VIDEO PREMIERE: Scranton indie rock pirates Esta Coda ride the friendly seas of ‘Happenstance’
When talking to Esta Coda about their band, songwriting, live shows, or just life in general, the theme that keeps coming up again and again is “friendship.”
It’s the force that motivates them, surrounds them, flows through them, and binds them together, to roughly paraphrase a friendly Jedi. It’s key to the longevity of the Scranton-based indie rock quartet, which features Jay Preston (vocals/guitar), Dan Rosler (vocals/guitar), Jon Fletcher (bass), and Thomas Twiss (drums).
“Friendship is an obvious factor,” Preston replied when asked about their 11 years as a group.
“I look forward to hanging out with my band. I consider everyone who’s been a part of the Esta Coda family a good friend. Another thing that’s kept us together is us being too crazy to quit. It’s certainly more difficult to put time into the band as our lives get busier, but I can’t imagine not doing it.”
“Genuine friendship and respect for one another,” Rosler agreed. “I sometimes don’t know the answer to this myself, which always makes me appreciate being in this band all the more because I realize no one is forcing these guys to make music with me, so I am increasingly grateful the longer this lasts.”
The other major factor is a loyal local fan base, who have been waiting patiently for new music since the late 2018 release of their third EP, “King Bitter,” with Grammy-nominated producer Will Yip.
“We have an awesome audience – I am so grateful for the moments when the energy gets poured back at us. I love that communal experience. It’s what made me fall in love with music and wanting to be in a band many years ago when I started going to shows at the Carbondale YMCA,” Rosler recollected.
A significant portion of that base is made up of fellow Northeastern Pennsylvania musicians who respect and just genuinely love the poppy yet deeply emotional work of some of the nicest guys in the scene.
“I’ve heard that sentiment a few times and it always warms my heart. I can’t help but feel like a lot of it has to do with the relationships we’ve made throughout the years, whether it’s from working with bands and artists at the studio, the other bands and projects we’ve all been a part of, or shows we’ve played with all the local talent. Having the appreciation from our peers is just an awesome feeling,” Preston emphasized.
“In a way this became the mission statement for this [upcoming] album – let’s just make something our friends might think is cool. Don’t get me wrong – like most artists, I want to reach as large an audience as will have us. But, at the end of the day, that type of peer recognition is invaluable to me,” Rosler admitted.
That’s right – they’re working on their first full-length album, and the lead single, “Happenstance,” is premiering today exclusively on NEPA Scene with a music video that is as endearingly fun as Esta Coda itself.
“The song is about our tendency to draw conclusions prematurely, assuming things happen for a reason rather than just accepting life is sometimes chaotic,” Preston explained.
Rocking the boat
The charmingly imaginative video was directed by his brother Dan Preston in Jay’s own backyard. Each band member becomes a little action figure on a toy pirate boat splashing around a kiddie pool, giving both Jay and Rosler’s children a vital role in this whimsical story.
“The boat concept, the green screen antics, the animation, and the execution of everything is all him. This is the first Esta Coda project he’s done, and I’m so happy he was willing to. His style and creativity just feels right with our music and adds a visual aspect that fits our personalities. The band portion of the shoot turned into us knocking each other around with a homemade squid arm – doesn’t get more fun than that,” Preston, the pirate, recalled.
“The kids volunteered their talent for an afternoon. They did great! I think they had a good time terrorizing the boat. The kids are also responsible for most of the drawings that were animated in the video. My daughter got excited every time we needed more creatures.”
“I loved the idea,” Rosler, the fisherman, continued. “To me, it’s like playing with your friends as a kid. You have a general idea for some imaginative game or whatever and reach into your bin of action figures or something and find the things that loosely match that theme. Maybe you pick a pirate, a scuba diving beach guy, a sea captain, and a fisherman, and they all deal with water so, sure, why not – they’re a crew on the boat. And the scenes change rapidly in the way that those imaginative games do. There’s no need for logic, just imagination. I appreciated Dan’s creativity and was so happy he was down to do this.”
“Dan has been playing music and creating things his entire life,” Preston related. “He was my inspiration to pick up a guitar as a kid. Distance – first in age, then in location – has probably kept us from working together on anything. I couldn’t be happier that we are finally putting something out together, although we did submit a song to a Duck brand duct tape jingle contest along with our brother Lee 20 years ago.”
Friends, family, kids – the combination of them all is what keeps their ship afloat, literally and figurately. With all those people in mind, this anticipated single is Esta Coda’s first new music in over four years, so they had to come out with something special without rushing into anything. Listening back to their catchy catalog of radio-ready tracks, including those on their 2014 debut “Kindness” and 2015 follow-up “Miles Away,” it’s clear that they value quality over quantity.
“I think it just took some time for us to decide what we wanted to do next. We’ve played the ‘EP’ game for the entire life of the band. Once we made a gameplan, the process of following through with it has been exciting,” Preston enthused.
