The Peninsula-based outfit joins Bandcamp initiative to donate all Juneteenth album sales to the NAACP.
Ask the four members of the Corner Laughers, and they’d tell you: now is a strange time to be a musician. Pandemic-prompted lockdowns have changed so much about creativity in a professional capacity: tours have been cancelled, live performances postponed or moved to Zoom meetings, and human connection — around which so much creative work is based — has been reduced to all but nothing. The state of the world that we live in right now is enough to make anyone’s head spin.
But via the release of their latest album, Temescal Telegraph, the Corner Laughers hope to transport listeners to the world seen through their eyes — one that doesn’t necessarily involve social distancing (or hours-long lines to enter grocery stores). The album itself is a mix between folk rock and indie pop, and has a kind of ethereal feel to it, the band says. It’s very much Bay Area inspired — Redwood City, for example, inspired an entire track on the album.
The timing of the album was purely coincidental, according to lead singer and songwriter Karla Kane — its release date, June 5, was set just before California’s statewide stay at home order went into effect. (One of the last normal things the group did together was film a music video for one of the album’s tracks.)
The album can be purchased directly from the group’s website or through Band Camp. And if you purchase the album this Friday, June 19 — or Juneteenth, the commemoration of emancipation of the last American slaves — 100% of the proceeds will go to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (in accordance with the current Bandcamp-wide initiative).
The Bay Area-based group has for the last decade been a frequent guest of boutique venues throughout the Peninsula and the Bay Area. They’ve made cameos in Michigan, Seattle, Los Angeles and England. We caught up with members Karla Kane, Khoi Huynh, Charlie Crabtree and KC Bowman to hear more about what’s to come.
The Six Fifty: Tell me a little bit about yourselves.
Karla Kane: I’m Karla, and this is Khoi, my husband — we live in Redwood City. I’m the lead singer, sometimes ukelele player and the main songwriter. I work at the Palo Alto Weekly, and I live in Redwood City. I actually grew up in the Bay Area, in Marin County.
Khoi Huynh: I’m Khoi. I used to be the bass player, but I play piano and guitar, too, and I typically switch off between a bunch of instruments (for the band) these days. I work at Stanford University in the Physics Department.
Charlie Crabtree: I’m Charlie — I’m a FinTech Bay Area type. I play the drums, and normally my job is to help facilitate Karla’s vision of rhythm. I live in the Sacramento area, but I used to live in Redwood City.
KK: and KC (Bowman), who has not yet joined us, lives in Oakland. We actually did this whole album at KC’s home, in his studio. So we met kind of in the middle of all of us, in a sense.
650: Tell me about your beginnings as a group. How’d you all find each other? What’s the process of working and growing together as musicians been like?
KK: So the band, way back, was originally myself, Khoi, and my friend Angela who has since moved to Michigan. We put out our first album in 2006. Around that same time we met Charlie as he was playing in a friends’ band, and we thought he was talented, fun and cool — so much so that we wanted him to join our band. Which eventually he did.
CC: The funny thing was, we had played a couple shows together, and my girlfriend (now wife) said at the time, ‘they’re really fun! You should be in their band!’ And I think I said — well, it doesn’t really work that way. But a month later I was in the band, so ultimately it did work that way.
KK: Charlie joined us for our second album.
650: And what about KC?
KK: We were actually all big fans of KC’s music — he was legendary to us. He joined us midway through our third album, and now this is our fifth. So it’s been ten years playing together.
650: Where do you think of your sound as having originated?
KK: The Bay Area, basically.
650: How would you describe the music you put out?
KK: I always think it’s really hard to just pick a genre to put on it… we’re Indie Pop, sometimes Folk Rock. And there’s definitely been evolution and change. I put out a solo album a few years ago that was very acoustic and folky, and now this (upcoming) one is a lot more rock, with drums and electric guitars. But it is still definitely in the folk rock element. A lot of the reviews discuss genre bending.
650: What emotion does your work generally elicit?
KK: A lot of it is rooted in a sense of wistfulness and whimsy.
The music video for The Accepted Time, which was shot at Orion Alternative School in Redwood City, where Kane and Huynh’s daughter attends school.
650: So you’ve just released your latest album, Temescal Telegraph, pretty much right in the middle of quarantine. Are those songs you had recorded prior to California’s stay-at-home order?
KK: Yes, we didn’t record during shelter in place — we had just kind of settled on the release date a week or two before everything went down, and we picked June 5. We were not expecting all this craziness. We actually filmed a music video pretty quickly before everything shut down, not knowing it was going to shut down. It was days before.
KC Bowman, joining the call: That feels like my last normal moment, filming that.
KK: We were really glad able to do that just in time.
650: Did the Peninsula play a role at all?
Karla: The Accepted Time is based on the Peninsula — it’s very 6–5–0 local. There are tons of Redwood City references, and we actually filmed the music video at our daughter’s school, Orion Alternative School.
650: Has the pandemic changed anything about the album or its release?
KK: It didn’t change much about the release. We did have some gigs scheduled to play that are no longer scheduled — Khoi and I were supposed to be in Michigan doing some shows, and we had more coming up in May and June. So that’s been kind of weird, because usually (performing live) is a big part of promoting a new project. And it’s also meant we’re not being able to get together and hang out.
