Q&A with Carpool Tunnel: San Francisco Tunes & Debut Album Bloom
Updated: Feb 25
San Francisco rock band Carpool Tunnel are releasing their debut album Bloom this Friday. The album embodies a sound that fans know and love and includes many familiar favorites from their live sets. I sat down with two of the members, Ben Koppenjan and Bradley Kearsley, to talk about signing to a label, the Bay Area music scene, and Bloom.
Photo by Michael Hanano
Avery Luke: You guys have an album coming out on Friday! How do you feel?
Bradley Kearsley: It’s been in the works for so long it doesn’t feel real but it probably will soon. It’s really crazy.
Ben Koppenjan: Mhm. And when we set the date to release the album, that was back in October, and when we were setting it back then I was like, it’s coming out in February that’s so far away. Now here we are and I’m like, how is it the week of?
Bradley: Some of the songs that are on [Bloom] are some of the songs that we first put out as a band. Impressions is on it and Forget My Name is on it, which is a song we’ve been playing for as long as I can remember. So, in a way, since our whole career but it got finished being mixed in December… then COVID happened, and we signed and set a date. So it’s been like at least a year in the works for releasing it.
Avery: What’s it like to be releasing an album during COVID? Have there been any challenges?
Ben: It’s definitely been tough but overall as a band we feel really great about releasing it right now. When we wrote the songs… they kind of developed to have almost more meaning now that we’re releasing it. Some of the songs, like Empty Faces, has lines like “has it really been a year?” and it just makes a lot of sense now looking back. It’s just crazy how much the songs have changed in meaning, and I think what they actually truly mean is going to make the most sense and have the most impact now that we’re releasing it. So we’re all actually pretty happy about the fact that we are releasing it now...We were going to release it last Spring and were thinking about doing it independently but a ton of things happened and Pure Noise Records came to us. We spent a couple of months at Brad’s grandma’s house and kind of like sheltered there when the first news of the pandemic and the lockdown happened. It's been a lot of working on new music and just sat on the album. I think now that we’re releasing it I couldn’t be happier.
Bradley: Yeah, I mean it does suck that we can’t go tour and play shows but you know I think everything happens for a reason, and now is the right time for it to be coming out.
Avery: A lot of themes on Bloom are about coming of age. What has it been like writing an album with those themes?
Bradley: To me, the whole album represents how being in this band and being with these three other people has impacted my life. It has turned me from a very pessimistic person to an optimistic person who loves to find the joys of life instead of finding what’s wrong with everything and just really shifting my perspective on life and coming into the person I am, and them being there for every single part of it. At each of our hardest points, we were there for each other... We lived together for a year and learned so much about each other and ourselves. So, this is kind of a musical snapshot of all of our personalities and tastes in music at the time.
Avery: What has been working with Pure Noise been like?
Ben: It’s been incredible! Working with a label was a little intimidating with us at first, just because I feel like you hear a lot of horror stories when working with labels. You hear about bands telling you they got into a bad deal, or not being able to do exactly what they want. But so far working with Pure Noise every idea we’ve pitched to them they’ve been very open to, like where they kind of allow us to take the band and whatever project we’re working on and we don’t get really any no’s which is awesome. And we have this great team supporting us and it feels really good to just have people backing our art the way they do.
Avery: Any musical influences or artists that you’ve pulled inspiration from for Bloom?
Bradley: A lot. We all listen to very different music… but it goes from very different depths of music. I really like blues from the ’70s and Ernest Ranglin from the ’60s and Freddie King, but I also really like The Strokes and right now my favorite album is Case Study 01 by Daniel Caesar. Right now I think we all listen to a very wide range of music and we pull all of those inspirations and put them together. What we like about what a blues band did in the ’70s and what The Eagles did in the ’70s and what we like about a band like Her’s, for example. We take influences from all eras... Third Eye Blind and The Strokes' first record definitely are sounds we aimed for during the record’s production.
Avery: I can absolutely hear that. How do you feel like your sound has evolved into what we’ll hear on Bloom?
Bradley: The cool thing about Bloom I think is that it’s the songs we’d play at a live set, so if you saw us in concert, you’ve heard these songs before. When we recorded Bloom it was like, I wish this could be out right now because it feels like us, this represents us so much better than our top songs on Spotify right now. So, for people that have seen us in concert, I think it’s going to be exactly what they want… those are the songs we wrote and curated based on our performances with them. There’s definitely growth from our singles to this album but it’s still very much us.
Avery: That sounds nice given that there are no shows right now. You guys went on tour last Spring, I wanted to ask about that too. What was that experience like for you? Was there a favorite city?
Ben: One of the favorite cities actually that ends up coming back to us is Reno, Nevada. It’s kind of a funny story but starting on our first tour we played a house show there, for a birthday I believe.
Bradley: Yeah I think so.
Ben: We played this birthday in someone’s backyard and a ton of people showed up… we played at the same house a couple of times and then the venue in Reno called The Holland Project, and just from starting at a house show and going to a venue that’s there, we gained this insanely dedicated fanbase. In Reno, they just welcome us like we’re family there, and we just love playing there. All of the people that show up to those shows in Reno are just the nicest people ever and we’ve never had a bad experience in Reno. Every show we’ve played there is amazing. San Diego has been really great to us, Orange County has been great to us. Those are kind of the last shows we played… The Holland Project in Reno was actually a year ago today.
Bradley: Wow, it was.
Ben: So it’s kind of crazy to look back now and that was one of our last major shows. Reno has just made a huge impact on our music and how we write, too but we don’t even live there.
Avery: You guys are based in San Francisco, which has a really iconic music scene that you guys are a big part of. Did you notice any differences in how performing in San Francisco compares to performing in different cities?
Bradley: I think the biggest thing I notice is the fashion, like a San Diego show there’s a bunch of kids that go to the beach and listen to surf rock or indie-rock and then up here in Berkeley you get a lot of punk kids which is super sick. I came from the punk world and San Francisco is just so unique in every way. The sense of community, too, is one of my favorite things about San Francisco… you run into all the same people at shows and it’s just very cool.
Avery: You’ve played at a lot of different places around the Bay Area, but has there been a favorite hometown show?
Bradley: We got to play with the Backseat Lovers at Bottom of The Hill and the Red Pears at Slim’s. We love Slim’s so much and we’re sad to see it go. The whole staff was so nice and there are so many shows where we played, and we’re a small band so some people don’t have time or energy to deal with us, but at Slim’s, everyone was there to help us no matter what. The stagehand, I think his name is Scotty, was the coolest guy ever and made us so hyped to play our show and be there. We felt comfortable enough to be like, “hey can I get my monitor turned up?” or “hey, this is too loud.” At some venues, you’re just afraid you’re going to piss them off. They just made us feel very welcome and were so kind. We’re so sad to see that venue go, but Bottom of the Hill is also a favorite spot.
Ben: And Gilman.
Bradley: Yeah, definitely— Gilman is so sick.
Carpool Tunnel will be performing a live session for their debut album Bloom on Thursday, February 25th at 8 pm PST, with a live Q&A session. Be sure to tune in via @purenoiserecs on Youtube.