Leeds noisescapers Koyo on blending sax, drugs and angry cows

A press shot of Koyo

It’s not easy creating widescreen vistas and majestic sonic cathedrals when you’re playing third support upstairs at a pub in Oswaldtwistle. But any artist worth listening to has to dream big. And we have a strong feeling that it won’t be very long at all before Leeds quintet KOYO are gracing stages that are more obviously suited to their grand musical designs.

You only have to listen to the supersonic yearning of their debut album’s opening track Strange Bird In The Sky to understand that this is a band with big ideas, and much of that aesthetic, singer and guitarist Huw Edwards tells Prog, evolved from their love of ambitious music.

“We love big walls of sound where the layers build up to something huge and epic-sounding,” he says. “I guess that comes from progressive music. Our keyboard player [and KOYO co-founder] Jake is a big Rush fan, and I’ve always loved prog stuff like Opeth and Ozric Tentacles, and also shoegaze stuff like My Bloody Valentine.”

KOYO’s sound also draws on the sample-strewn ambient electronica of Boards Of Canada, while drummer Tom Higham’s background as a jazz percussionist adds intrigue and technical prowess to unexpected detours such as the math rock wig- out that closes their 10-minute live highlight Ray Of Sunshine.

“Me and Jake started this as just a bedroom project in 2015 and wrote much of the album there,” Edwards explains, “but then we decided we liked it and put a band together, and the sound has kept growing since then.”

Another noticeable echo of great prog moments passim is the saxophone on single Tetrachromat (Parts 1&2), instantly prodding at that corner of your brain in which Pink Floyd’s Us And Them is permanently housed.

“Oh yeah, Floyd are bound to have crept in there,” says Edwards. “It almost goes without saying – everyone’s got stoned and had their mind blown by The Dark Side Of The Moon at some point. The sax is only on that one track but we like to experiment with different instrumentation whenever we can.”

There’s a definite strand of woozy, Tame Impala-style psychedelia shot through KOYO’s sound, not least in the vocal harmonies. But the frontman insists that it’s not the result of chemical misadventure…

“We’re pretty straight really – when we’re recording, anyway. At Foel Studios in Wales where we recorded, the owner Dave [Anderson] used to be in an early line-up of Hawkwind, and he was telling us lots of stories. When Ozric Tentacles were there, they’d disappear into the fields and come back hours later with bin bags full of magic mushrooms. Some of the other guys in the band took inspiration and went mushroom picking, but I still had my vocals to do so I stayed on site – dunno, should I have joined them?”

We couldn’t possibly make that judgement call. But such a bucolic environment also helped the sampling side of things, it turns out.

“Jake likes to use found sounds in the studio,” says Edwards, “and one morning at 6am all these cows were going nuts outside the gate demanding to be milked or something. It woke him up, so he leapt out of bed and ran outside with this little recorder and sampled them. Then he de-tuned it, put delay on it and it just sounds really eerie.”

Resourceful, inventive and thinking big – KOYO’s promise knows no bounds.

Prog File

Line Up: Huw Edwards (vocals, guitar), Jacob Price (sampling, synthesisers), Seb Knee-Wright (guitars), Dan Comlay (bass), Tom Higham (drums)

Sounds Like: Shoegaze meets prog at the psychedelic crossroads

Current Release: Single Tetrachromat is out now. Their debut album is due for release in June

Website: www.koyoband.com

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Johnny Sharp

Johnny is a regular contributor to Prog and Classic Rock magazines, both online and in print. Johnny is a highly experienced and versatile music writer whose tastes range from prog and hard rock to R’n’B, funk, folk and blues. He has written about music professionally for 30 years, surviving the Britpop wars at the NME in the 90s (under the hard-to-shake teenage nickname Johnny Cigarettes) before branching out to newspapers such as The Guardian and The Independent and magazines such as Uncut, Record Collector and, of course, Prog and Classic Rock