The Cayucos singer-songwriter will explore his roots in the Lone Star State at this Saturday’s gig at Downtown Brew
– Sarah Linn
The Tribune, San Luis Obispo
August 7, 2008
Joe Koenig remembers being close to tears when he took the stage last month at Downtown Brewing Co. in San Luis Obispo. His childhood idol, multi-talented musician Leon Russell, was waiting backstage. In the crowd was his supportive father, who traveled all the way from Concrete, Texas. “It was the first time he had been in the room when I played any of those songs,” Koenig said of his dad and namesake, “Solid Gold” Leslie Joe Koenig. “It was really emotional.”
Musician Joe Koenig, formerly of the band Snaphook, says his current brand of ‘Texas soul’ is ‘the kind of music I should have always been doing. The Texas-born singer-songwriter has an even bigger thrill in store when he returns to Downtown Brew on Saturday: He’ll be celebrating the release of his first album as a solo artist.
The former front man for Central Coast rock band Snaphook, Koenig took a break from music after the group disbanded in 2004. Now a full-time graphic designer, he’s spent two years working on “Somethin’ Concrete” and perfecting a folksy acoustic sound he calls “Texas soul.”
“Once you hear this album, it’s like you’re going to know me from top to bottom,” Koenig, 30, said with a chuckle. “I put my heart on the line every time I sing these songs.”
Raised near Austin
Born in Houston and raised near Austin, Koenig had little interest in music until high school, when he started singing and playing guitar at a local Baptist church. “I was one of the only kids that I ever knew that wanted piano lessons, but no one would ever give them to me,” he said. Instead, Leslie Koenig bought his son a Synsonics Terminator electric guitar from a local pawn shop. At age 18, Joe Koenig moved to the Central Coast to study graphic design at Cal Poly.
There, the pole-vaulter started playing rock music with a fellow track athlete and other friends. They founded the band Torsion in 1999, releasing their first EP in 2000 and sharing the stage with acts including Ozomatli, Buckcherry and Johnny Ramone. Three albums and a name change later, Koenig said, the band-by then called Snaphook-was done. “The scene completely died in San Luis Obispo. No one gave a crap anymore,” Koenig said.
He married, bought a house in Cayucos and focused on his business, König Designs in San Luis Obispo. But he couldn’t stay away from the music. In 2006, Koenig started working on a solo album as an emotional and musical outlet. Starting with two or three songs, he tackled the task in stages, often piling singing, songwriting and guitar playing on top of an 18-hour workday. Help came from all quarters, including former band mates, U2 keyboardist Terry Lawless and even a Nashville banjo player.
Koenig recorded part of “Somethin’ Concrete” at Avalon Digital Recording Studio in San Luis Obispo, part at his Cayucos home and segments in Los Angeles and Texas. “It’s just been a tremendous experience,” said Koenig, who acknowledges a personal bond to his songs. The album takes its name from Koenig’s hometown of Concrete, Texas. And many of the songs on “Somethin’ Concrete” refer to his mother, who died five years ago. “There are a couple of songs I don’t play (in public) anymore because they’re just too emotionally draining. I definitely put my emotions on the line,” he said.
Koenig also explores his south Texas heritage in his music. “If I grew up here, I’d play the same music that everyone and their dog plays here, which is Sublime-style surf pop,” the singer-songwriter explained. Because he grew up listening to Joe Cocker and Leon Russell, however, his songs have a raw, soulful vibe.
Opening for Russell on July 13 was “pretty epic for myself and my family,” he said, especially since both Koenig and his father chose Russell’s “A Song For You” as their wedding song. “I love those songs from the bottom of my heart,” Koenig said.
Like his idols, Koenig hopes to eventually branch out into a bigger sound. “My whole vision … is Joe Cocker’s ‘Mad Dogs and Englishmen,’ ” said Koenig, referring to the singer’s ground-breaking 1970 live album. It features a large choir and several instrumentalists performing a fusion of rock and soul.
“I can sell the whole front man thing,” Koenig said. “The singer-songwriter thing is petrifying. I can play, I can sing, and I feel like I’m a decent songwriter, but I wish I had other people up there with me.” Now that “Somethin’ Concrete” is done, Koenig is eager for more. He promises plenty of surprises and guest performers at Saturday’s show, intended for ages 21 and up. “This is the kind of music I should have always been doing,” he said. “It’s exciting to dip into the next phase.”
Reach Sarah Linn at 781-7907.