The Karmanauts

Tell us about yourself. 
We (Michael Stephenson, Dominic Romano, and Sam Kaplan-Good) are based out of Humboldt County, California in the beautiful redwood forests along the coast.  All three of us studied music in college and have worked as studio musicians or engineers and are now thrilled to be recording and producing this original music together.

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Tell us about yourself as an artist. 

I (Michael Stephenson) write most of the songs for The Karmanauts either alone or with friends. I have played in many professional groups of various genres (rock, reggae, salsa, calypso, jazz, classical, among others) but have always found myself gravitating back to rock and pop, which are the styles that first made me excited about music as a child.

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Tell us about the genre of your music. 

Our music could probably be described like this:  40% rock; 40% indie pop; 10% reggae/ska; 10% other. We also think of it like The Beatles+U2+David Bowie+Sublime +Vampire Weekend+Death Cab for Cutie.  But we have so many other influences as well.

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Tell us about the story behind your song. 

I wrote “Phantoms” with my very good friend Gabe Lubowe, an incredibly talented musician who is also a former piano student of mine from years ago (I taught him when I was about 17 and he was about 7 — he then went on to study at Berklee School of Music and now has made quite a reputation for himself as a jazz pianist).  Gabe showed me this beautiful acoustic guitar intro he’d written and from there I came up with a vocal melody and a chorus.  We then spent several days at my house writing the lyrics and refining the music.  We hope the lyrics are broad enough that everyone can find the best meaning for oneself, but I think for us the song is about mindfulness and awareness of ourselves and the earth and finding peace within and without. And certainly there are some elements of being grateful for our environment and nature.

I live close to Moonstone Beach and that inspired the line “your voice is gold and your eyes are moonstone” which ended up being everyone’s favorite lyric from the album. That, and the fact that we recorded most of the album at my home studio near Moonstone Beach (which we now call Moonstone Studios) inspired us to name the album “Moonstone.”

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Tell us about the problems you are facing as a musician. 

For better or for worse, there is so much competition in music these days. I think that all of us are being constantly bombarded by information and it is hard to rise above that as an artist or a band and get noticed. And then of course there’s an expectation by so many people that music should be free, which can make the economics of it pretty near impossible. But for me the best part of The Karmanauts is that we’ve just decided to go for it and make the best music we possibly can afford to make, and we don’t worry about whether we will sell enough to make a profit.  At this point we just want to be able to die knowing that we made the best music we possibly could and that it was recorded for people to listen to for a long time. Perhaps our work will be most widely appreciated after we are gone, like Johann Bach or Jeff Buckley!

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Tell us about the recording and production of the song. 

I sang all the vocal parts and played all the instruments, with the exception of the drums.  Dominic engineered everything and added the cool sound effects and samples.  Sam kept the drum parts super simple which was absolutely perfect for this song. Gabe Lubowe had this great idea for us to use a reverse reverb-like effect on the vocal to lead into the chorus like Red Hot Chili Peppers have used and Dominic executed it in the mix perfectly.  For the most part, the song (and the entire Moonstone album) was recorded at my studio, with the exception of Sam’s drum parts which were recorded at a great local studio called Bongo Boy (Dominic is the chief engineer at Bongo Boy which is run by Jimmy Foot and Susie Foot; Sam and I regularly work as session musicians at Bongo Boy).

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List the names of blogs, radio or TV stations that have supported you so far. 

We’ve been incredibly fortunate to have been supported by Mystic Sons, The Mikecast, AT Radio, KHSU, Velvety, Keep Walking Music, The Drunken Coconut, Sensei Movement, WXRY Unsigned, and Gas Mask Magazine.

We have also been contacted by a few very cool labels including Dazed Music, UnWanted Records, World Music Stage Records, and Milwaukee Junction Records who have been very supportive and encouraging.

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Tell us more about your music career, experience and future goals. 

I’ve worked as a session musician in the San Francisco Bay Area and in Humboldt County since about 2001 and have been fortunate to record and perform with some amazing artists.  Aside from The Karmanauts, I currently play in the Afro-Cuban ensemble Timbata and the folk rock quartet Secret Club.

