“Bloom” is the debut album of Carpool Tunnel, a modern day rock band with an eclectic influence. The album was released February 26th and culminates the band’s first years of existence.
Three years ago, when matching on Vampr, an app known as the “Tinder” for musicians, the group had not anticipated releasing their own songs. The trio – Brad Kearsley, Daniel Stauffer and Ben Koppenjan – joined together in hopes to play blues for bars and weddings according to Kearsley, the lead guitarist.
When showtime came around, they added Spencer Lane on bass and have been known as Carpool Tunnel ever since.
With singles released in the genres of alternative, rock and pop, Carpool Tunnel is still defining their music. Luckily for the band, the initial lockdown for California last spring allowed them to further explore both their sounds and themselves.
“When COVID hit, we went to Brad’s Santa Cruz house and it was like summer camp for us. We were playing music for like eight hours [a day],” said Koppenjan, the lead singer.
The unprecedented circumstances left a lot of uncertainty for the band, but also provided inspiration for their music.
“Our songwriting was very raw; none of us really knew what to feel. So we’re kind of just feeling with our instruments,” said Stauffer, the drummer.
Although the music that the band created during the initial four months of lockdown is not in the new album, their single, “Empty Faces,” came out in December as a tease to their debut. This was the band’s first song released under their new label, Pure Noise Records.
I spoke with the band about their progress and growth in lockdown.
How does the songwriting process work for y’all?
Kearsley: In the start, [the song writing] is pretty similar to how it is now. We either like something and it comes up in band practice, and we go on a giant tangent and write an entire song – like yesterday. Or we’re doing a live session and we get there [to set] and literally, for the first two hours, we spend writing a new song.
But, we like to chase that initial inspiration of something that comes out naturally and running with it and stopping when it doesn’t make sense. Whether that’s a few chords that Ben or I brought up, or Spencer got a bass-line, or Danny’s got a groove that he just really likes – we bring it to practice and try jamming it.
Lane: I felt like our writing process was very collaborative [at the beginning]. I felt like … there’s no one person who controls more of every element of the song in our writing process. It’s a good demonstration of individuality and collectivism – working together to create the best possible outcome for everyone.
Which song that is out now demonstrates this process?
Lane: The first one that I really remember being the most intense collaborative one, that was almost like a burst of energy and just came out of all of us at the same time, was “Better Now.” “Better Now,” I think, was one of the first songs that we wrote where all of us kind of knew what we were feeling and what was going on within all this crazy, chaotic stuff. Where all of us were working, juggling school and the band all at the same time, while living together. [That] was probably the most intense point, I think in our writing of this album. That song demonstrated all of us kind of like coming together to get that tension out, each of us in our own unique ways.
Stauffer: I remember that. That was Ben [Koppenjan] upstairs when we lived together. He was chilling on the couch, and he’s going back within two chords, and I’m hearing a drumbeat over what Ben was playing. I was like, ‘Yo guys. Let’s check this out.’ Which is exactly how all of our songs come to be. It’s always a guitar here, a couple chords there and we try to bring that to practice.
How has COVID-19 changed the process?
Lane: I mean at this point in my life, I think this is the longest I’ve gone in my life since picking up music without playing a show.
Kearsley: We really like to test out our songs at shows. If you’ve seen us before COVID, you probably didn’t know most of the songs because they weren’t out yet. Our full set is usually just songs that weren’t out, but that’s partly because it was music from “Bloom.” We like playing a song and seeing how it feels to play to a roomful of people and how they react and just how the energy drops. Obviously, we can’t do that now.
What have you all been working on since the lockdowns?
Koppenjan: I think the biggest thing is that we have this album coming out on February 26. It’s called “Bloom.” I honestly don’t think there could be a better time that we could be releasing this record. I think all the lyrics and the meanings behind the songs are super relevant, even more relevant than we were when we wrote it, and I don’t know how that came to be.
That’s a huge thing Danny made me realize, when we first listen[ed] to our record on vinyl. I’m just so excited for people to hear it, especially for people our age right now that are really coming of age. You know, we’re stretching through adulthood and trying to figure out life. I think this album is super helpful for that.
Stauffer: The whole intention, the whole goal was being in a band and having a CD or vinyl or something like a creation, a product. It feels like this is all of our energy of the past three years is in one thing that doesn’t need any words or any further explanation. It’s just there. It’s something, an album, that can offer the most truth of who we are as people.
Kearsley: We wake up at 10 – 11am and we got emails to answer. We recently have realized that we needed to have weekly meetings. So, every Monday, we have a zoom meeting to discuss what we need to get done for the week and plan out practices. For this next month, we have Monday, Wednesday and Friday practices and we’re just working towards a live session.
We also just finished a music video shoot. So, all of February, we were pretty much shooting on any free day. Now we have some stuff we want to do for post album release. We would normally go on tour for our album [but we can’t] and we’re thinking about ways we can do something [instead of a] tour because that’s not a thing. Also [we’re looking for] ideas for the album, the same concept too, whether it’s … the sound of it or just kind of compiling all the songs that we have in the works, and thinking about ways we can do it. So, in short, there’s a lot of answering emails and doing interviews right now.
Koppenjan: I mean [prior to COVID-19], if we weren’t playing music or playing our own shows, we were at another show. Watch for me supporting friends playing music and that’s our entire lives. So it’s been a huge, huge void to fill.
I think we’re all kind of finding those things. I’m doing things on the side. Brad’s making clothes. That’s something he’s really passionate about and hasn’t really been able to find the time to in the past, but now he has the time to do it. So, I think the silver lining in it is that we have this time to figure things out for ourselves.
Kearsley: I think it’s great for all of us that we got to take this time [to] have a healthy way of figuring out balance in our lives. You know, it was kind of forced on us, but I think all four of us are missing it, you know, just the same.