we can have approved shows again.”