The only one that might still happen that we know of — we were supposed to play at the Menlo Park Library, and they cancelled in-person events but are still are doing live streaming of things. That could still be on, but it wouldn’t be until July.
650: I wonder if you could tell me about what quarantine has looked like for you all. I think a lot of creative folks are grappling with the idea of using the extra time to be even more creative than they usually are — is this a time that you’ve found to be conducive for writing music?
KK: I have not found it conducive at all. I do hear people hoping that it will be a creative time for them, and maybe it has been for some, but we’re just so busy: we have a kindergartener home all day with us now. We both work from home. We did a small performance for the online fundraising auction for our daughter’s school, but that’s kind of the only thing that we’ve done like that. I haven’t been productive in any way.
It has been very nice to get reviews for the new album, because it’s a little something to look forward to — something that’s good, something that’s happening.
KH: I practice once in a while, but I haven’t done anything interesting.
KK: We did make one music video, but otherwise the days go by very quickly. I don’t know how they can be busy when we’re stuck here, but we are.
CC: I worked from home before all this, so you would think things would come easily, but to me it all seems like a big change. There are seemingly a lot less hours in the day. I feel like I have been way less creative. I have two kids at home. I’ve been on a friend’s podcast, but that’s not quite the music type of creativity. It really does feel like the days have gotten much shorter.
KC: I’ve actually been working on a double album. It’s mostly improvisational rock. So I started on it probably May 1, and it’s 20 songs. (KC’s solo album comes out June 19.)
KK: That’s how he is, though.
KC: Far more of my very minimal standards are out the window right now, so this could be really, really terrible. My excuse is quarantine.
The Calculating Boy, another track on the recently released Temescal Telegraph.
650: How about for creative people who are reading this — what tips do you have for them about productivity right now?
KC: The best thing would be to go outside, get a step ladder and cut your cable connection and your internet connection. A lot of it — it’s like, why even bother paying attention to it? But that’s hard to do, and I don’t do it — I was up until 2 a.m. last night looking at what was trending on Twitter. But I find in the moments that I’m able to not do that, I’m much happier. It’s almost like, the non-distraction becomes the distraction.
CC: I agree. The first month I was way too plugged in. I have had to cautiously back off.
KK: In May, I had turned my phone settings to lock me out of Facebook and Twitter, and I liked it. Those are worlds I don’t need to be in.
KC: Any world (in which) I can’t find Karla Kane immediately is not one worth entering.
KK: But now it feels like the opposite, like there’s so much going on (with protests over police brutality) that it’s very important to be as aware as we can. There was a protest in Redwood City — must have been about two weeks ago now, and I just did an interview with the artist responsible for the street art that went up on the boarded up windows (downtown). We’ve also been making personal donations and donations as a group to Oakland-based organizations, since the album was named after Oakland and written and recorded entirely there. We’ve been choosing organizations like the Anti Police Terror Project and Black Earth Farms, a Black, Indigenous and People of Color-led sustainable farming collective which has been donating food to people who have been arrested at protests.
I also just joined a new committee of parents and teachers at my daughter’s school discussing what we can do to make celebrating diversity and teaching kids about racial justice more of an emphasis.
650: Where does creativity fit into all of this?
KK: I’m just accepting (I’m going to be less creative right now). Everyone is just in survival mode. It’s been kind of different, smaller ways of being creative right now — creativity at a different pace.
CC: There are so many things that need more immediate attention. Both of my sons’ birthdays aren’t happening — stuff like that. I’ve focused on keeping the kids entertained, keeping them plugged in despite not having kids their own age to play with. So we have to be way more interactive with them, or they’re stuck watching TV all day. We’re having to be way more present right now.
650: Are there any plans to do any virtual touring?
KK: It depends on how good of a quality we would be able to produce, which can be tricky with live streaming. A lot of times you try to watch something like that and the connection isn’t good, and you can’t hear.
KC: I have enough disdain for tech in general — why should we make it any harder on ourselves? It doesn’t seem worth it in a lot of ways. I would just rather people listen to the recordings, really.
650: What do you hope listeners take away from the album?
KC: Knowing they can revel in this little fantasy world, but one that’s kind of grounded in reality at the same time. Every time I just put on the album doing dishes or going to sleep, it takes me away somewhere. It doesn’t feel like we’re trying to be entertainers. It creates this world — if we get the feeling people are entering into that world, then our goal is met.
KK: It’s not like it’s about fantasy topics or something like that. It’s kind of like the world filtered through our brains.
KC: Like the song Loma Alta — that’s a very literal tour through Marin county, but very impressionistic at the same time. You could go and fact check the places she mentioned, look at it on the map, and it feels very… ethereal.
KK: I was imagining it being sung by a ghost.
650: What are your hopes for the future of performing?
KK: Well, I hope we keep performing, even though it’s hard to imagine stepping into a venue right now. We had such a positive experience making this album… I’m hoping we keep going.
KC: I think we’re lifers. We’re celestially married, the four of us. But who knows when we’ll even get to be in the same room again?
You can also find The Corner Laughers on Facebook.
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