“Dan and I always have a backlog of demos. We put together a good-sized collection of songs and love how they fit together. Some of them were written more recently, some are ideas from years ago. I can’t remember exactly when we hit the studio for this project, but I’d say we are about halfway finished with a – hopefully – full-length.”
“Yeah, like Jay said, I don’t think we have ever stopped working on new music. Some of these songs we have been toying with for years, while others are quite new. We have something like 14-16 songs that we’ve at least started tracking. Some are further along than others,” Rosler noted.
“My kids hear all the different stages of the process. I’m so often in the car with them that, whenever we have a new mix or the newest version of a session, they end up listening to it with me. Nora knows most of the melodies at this point. When I put on a song we just started to listen back to the drums, she piped up from the back, ‘Oh, is this new?'”
Friendship is magic
This time they are recording at JL Studios in Olyphant where Preston works with owner and producer Joe Loftus. It feels more and more like a family project as friends naturally come into the mix.
“Our friend Tim Husty has also been lending us his ear. We appreciate both of them greatly,” Preston said.
“Yeah, it’s been feeling like a family gathering each session. Sometimes our bud Duds is there, Tim, Derek [Jolley] from Cuddledrug, or our longtime pal Scott Durkin [of Livingston],” Rosler added.
These kinds of creative connections have carried them through the past decade, which also saw both singers become fathers. When asked about the band’s best musical moments throughout that time, friendship continues to be a driving factor.
“Sometimes it is crazy to think about how long we’ve been at it. Highlights for me have been opening for some of my favorite bands. We’ve had the privilege of opening for [fellow Scranton acts] Tigers Jaw and Menzingers for a few of their local shows. The Sidekicks is a band that Dan and I love, and we were able to open for them twice on their way through the area. Opening for Anti-Flag was surreal. I drove to Pittsburgh to see them when I was 16. Seeing them then, and then playing the same stage as them years later are both experiences I’ll never forget. Getting to play shows with all of the amazing local bands is also something I don’t take for granted. From our longtime homies in University Drive, to up-and-comers Fosh, and all the other local talent we get to hang out with,” Preston remembered.
“I would add getting to work with Mike Watts at VuDu Studios [in New York] for our first two releases and then Will Yip with ‘King Bitter’ [at Studio 4 in Conshohocken] were remarkable times of growth for us as a band and as musicians individually. We also got really close, and I speak in terms of camaraderie but also literally sleeping in bunk beds or sharing air mattresses,” Rosler said.
“It doesn’t seem that long at all, but when I go through some memories as a band, it starts to dawn on me that we’ve been around for a bit.”
Jumping into the future
Now they feel like they are writing their best material yet while always practicing “because we have been teasing ourselves that these newer songs are much more difficult to play live.”
“I understand it’s a cliché for the artist to feel this way, that the newest is best, predictable, even. Cynically, people might think an artist says this in order to drum up excitement for sales. And psychologically, one is also up against a type of recency bias. So, keeping that latter point in mind, I nevertheless feel the proudest about these songs,” Rosler analyzed.
“I guess the goal is always to improve as an artist. I’m sure it’s partly subjective. We try to create music that we would enjoy listening to. Our music will change as our tastes change. I do think we’ve put a lot of attention into these songs to give them as much character as we’re capable,” Preston affirmed.
Esta Coda’s last live performance was in December for the “bittersweet” closing of Karl Hall in Wilkes-Barre, an important local venue they often played in.
“The fact that an all-ages venue was able to survive through covid years is an accomplishment. [Co-owner] AJ [Jump] provided bands of all genres an opportunity to play shows outside of a bar atmosphere. We were lucky to have it, lucky to be part of some of those shows. Us playing the last show there was by chance, but I’m glad we were able to show our appreciation for what AJ provided to the area for years,” Preston expressed.
“Emotional, truthfully, it’s always sad when a venue like that shuts down. It’s especially sad when the crew who kept the place going are such good people who care a shit-ton about the scene. That obviously adds a somber tone to the evening, but I think it was nevertheless a joyous night as well. Events like these, like the loss of a loved one, has the power to bring a community together and recognize collectively the importance of keeping this thing alive somehow,” Rosler underscored.
They’re doing just that with the ever-present help of their friends, hopping on their first shows of 2023 with Cuddledrug, Gloss, and The Roof at The Grape Room (105 Grape St., Philadelphia) on Friday, June 2; Elephants Dancing, The Crates, Channel 65, and So Much Hope, Buried at The V-Spot (906 Providence Rd., Scranton) on Saturday, June 3; and University Drive and Permanence at the River Street Jazz Cafe (667 N. River St., Plains) on Friday, June 16.
“You know we’ve been so fortunate throughout the years that people ask us to play shows. All of the summer dates we have lined up are with such awesome bands, I can’t wait. As far as our sets go, we will have some unreleased tunes sprinkled in,” Preston teased.
“Jumping. People can expect jumping,” Rosler said with a smile. “I’m so excited.”
Second photo by Jason Riedmiller Photography/NEPA Scene