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Erik Koskinen plays songs from 'Down Street/Love Avenue' at The Current

Erik Koskinen – studio session at The Current for Radio HeartlandRadio Heartland
  Play Now [24:03]

by Mike Pengra

March 31, 2024

Do you remember “friendship bread”? It was a trend in the 1990s where people shared a starter yeast to make a type of cinnamon bread, keeping some to make a loaf and then sharing the starter with more friends so they could make their own loaves. The trend was kind of like a chain letter — albeit a harmless, creative and delicious one.

Well, the friendship bread model is not too dissimilar from the way Erik Koskinen and his friends put together the songs for Down Street/Love Avenue, Koskinen’s latest album, releasing April 5. “I kind of just invited a lot of musician friends to add stuff to [my demos],” Koskinen explains. “And the idea was if I let them add something to it, and they thought of somebody else who would be good for that track, they were then invited to give it to somebody else without me even having to really know about it. It wasn't really a plan, and that built into what happened on how the record got made.”

Koskinen and his bandmates visited the Radio Heartland studio to play a selection of tracks from the forthcoming album. Watch and listen to the full session above, and read a transcript below.

Interview Transcript

Mike Pengra: I'm in the studio with Erik Koskinen. He's got a brand-new record coming out called Down Street/Love Avenue. It releases April 5, right? 

Erik Koskinen: It does.

Mike Pengra: And you've got a series of gigs at Icehouse.

Erik Koskinen: I do.

Mike Pengra: For the whole month, right?

Erik Koskinen: The whole month.

Mike Pengra: Every Wednesday, right? Did I get that right?

Erik Koskinen: Every Wednesday is a release show.

Mike Pengra: OK, I got it.

Erik Koskinen: I don't know why I came up to have four of them instead of one.

Mike Pengra: This record, in my humble opinion, it's some of your best work ever. It's really nice. 

Erik Koskinen: Thanks, Mike. Thanks, man.

Mike Pengra: It took you a while to make it. You started during the pandemic. How did that affect the writing and the recording and the rearranging of it?

Erik Koskinen: Yeah, the rearranging happened lots of times. Well, so yeah, the songs, I guess, you know, we were just kind of hanging out.

Mike Pengra: Yeah. They were already there.

Erik Koskinen: Lots of things to think about. No — the songs weren't there. I mean, the songs were written... There's a couple songs that were written before the pandemic, I guess, but most of them were written during. And, you know, the isolation of us just hanging out by ourselves in recording studios, and in kitchens, homes, whatever, you know, whatever. Wherever that was, made the songs happen, you know. We would have been busy doing other things, I'm sure. So songs that I would have been writing would have been different, I would assume.

Mike Pengra: Subject wise?

Erik Koskinen: Yeah. For sure.

Mike Pengra: All about being alone and being isolated.

Erik Koskinen: Yeah, yeah. You know, yeah. And sort of transcending that, I guess, with the, you know, the love song I did. They're all sort of love songs, I guess. Right? So they, yeah, they... So you know, where everybody's, hopefully everybody was had someone to hang on to those kind of questionable times were happening. And that's a little bit where those, all those songs came from.

Mike Pengra: When I look at the Radio Heartland in The Current library, you're the producer of a lot of records by other people who come and record in your studio.

Erik Koskinen: Yeah, you know what, I guess that's happening. Yeah.

Mike Pengra: I wonder what it's like for you to be the producer and the writer of your own record. Are you hard on yourself?

Erik Koskinen: Yeah. Oh, yeah.

Mike Pengra: Harder than you are on other — ?

Erik Koskinen: Absolutely.

Mike Pengra: Yeah.

Erik Koskinen: One hundred percent harder. Though maybe with different points, you know, with different things. I'm not sure. Delivery, I try to be very, I try to, I try to, with myself and with other people, the delivery of the song, the intent of the song. The intent of the words. And the way those words get delivered, I think is one of the most important things for me, in my, in my mind.

Mike Pengra: Yeah.

Erik Koskinen: And the way the way the words work on themselves as well, you know? Getting rid of redundancies and, and, you know, unnecessary, unnecessary language. It's kind of an important thing to me.

Two men have a conversation in a recording studio
Erik Koskinen (L) speaks with Mike Pengra in The Current studio in an interview for Radio Heartland on Wednesday, March 6, 2024.
Derek Ramirez | MPR

Mike Pengra: Yeah. Do you have a notebook full of songs that you haven't recorded yet?

Erik Koskinen: Oh, yeah. Yeah.

Mike Pengra: Every once in a while they come out and you work on them and then you throw them away or what?

Erik Koskinen: Yeah, some of this some of these songs were ... had that where half the song was written and I during, during that, the pandemic time when we weren't playing shows and, you know, we were all isolated so songs were getting shipped around, I guess, in the mail, kind of. A lot of unfinished things came out of the closet for sure, you know, half-written tunes and instruments that weren't being used. I bought instruments and played things I'd never played before.

Mike Pengra: Sousaphone? 

Erik Koskinen: Sousaphone. I got, I acquired an upright bass and I played upright bass on the record on one of the tracks.

Mike Pengra: Wow.

Erik Koskinen: And I played drums on some of this stuff. And I already do that to a degree but... 

Mike Pengra: You do.

Erik Koskinen: But the upright, it's not the first time I've played upright on a record, but it's definitely a new thing, I guess.

Mike Pengra: When I looked at the tracklisting on the record and the personnel, it's almost like different — each one is a different movie, there's so many different people in every single song.

Erik Koskinen: Yeah, yeah. So that's that's kind of how it started. The very first song that was part of the project was a song called "I Got You." And that was right when everything sort of stopped, in the music world anyway.

Mike Pengra: That was a single, then.

