Toronto Rockers, KOZEN, are a rare breed of passion, drive, and force that are on the brink of a major breakout. The band has made waves and received consistent radio plays with their hit single, “Barricade”, which needs to populate your daily playlist as the track delivers the goods with a cocktail of influences. I caught up with all of the guys to discuss upcoming shows, being a part of the Toronto music scene, taking the independent route, tattoos and more.
First and foremost, introduce yourself to our readers. Tell us about your journey of becoming a band. Who is Kozen?
Max: We started off as my solo project, and honestly I was trying to do acoustic pop stuff. Everything I wrote kept leaning more into my love for rock and metal. Therefore, I decided to just create something that could blend together everything I loved. I had met Jericho through a philosophy class in university, and Jared is his brother so he eventually got added to the lineup. I’ve also always been involved in gospel music circles around Toronto to some extent or another, and I had been playing at Sid and Jon’s church for a while, so I brought them on board. And these guys are serious. Both have now been studying music and jazz at Humber College, and with the gospel and CCM background, they’re pretty well-rounded. The end result is pretty wild since we have such a broad and unusual set of influences. But it’s been fun to take on the challenge of writing music that represents all of us to some extent. I don’t even think the music we have out so far fully represented everything we can do, but that’ll come in time.
Your single, “Barricade”, has been making waves and routinely getting played on the radio. Is there an EP or album in the works that you can fill us in about?
Max: We’ve got a new album in the works. Can’t say too much about it just yet, but it’s happening. Our previous album, ‘Swimming To The Stars’, was more like a double EP. Side A had some of our harder rock stuff and Side B explored more of our pop side. And with our new record, we’re trying to balance out those two sides of the band and integrate them more fully. ‘Barricade’ represents our turn towards a heavier sound and starting the whole 7-string guitar thing, but we’ll be exploring our full stylistic range on the upcoming material.
Tell us about your perception of the difference between distributing and promoting Indie music in Canada vs. the states?
Jared: From what I’ve experienced, it’s very community driven. Music and connections are spread through playing shows, meeting people, sharing experiences and evidently exchanging merchandise.
Max: I think geography is one of the biggest differences. If you take the American east coast, for example, you have tons of major cities all lined up within a relatively short distance from each other. Where we’re from in Southern Ontario, major cities are few and far between, and most aren’t nearly as big as Toronto. The fact is that the USA just has more people to play for and more places to play at. On the other hand, there are advantages to being from Toronto right now in that the world kind of has its collective eye on our music scene thanks to the likes of Drake, The Weeknd, and others. Sure, those guys aren’t necessarily drawing attention to rock and metal artists, but the city still has a bit of spotlight and making music in Toronto feels especially relevant right now. We have some ties to up-and-coming Hip-Hop and R&B artists in the city too, and I’m personally hoping to do some collaborations in that realm sometimes if we can.
You guys are just getting off the road after your Quebec/Ontario tour. Tell us about some of your most standout fan interactions throughout the tour.
Max: There was one girl at our Montreal show who really impressed me with her dedication to the music scene. Not only did she exude a lot of enthusiasm during the show, but I’m pretty sure she also bought merch from all six of the bands that played. I think she was rocking like five or six layers of just t-shirts by the end of the night. That’s the kind of devotion that keeps a scene exciting and thriving. We also had a really memorable moment in Ottawa. A few days before, we had decided to throw a cover of “One Step Closer” by Linkin Park into our set. We had only played it once prior to hearing the news of Chester Bennington’s death, and so that night was a really emotional one. I came down off the stage and kind of just the crowd surround me and collectively yell the words of that song into the microphone. The energy of it was just incredible.
Jared: Covering Linkin Park’s “One Step Closer” and establishing a connection to crowds via musicians who’ve influenced us was pleasantly surprising.
Tell us about your experience of taking the Indie route with your career. What has led you toward taking the driver’s seat and ultimately taking your career into your own hands?
