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November 2018 - Paddlebots

Mt. Pleasant's Paddlebots Pioneer Progressive Pop & Soul

Story by LCC Radio Reporter Sarah Spohn

Paddlebots Live ConcertFor the two co-founders of Paddlebots, they were dancing to music before they could stand up, and playing music before they could reach the keys.

Today, the progressive soul-pop band from Mt. Pleasant is made up of Haruki Hakoyama (bass), Kortez Buckner (keys, lead vocals), Andy Wade (drums), Zakariya Sadir (percussion, trumpet), Dominic Bierenga (saxophone, flute), Ethan O’Brien (guitar), and occasionally Adam Marth (guitar), and Conor Larkin (guitar).

While their love for music both developed early, if you throw in all the influences the band enjoys, the list would be too long to list. This ‘anything goes’ mentality gives way to their unique progressive soul-pop music, which they describe as music anybody can appreciate. Kortez brings the gospel/soul/pop side, and Haruki brings an entirely different world of jazz, but there’s so many other pieces to Paddlebots.

“Pop music doesn’t have to comprise musicianship and musicianship doesn’t have to be this inaccessible mysterious delicacy reserved for the musical elite,” the independent band said. The idea behind keeping their genre as vague, is to enable the listener to pull from their music what they will.

Part of what led Paddlebots to become a reality was the band members meeting at Central Michigan University, which fired up these chips to start a group. While Mount Pleasant isn’t often known as a musical hub throughout the state, for Paddlebots members, it was the perfect ingredient to ignite a flavorful musical flame.

“In 2015, it was still just an idea that Kortez and I had,” Haruki said. “We needed a group name that we could put out our original music under, and that was Paddlebots. We then realized, that in order to play a live show, we needed to put a full band together as opposed to trying to make it work with just the two of us.”

After reaching out to their fellow musician friends, the band grew. “While Kortez and I are the main writers/arrangers of our songs, the past couple of years playing live with the whole cKortez Buckner of the Paddlebotsrew has definitely shaped a new sound,” Haruki said, “and it’s definitely changed our approach and future goals. It really drives the overall dynamic and ‘feel’ of our music, and how it can best be unleashed in the songwriting process.”

Starting off playing rowdy bar gigs and cover songs, Paddlebots earned their right to play longer solos, jam sessions and original music live. In between familiar cover songs, the band would trick the crowd with longer grooves morphing into top hits the entire bar would sing. “Mount Pleasant has come a long way in terms of the local music scene and its acceptance towards original music,” the band said.

Their first record, Mouth Full of Dirt, released in 2017, came from a place of desiring an outlet for original material. Still posting YouTube videos of popular cover songs, Haruki was also writing his own material, while exploring different arrangements, styles, harmonization and recording techniques on well-known songs.

“The record was a culmination of what we learned out of that process, but applying it to our own music,” Haruki said. “The recording personnel on Mouth Full of Dirt is sort of a hodgepodge - a lot of it was done with just me and Kortez since it was either prior to having the other guys on board, or simply due to scheduling conflicts since everybody has such busy schedules. The whole album was recorded and mixed in my bedroom.”

The group credits staying open minded, even when playing with celebrated or recognized songs like “Can’t Stop the Feeling” by Justin Timberlake, to creating their unique Paddlebots sound.

“We don’t necessarily try to make it different, but we definitely remain open to letting each other express our own influences in the music,” Haruki said. “And nine times out of ten, the songs take on their own form when we stay open-minded.”

Paddlebots is made up of a few music majors, but perhaps the best advice they’ve learned comes from family, not school. For Kortez, it was wise words from his father that keep him passionate about playing music: “You have to feel the music before you can expect anyone else to listen.”
Paddlebots Live Concert
Thankfully, people are listening, as the band has gotten to share stages with some of its musical idols, including Haruki’s hero, Grammy-winning artist, Cory Henry and his band The Funk Apostles.

“Cory Henry is one of everybody’s musical heroes to some extent, and for me specifically, I remember listening and studying to his incredible recording of ‘Danny Boy’ while in undergrad picking apart his playing and music,” Haruki said. “So to get to open for him was a surreal experience and very memorable.”

They’ve also headlined Short’s Fest, Kortez’s personal favorite. “I think because Northern Michigan isn’t as densely-packed as the lower regions of the state, there is a very strong sense of community when it comes to a lot of things, especially music. The whole time I was there, and while we were on stage, I could feel nothing but love emanating from every single person I came across.”

Up next, they’re playing a show with two fellow Michigan musicians which they’ve learned a lot from, Desmond Jones and Melophobix on Nov. 21 at The Intersection in Grand Rapids. Before stepping into the off-season of touring, Paddlebots is planning on stepping into the studio to record new material, and a music video. They’re grateful for everyone who have supported them thus far, and are looking forward to a big 2019.


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