Koyo: “There’s no smoke and mirrors here – we’re going for it”

As Koyo prepare to unveil excellent debut album Would You Miss it?, vocalist Joseph Chiaramonte looks back at the lows, highs and – most importantly – friendships that power Long Island’s best new hardcore band…

Koyo: “There’s no smoke and mirrors here – we’re going for it”
Huw Baines

It’s early evening at Franklin Music Hall in Philadelphia and Joseph Chiaramonte is ready to go. The crowd at This Is Hardcore, circling the Koyo vocalist like a couple of dozen coiled springs, are ready to go. “Let’s fucking get it!” he yells, exploding in a cathartic surge of energy. “That was a Biblical, all-timer set for us,” he tells us later, reflecting on the 25-minute whirlwind the band whipped up on the opening weekend of August.

You don’t need to scratch too far below the surface to understand why. Only a few days earlier, the quintet were almost wiped from the board entirely. While driving home from Buffalo, following a tour with Bayside and I Am The Avalanche, they were involved in a gnarly van crash outside of Geneseo, New York when a car tried to overtake them and clipped their trailer, snapping it loose and sending it hurtling into someone’s garden.

So when Joseph went out to fucking get it, he was pulling from heavy anxiety: looming U-Haul fees, insurance nightmares, and lingering worry for guitarist Harold Griffin, who was flung out of the top bunk soon after learning to walk again following a grim ankle injury. “Going into This Is Hardcore it was, ‘Yo, tight belt, take your own cars, pay for gas out of pocket, no spending right now.’ Obviously we were excited, but we were coming off some tough shit,” Joseph says. “That was so surreal and crazy, it was the ultimate release.”

Circumstances aside, Koyo’s music is geared towards this sort of communal outpouring. Pulling from Long Island’s rich punk and hardcore history, they deliver short, sharp shout-alongs and fizzing melodies that recall formative bands such as Silent Majority, Taking Back Sunday and the Movielife – who, in an unhappy parallel, turned their own experience of a van accident into 2003’s seminal 40 Hour Train Back To Penn.

Joseph’s lyrics are a personal, unguarded point of difference, offering intense emotional insights that are vivid and contemporaneous enough to prevent anything from slipping towards nostalgia-based rehashing. “I guess I just assess everything, perhaps too honestly, in my head,” he says. “I don’t like to make excuses for anything. That produces tough feelings. Sometimes seeing things for what they are, and accepting things for how they are, can mean feeling pretty bad. Putting it into lyrics and putting it to music can be challenging at times for me, or at least trying to explicitly say what I mean, but it’s also the only outlet I’ve ever had for that.

“To have the option to express myself with this particular vehicle, in this particular niche thing, in my mind it’s carrying a rich tradition forward of Long Island hardcore,” he continues. “It’s doing what Long Island has done best while getting to cathartically work things out in my life at the same time.”

Koyo’s debut LP Would You Miss It? takes their existing strengths to a whole new level. Comprising up to the minute writing with material that dates back to their breakthrough 2021 7” Drives Out East, it is a conceptual celebration of the sounds that knitted the band – completed by guitarist TJ Rotolico, bassist Stephen Spanos, and drummer Salvatore Argento – together as teenagers in Stony Brook.

There is something special about being around the people who knew you when you were figuring out who you are and Koyo tap into that feeling at will, doing all they can to reflect the shifting sands of time and place on the record. Along with slashing guitar hooks and bouncy tempos right out of Silent Majority’s playbook, Vinnie Caruana, vocalist with The Movielife and I Am The Avalanche, features on What’s Left To Say, while Glassjaw’s Daryl Palumbo stamps his inimitable presence on Message Like A Bomb.

“The only part that was not explicitly written for the guest was Daryl’s,” Joseph says. “We reached out quite a while ago, and it was radio silence for months. Then he just randomly emailed us back. The mystique was dope. We’d gotten to know Vinnie from playing with The Movielife and just being around on the Island. I consider him both a friend and a mentor. He did it for us while we were on that Bayside and I Am The Avalanche tour in the greenroom in Milwaukee. Hearing it in real time the way I imagined it in my head was a total trip.”

Having tour-managed the band, along with running merch, covering lights, and anything else that needed doing, Joseph also invited some Boston into the room by tapping Vein.fm’s Anthony DiDio to crush a guest spot on Flatline Afternoon. “Those people in Vein are my closest friends who aren’t my Stony Brook childhood best friends,” he says, keeping the theme alive.

Would You Miss It? is Koyo’s most obviously melodic, confident work to date, delivered with a punchy sheen by producer Jon Markson, but they had to test the tensile strength of these vitally important friendships to make it. Logging six weeks of 10-hour days at a barn in New Jersey, they came through with something that their 16-year-old selves would have flipped over.

“I’m very grateful that I get to play in a band with my literal best friends,” Joseph says. “I’ve been friends with Spanos since second grade. But we’re doing this band full-time. There’s no smoke and mirrors here – we’re going for it. That much touring and that much dedication to something does put relationships at risk. We’ve had natural speed bumps along the way, figuring out how to do this together and how to treat each other, but we were always the type of friend group that would hang out 24/7. It wasn’t an issue of too much time, just a new life experience.

“I guess the bottom line is preserving our friendships and our love for one another. We would sooner sack the band than sack that part of ourselves.”

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