Max: Getting started is, I think, the hardest part of doing the indie thing. We started off with fairly few connections to the rock music scene, and I personally felt like I’d never know how to actually connect and get involved. There are initial benefits of artistic freedom, but that also comes with a lack of support or direction on the administrative side of what it means to be in a band. We got really lucky in that Brett (Santacona, Coronado Music Co.) was a mutual connection with Sid and came across our music on Bandcamp. He stepped in and helped us a lot with booking and getting networked with other independent artists. It’s been cool though, because we’ve gotten the chance to play with bands we probably don’t even deserve to be on the same stage as, and we’ve made some great friends along the way. With the way the music industry is changing, I think we’ll stay independent as long as possible, or at least until the absolutely perfect right thing comes along.
Jared: The nature of our beginnings, geography and the band’s genre of music construct a strong independent foundation. Many artists want to get signed. I want to make and share music; and as of now, we’re doing pretty good.
Let’s talk tattoos. Tell us about some of your favorite personal pieces and the artists that you collaborated with to bring the pieces to life.
Jericho: I currently have only one tattoo, so I guess that one would have to be my current favorite. It’s a cross on my upper back, flanked by thorns that make the shape of wings because I didn’t want the usual feather look. I got it done up at Lucky Devil in Newmarket about seven or eight years ago.I initially sketched it out and he took my idea and put his spin on it and voilà. The significance behind it isn’t highly cryptic; I believe in Christ and the historicity of his death and resurrection. I chose the idea of thorns as a personal reminder of the crown of thorns Jesus was made to wear. It was a mockery for those who placed it on Him, but ironically it was through the cross that He fully demonstrated his kingship and conquer over sin and death. I do have plans to do more tattoos and specific ideas in mind, which I am excited about, but I don’t think they’ll be happening too soon. But they will eventually, for sure.
Max: I’m actually terrible because I have yet to get any tattoos, but my sisters both have pieces in Japanese calligraphy, all of them tied to our Japanese heritage and our family. Naturally, I want to complete the trio of sibling “Japanese tattoos” but I have yet to find the right thing. But when that happens, I’ll let you know!
If you had the chance to sit down with one musician either dead or alive for a conversation to draw wisdom, who would you choose and why?
Jared: Pre-fame Sia Furler. Her music came from those places I often delved into.
Max: Mike Shinoda. He’s a big hero of mine for many reasons: he’s half-Japanese like me and maybe the first person in the music world that I felt I could fully identify with. He’s a multi-instrumentalist and a master of genre fusion. I’m sure I could just learn from him all day.
Sid: Michael Jackson, because honestly, he knew everything. Arranging, songwriting, feeling, timing. He knew it all.
Are there are festival lineups that you desire to be a part of over the next year? If so, why?
Max: We’re pretty stoked to have recently been added to the lineup for Indie Week in Toronto this November. Aside from that, I think it would be really cool if we could play Youth Day Toronto, if only for the chance to play at Yonge & Dundas Square. I’m taking some classes in Michigan right now, so I’m planning to do some acoustic shows in the states while our band is forced to work from a distance. The Riverlights Music Festival happens in South Bend, Indiana in the summer, and I’m hoping to get on that if I can and do some solo sets with our new material. Also, this might not be doable for this-this year per se – but there’s the Kingdom Bound festival at Darien Lake, NY. I used to go to that as a kid and I’d love to get on a stage there. Beyond that, we’re open to whatever opportunities present themselves!
What has been a song that recently came out that you have been really drawn to and used as a source of inspiration?
Jared: “Peter Pan” by Kelsea Ballerini. The best country songs craft musical movies.
Sid: “Feels” by Calvin Harris (Pharrell, Katy Perry, Big Sean). The groove on that song just feels really good. Calvin Harris did a good job with that.
Max: This year, the new Hillsong United release, “Wonder”, really captivated me, especially the title track. Something about the outlook and attitude portrayed in that song really resonated me – like seeing the world as “bursting in living colour” somehow is the best perspective to adopt. I kind of hope that our new material can feel as colourful as that – like we see the whole world in the full spectrum of everything that is beautiful about it. Maybe more on-genre for us, I loved the album, ‘Gore’, that Deftones released last year, and especially the song “Phantom Bride”. The mix soft and gorgeous with heavy so well.
Last but certainly not least, any closing messages for your fans?
Jared: Stay tuned.
Max: May the Force be with you.
Sid: Honestly guys, stay in school if you’re in school, do your work if you have work to do, but mostly just have fun.
Jericho: Don’t curl in squat racks…