Erik Koskinen: Yeah. And I put it out as a single right away. So mid March, late March, maybe; I can't remember when I put it out. It might have been in April, I can't remember what. Right away, I did it right away. And nobody was hanging out with each other, so I played all the instruments on it. And that sparked the idea to just continue it. So I knew a lot of people just kind of in the same boat as I was, where they're hanging out thinking in a month it'll all be back together.

Mike Pengra: Right. Little did we know.

Erik Koskinen: Little did we know. So I made a folder on the internet that had all these, I guess there would be demos, of mine, where of my vocal and guitar tracks, and I kind of just invited a lot of musician friends to add stuff to them. And if they — and the idea was if I let them add something to it, and they thought of somebody else who would be good for that track, they were then invited to give it to somebody else without me even having to really know about it. It wasn't really, it wasn't really a plan. And that and that built into what happened on how the record got made. But the very first one that I started sending out to people was a song called, the song "Two of Us." And I sent that to Jay Bellerose and his wife, Jennifer Condos, and they played beautiful on it. Jennifer engineered this, the two of them in the house.

A man plays drums in a music venue in Los Angeles
Jay Bellerose onstage in Los Angeles in 2018.
Scott Dudelson/Getty Images

Mike Pengra: You worked with those two in the last record.

Erik Koskinen: They're on my last record. Yeah. So that's how that connection came about. And then that got sent to Alex Proctor who happened to be in locked down or shut down or on hold at Eric Valentine's studio, I think in Malibu in California. And Jay and Jennifer live in California, and so it didn't go very far. It went all the way to the moon and back, and then it went back to California. And he played piano and sang on it. And then that got shipped out, he shipped it out to to Mike Lewis, the saxophone and bass player from Bon Iver and Fat Kid Wednesdays.

Hiss Golden Messenger perform in The Current studio
Saxophonist Mike Lewis performing with Hiss Golden Messenger in The Current studio in 2017.
Nate Ryan | MPR

Mike Pengra: Yeah, some really nice horn parts on this record.

Erik Koskinen: Yeah, yeah, he played, he played the horns on it. And then it got mixed. And that was, so that was the first, I got to use the first thing, I had this sort of the shutdown thing, sitting around, and then I was like, "I don't want to sit around and play all these parts," you know? So I started getting mailing out. I mean, Tommy Vee played on a track that didn't get on the record. But Molly Maher. So then the next one, I think, S. Carey, Sean Carey from, from Bon Iver, also on his own wonderful music stuff, he worked on that track, which was "Keep My Baby With Me."

And yeah, it just kept on going. And then when everything kind of came back to life, musically, I got super busy and wasn't really in the place to put it out. Because I was saying yes to all the shows, I was saying yes to working on all the records, and then it just kind of kept on happening. So finding the time to really like focus on putting my own thing out took a little bit of time, which was a problem because then I kept on shifting which songs, because there's 20 songs that we did, and only 10 of them are going to fit on a record.

Mike Pengra: There you are being your worst critic again.

Erik Koskinen: Oh yeah. The full-fledged version of that came out for sure.

Mike Pengra: Yeah, I'm in the studio with Erik Koskinen. We're talking about his new record, Down Street/Love Avenue, which comes out April 5, and I'm looking forward to it. I was gonna say you talked about "I Got You (To Get Me Through)," that song. When it first came out, it was a whole different arrangement of it versus the one you did today. And for a lot of these songs, there's a little bit more of a, or less of an electric feel, more of an acoustic guitar thing going on. I don't know I just felt really good.

Erik Koskinen: Well, we've done it for now for four years. That's when it, you know, and ... And that version has been worn out, I think. And this is a, I know that that maybe that's that one, that's the one thing that came out a long time ago. So people, you know, people that are paying attention to whatever I'm doing know of it. So I feel like that's a song that can be transformed a bit. And we felt good doing it that way. And yeah, the 12-string, we brought the 12-string out, that kind of, yeah, was a luck charm, I guess. Yeah. 

Mike Pengra: Well, I like that. Congratulations on this record. 

Erik Koskinen: Thanks, Mike.

Mike Pengra: What's next? More songs out of the closet?

Erik Koskinen: Yeah, there's gonna be — so there are a bunch of songs that were leftover from this process, that I kind of feel like I need to get out of my brain. Otherwise, then I'll stop thinking about them. And I've been working on a whole new batch of songs. And I think they're gonna come pretty quick. I don't think I'm gonna wait four years. This has been four years since my last record or something like that.

Mike Pengra: Well, it's a good one, so.

Erik Koskinen: Thanks, Mike.

Mike Pengra: Yeah, thanks for coming in.

Erik Koskinen: Yeah, man. Appreciate it.

Mike Pengra: Good seeing you.

Erik Koskinen: Thank you.

A man in a Stetson Open Road hat looks over his shoulder
Erik Koskinen's new album, "Down Street/Love Avenue" will be released on April 5, 2024.
Real Phonic Records

Video Segments

00:00:00 I Got You (To Get Me Through)
00:05:20 Hard Times for Everyone
00:11:15 Keep My Baby With Me
00:16:04 Interview with host Mike Pengra

All songs from Erik Koskinen’s 2024 album, Down Street/Love Avenue, available on Real Phonic Records.


Erik Koskinen – electric and acoustic guitars, vocals
Paul Bergen – electric guitar
Josh Gravelin – electric bass, vocals
Richard Medek – drums
Alex Proctor – Wurlitzer piano, Steinway grand, vocals


Guest – Erik Koskinen
Host/Producer – Mike Pengra
Video – Derek Ramirez
Audio – Eric Xu Romani
Graphics – Natalia Toledo
Digital Producer – Luke Taylor

Erik Koskinen – official site