Coffis Brothers Call Back to Other Musical Siblings on ‘In the Cuts’
Jamie and Kellen Coffis deliver harmony-drenched rock
By Wallace Baine
Other than the name of their group, musicians Jamie and Kellen Coffis aren’t in the habit of calling too much attention to the fact that they are brothers. It’s not likely, for instance, that they’ll ever be caught performing in matching sweaters, or engaging in “Mom liked you best” banter on stage between songs.
But they are not above a clever acknowledgment of their shared blood every once in a while. Take the last song on the Coffis Brothers’ newly released album In the Cuts, “Bye Bye Susie.” In case you missed the reference to another famous song in that title, about a minute and a half into this amiable rocker, the Coffis boys winkingly switch over into a musical quote of the immortal “Bye, Bye Love” by Phil and Don Everly, who also wrote the hit “Wake Up Little Susie.”
“At first, it was just a placeholder,” says Jamie Coffis, who wrote “Bye Bye Susie.” “But as time went on, it kinda became unavoidable. It became the charm of the song, and it couldn’t be replaced.”
“We love the Everly Brothers, and we’ve even done Everly Brothers tribute shows,” says Kellen Coffis. “(Jamie) didn’t set out to write a song about the Everly Brothers. But once it was out there, we just had to lean into it and accept it.”
It’s a fun moment in an album that otherwise has little in common with the Everlys. Like much of their recorded material over the past decade, the new album by the Coffis Brothers mines a rich vein of unpretentious, guitar-driven, harmony-drenched rock. Its first single—the mellow, dreamy, mid-tempo “In My Imagination”—is an ideal choice for cruising in a convertible on a sunny afternoon. The album’s late-’70s style graphic cover art also gives you clues about the Coffis musical vibe.
“Sensibility-wise, it’s many of the same choices that we’ve always made,” says Jamie of the new album. “It’s also more mature. It just shows that we’ve been growing and learning. The fact that we got to work with someone we’ve been a big fan of in Tim Bluhm was a good match, too.”
That’s Tim Bluhm from the popular Northern California trio the Mother Hips, who served as the producer of In the Cuts. “We started out as just big fans,” says Jamie of the Coffises’ relationship with Bluhm. “We ran in some of the same circles and, as time went on, we had some friendly conversations. But as far as someone we’ve wanted to work with, he had been at the top of the list for a long time.”
As a musical enterprise, the Coffis Brothers are less like the Everlys and more like the Allman Brothers, in that they front a much larger band featuring non-family members. The five-piece band includes guitarist Kyle Poppen, who has been playing with Jamie and Kellen since they were all preteens. The band’s rhythm section consists of bassist Aidan Collins and drummer Sam Kellerman. (For years, the band went by the moniker the Coffis Brothers & the Mountain Men, but for simplicity’s sake, they’ve ditched the second part of their name.)
Photo by Jay Blakesberg
At the heart of the band remains Jamie and Kellen, who grew up singing harmony with their mother, children’s-music performer Vicki Neville Coffis. The brothers began writing songs together in 2007, and by 2011 they had formed a band and released their debut recording. For the past decade, the band has been regularly touring the Northern California club circuit, building a formidable fan base and representing the Santa Cruz sound.
The brothers are both songwriters, and though they tend to write separately, they alternate on songwriting credits and lead vocals as close to 50/50 as possible. “We’ve always pretty much gotten along,” says Kellen, the younger brother. “Sometimes we’ll get annoyed with each other, but that’s to be expected. At this point, we know the band itself is bigger than the two of us, and that’s the most important thing. But there’s no one else on the planet who’s going to be able to sing harmony with me as well as Jamie can.”
As is the case with every other California musician, the Coffis Brothers are working to figure out a new normal for live music in the pandemic era. Because Jamie and Kellen are also roommates, they’ve been able to perform online together, in the same room. But In the Cuts comes at a time when the band is robbed of the opportunity to market the album through live performances.
“The lack of shows is kind of disconcerting,” says Jamie, who also works part-time as a programmer on KPIG (107.5 FM). “But I’m optimistic about the proposition of releasing an album in this time. It gives us something to stay busy with, for sure. In some ways, it might turn out to be an advantage, in that we get some eyes on it as a result of people not being able to go out and see shows. They’re looking for something they might be able to enjoy in their homes.”
“I have to believe that we’re going to get on the other side of this,” says Kellen. “There will be changes that are temporary, and others that will be permanent. I don’t know exactly how things are going to play out, but the important thing is that we can remember people are coming to the realization of how special it is to see live music. What would someone give right now to go into a room with a hundred other friends and watch a band? Thinking about that right now, fifteen bucks for that sounds like nothing.”
By Wallace Baine