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Chris Couch: Sorry, Mom. It was the music

Breedlove’s featured artist for June, Chris Couch, and his long-time band, World’s Finest, may not be household names, but that’s partly by choice. Chris and his band decided to anchor themselves in their beloved community of Portland, Oregon instead of seeking the possibility of greater fame and fortune in towns with more established music industry infrastructure. Over the past decade, they’ve evolved from the quintessential party band to a mature, musically competent group with an eclectic, genre blending sound. Chris has also been hard at work on two forthcoming solo projects. We recently sat down to discuss his trajectory from a rural Oregon high school band drummer to frontman for one of his home state’s iconic groups.

Chris Couch on Being a Good Kid in a Small Town:

When I graduated high school, Malheur County led the nation in per capita teen pregnancies, but I’m 100% positive I was not responsible for any of them. Until I got to college, I didn’t drink, I didn’t have sex. I didn’t smoke. I didn’t. I was the Christian kid in school. I went to church twice a week, if not more.

Band Camp:

In was in high school, even in middle school, I was in the band program. I was such a good kid, but luckily for me the band program was awesome. My high school was tiny, but we had 20 kids in band. Once a year, we’d pack up for a week and we’d go play the assembly at another school. This fostered my love of playing music for people in different places and the freedom of being on tour. A bunch of kids in a hotel room getting to come and go as we please—there were obviously rules, but the freedom I felt being away from home, being out with the band was liberating.

Learning to Swear:

The ska/punk thing was big when I was in high school. Less Than Jake, Rancid, NOFX, Reel Big Fish, Offspring. Green Day was my first real big love. That album taught me how to swear. I went to a bunch of Warped Tours over the summers. I think my mom was a little afraid that I was getting into punk rock a little too much, but I always came home. I was always a good kid.

Trading Youth Group for a Guitar:

I didn’t go to an actual music school, even though I had the opportunity to do so. I kind of kick myself about that, but I wouldn’t have ended up where I’m at right now. I turned down musical scholarships specifically so I wouldn’t be in a band program. I wanted music to be something that I loved rather than something that I was forced to do or something that I would rely on for money. Which is kind of ironic, because now I’m relying on it for money. I was going get a scholarship to play football, but then I broke my leg senior year. My freshman year of college, instead of playing football, I just bought a guitar off of the youth group leader at the college. After that I stopped going to youth group. So yeah. You know what, sorry, Mom. It was the music.

Discovering New Horizons:

As soon as I got to college, I started reading other books and entertaining other mindsets. This very evangelical Christian way of looking at the world just didn’t hold weight for me anymore. When I realized that identity wasn’t the end all be all for me, I opened myself to new experiences. Yeah. I’ll have a drink. Sure. Why not? I didn’t ever really enjoy getting drunk. I still don’t. That wasn’t the point, but I was free from the constraints of the very small town where I grew up. All my horizons started opening. I’m on my own. Now you couldn’t stop me. I started going to shows every weekend in Portland. I was at all of them, starting mosh pits with my friends. I saw Railroad Earth in a tiny little room at Forest Grove [where I went to college]. I was absorbing everything; I got introduced to reggae. Great, great experiences.

Becoming a Guitarist:

When I picked up the guitar, it was about personal expression. I could play a couple chords at a party. I could play some Jack Johnson for you, but I never really pushed myself to get good at guitar until I graduated college and moved to Portland. My bud was like, “Hey, why don’t you help me write this song.” I was like, “Dude, I actually have this chord progression that I’ve been working on.” And boom, it happened super-fast. Three of us ended up getting a house together and, because we lived together, it was easy. I’d come up with a new guitar riff, and my buddy would say, “Hey, I can write a verse to that.” That’s when I fell in love with playing in a band and being a front guy. We started a band called Outpost and we played together for seven years, toured all over the country.

Using Music to Uncover Emotions:

I have trouble articulating my emotions in real-time. If you ask me, “How do you feel about that?” I can’t tell you right away. I use music to figure out, process, and express my emotions. Sometimes I’ll go through droughts where I’m not writing. And in those times, I honestly don’t know how I’m feeling. Writing music gives me a waypoint to determine how I actually feel. Here’s my song. Boom. I can put it up on the shelf with the rest of the songs and then access and express that feeling every time I play them.

The Origins of World’s Finest:

One night at a party a friend of mine who was in another band picked up an upright bass that just happened to be there, and I picked up an acoustic guitar that just happened to be there, and we both thought, “Hey this sounds pretty good.” We were both in bands that had been playing together for years but hadn’t really made it. Both our bands were doing well in the sense that our communities would show up for us, but we had just been grinding for years. We added a drummer and a saxophone player, and suddenly we had all these options: We could play reggae, we can play bluegrass, we can make it rock, we can make it funk, we can do all these things. That was the start of World’s Finest, and we’ve kept it going for over 10 years.

The Evolution of a Party Band:

At first, we were rowdy. We were a party band. It was outta control in some situations, but it was always a party. You hit a ceiling as a party band. A loud party band is only accessible to, you know, the partyers. After a while, we wanted stretch our legs, slow things down, figure out how tight we could play a super soft song. Add three-part harmonies.

The DIY Ethos:

It’s always been a DIY thing for us. We never actively looked for labels. We never actively looked for management. We book ourselves. Maybe that hurt us in the long run as far as a career is concerned, but we take a lot of pride in how hard we have worked and the amount of time that we’ve put into the music and the community itself.

Staying in Portland:

We had conversations about moving to bigger music towns. For what we’re doing, L.A. doesn’t make sense. New York doesn’t make sense. Nashville’s more of a country scene than a bluegrass scene. Austin kind of makes sense, but Denver would be the spot to go. Colorado is the hub of the jam-funk-bluegrass world right now. So, we talked about going there, but the [Portland] community is so important to who we are and what we do. We’ve put down roots here. We’ve been here for so long that it doesn’t really make sense to move somewhere else. And honestly, I never liked the idea of going somewhere else to get a leg up in the industry. I just felt like, if you’re gonna do your thing, do it in your hometown and make yourself part of the map. We’ve helped build amazing moments and communities. To me that is success.

Being a Breedlove Artist:

I love that they’re from Oregon. I’ve lived here my whole life; I got a tattoo of Oregon on my leg. Quality guitars from sustainable wood sources out of Oregon—that caught my eye immediately. I have loved the sound of the guitars since the first time I played one, and as soon as I hooked up with you guys, it was nothing but respect. I’m a big loyalty guy. If somebody’s gonna be good to me, I’m gonna be good to them right back. You guys have been nothing but good to me from the first moment.