Before he turned 30, Matthew Koma already had the career of musicians’ dreams.
The Seaford native co-wrote the Grammy-winning hit “Clarity,” which became a smash for Zedd and Foxes and which Sting liked so much, he joined Koma onstage to perform it with him. He has had his own hits with Zedd, Tiesto, Giorgio Moroder and any number of EDM’s biggest producers. He has co-written and produced songs for Shania Twain and remixed a Bruce Springsteen single.
But something didn’t feel right.
“It was like wearing clothes somebody else says you look good in, but don't feel comfortable for you,” Koma, 31, says. “There was a time when I was doing a lot of the electronic stuff, and I'm like, ‘[Expletive], am I ever going to stand on a stage again with a band and a guitar? I'd watch friends do it and be like, ‘Oh my god, I used to do that. That used to be in my life and it hasn't been in so long.’ I missed that.”
In September, less than a year after his epiphany, Koma was standing onstage at the Mercury Lounge with his new band Winnetka Bowling League, which includes his brother Kris Mazzarisi on the drums. He was singing songs from the band’s major-label debut, including the radio hit “On the 5,” and smiling.
“It's funny,” Koma says. “I hear that comment a lot. People say, ‘You seem really happy.’ And I really am. I really believe in the music, and I love it, and I'm having fun. I feel like I've been through so many versions of things where it's been hard work, or it's been misguided, or it's not been a match musically. To finally arrive in a place where I love it, it's sincere, and I'm getting to do it the way I want to do it, I’m just so grateful.”
Maybe the most exciting thing about Winnetka Bowling League, which will release its second EP in seven months, “Cloudy With a Chance of Sun” (RCA), on Friday, April 26, is that Koma is essentially building a new band in full view of the public.
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“It's been really fun to have this outlet and this ability to just turn stuff around so quickly,” says Koma, adding that all six of the new songs were written after the release of the first EP in September. “It's a progression for sure from the first EP that we put out. It feels like the next chapter of our story and it’s just nice that we could follow up that chapter so quickly.”
He says he loves the rapid pace of releasing new music. “This idea that we wrote this bunch of songs and here they are, they're brand-new and we just finished them, and now they're out in the world living in real time — that's really, really fulfilling,” Koma says. “It's nice to have the ability to take snapshots and release them, and then move on and be on to the next thing.”
The plan seems to be working. SiriusXM has already latched onto two of the EP’s songs, with The Pulse playing the dreamy pop “Slow Dances” and Alt Nation playing the upbeat, Beck-ish single “Kombucha.”
But for Koma, the joy he gets from Winnetka Bowling League’s new music and from performing it is now even more important.
“Look, I've been doing this since I was a teenager and I've had every sort of promise in every sort of ‘This is going to be the big opportunity’ way,” he says. “And I don't say this with any sort of negativity, but I've seen those things not pan out. And I've seen other things pan out in ways that I never would've guessed. So, it humbles you a bit to just . . . be like, ‘OK, I don't know anything and I don't know what's going to work.’ All I can really do is work hard because I love working hard and I love writing songs.”
“If it's going to appeal to enough people to fill The Garden, if it's going to appeal to enough people to fill the Mercury Lounge, whatever it is, that's fine,” he adds, “I just want to be doing it because it makes me happy.”
That’s pretty much Koma’s goal for the rest of his life as well. He’s currently enjoying spending time with his daughter Banks Violet, who will turn six months old on Thursday, in Brooklyn, where he and girlfriend Hilary Duff live while the “Younger” star films the next season of the TV Land show in New York. “It kind of highlights the good in everything else,” Koma says. “There's a bigger purpose and a bigger feeling, seeing it played out … Even just music. My daughter's not even six months old yet, but she reacts to music and being able to experience that with her is wild. And it brings me back to thinking about how I communicate with my dad and still do through music.”
Between the new baby and the new band, Koma says he is ready for new rules. “This is a complete restart,” he says. “And the only rule is that all I do has to be stuff I love — from the songs to the art to everything. No compromise. No ‘Oh, I'm doing this because of that.’ Nope, the only reason I'm doing this is because I think it's cool.”
Rocking and rolling
While Winnetka Bowling League is a brand-new band for Matthew Koma, it’s certainly not his first. After all, he was a rocker even before he was at Seaford High School. Here’s a look at some of Koma’s other bands:
SPECIAL GUEST STAR
BIO: The Wantagh-based band, led by singer Jon Zajac and including Koma’s brother Kris Mazzarisi on drums, landed a radio hit “Alaska” on WLIR in 2001, when Koma was only 14.
BIO: Koma and Mazzarisi launched their own band and quickly got signed to Atlantic Records on the strength of their power-pop songs – including “Celebrity” and “Someone,” which both became hits on WLIR – and high-energy live shows at CBGB and clubs across Manhattan and Long Island.
BIO: When the “Inside Out” rockers Max Collins and Tony Fagenson reunited in 2007, guitarist Jon Siebels was busy with his band Monsters Are Waiting and didn’t want to rejoin. Koma, who was a fan of the band and had become friends with them, was enlisted to tour with them and then become a permanent member.
-- GLENN GAMBOA