My goal is basically to be the best musician and songwriter that I can possibly be and to keep recording and playing music with my friends and to hopefully release music that really helps people think and to feel more hopeful and optimistic about the future.

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Brief us what inspires you to write, compose and sing. 

I definitely get inspired by current events as well as by significant events (both bad and good) in my personal life, and in the lives of people close to me.  And of course, watching and listening to great musicians and songwriters inspires me as well.
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Brief us the top-secret behind making a hit song. 

I believe that the best songs strike just the right balance between simple/familiar and interesting/new.
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Tell the kind of advice you will give to an upcoming artist. 

Learn as much as you can.  Don’t stop taking lessons. Just because you are a professional doesn’t mean your educational journey is finished. Keep taking music lessons, take songwriting lessons, find new ways to practice, watch lectures online, take advantage of new technologies for practicing/learning/creating, do it all!  And practice songwriting just like you would practice singing or playing an instrument.

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Discuss at length your music careers, albums, songs, tours, recognition or awards you might have obtained. 

Dominic is an engineer, producer, musician and singer-songwriter. He started his musical career at the age of 5 on the violin, and continued to branch out into a diverse range of styles upon taking up the guitar and singing. He graduated Bennington College with a degree in Recording Arts & Sound Design and worked as an assistant engineer at several studios around the country before becoming Chief Engineer at Bongo Boy Studios in 2015. He has worked in a diverse range of styles including folk, pop, jazz, funk, rock, hip hop, classical, country, bluegrass, reggae, world, and all of the best genre-defying projects in between. He also plays both solo and with the band The Gatehouse Well.

Sam studied music at Humboldt State University and has not only played with and managed the Eureka Symphony but is also a member of bands including The Trouble, Ghost Train, and The Desert Line.

I have worked as a studio musician locally and in the Bay Area since 2001 and have a degree in Music Theory/Ethnomusicology from Brown University, Rhode Island. I have performed and recorded professionally with many rock, pop, reggae, calypso, salsa, jazz, folk, and country groups and artists.

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Tell us how you write your lyrics, compose, sing and record in the studio. 

It is different every time.  Sometimes a melody and a phrase pop into my head and I write a song around it.  Sometimes I come up with a chord progression I like and the melody and lyrics come later.  Other times I’ll be inspired to write about a topic and the music then follows after the lyrics.  There have even been times where we just hit “record” and we don’t even have a plan or a song.

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Name the artists you are willing to collaborate with. 

Honestly, I’d be happy to collaborate with anyone who (1) is willing to give their all to the music, (2) has put their 10,000 hours into music, and (3) wants to make music that will provide the best possible experience to the listener as well as to the musicians involved.  Aside from that, we’d love to collaborate with Jacob Collier, Weezer, Jack Johnson, Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Paul McCartney, Randy Newman, Ed Sheeran, Lana Del Ray, Death Cab for Cutie, and The War on Drugs.

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State the links to your social networks and stores for purchase of your songs. 

Bandcamp

thekarmanauts.bandcamp.com/releases

Twitter

twitter.com/The_Karmanauts

Website

theKarmanauts.com

Facebook

facebook.com/thekarmanauts/

Soundcloud

soundcloud.com/thekarmanauts

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Tell us about your happiest day and saddest day. 

That’s a tough one. It’s probably like a 10-way tie for saddest events and a 100-way tie for happiest.

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Tell us how you will spend a million dollars. 

We’d hire a bunch of our favorite songwriters and musicians; to come and help us to try and record the greatest album of all time!

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Tell us about your song. 

“Phantoms” is probably the mellowest song on our debut album, “Moonstone”, but possibly our favorite as well.  People seem to be drawn to it and we are thrilled about that.

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Tell us how you manage other activities with your music career. 

Writing everything down and keeping a calendar; and not committing to too many things!

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Tell us five artists you can regard as legends. 

I can’t speak for Dominic and Sam but hopeful they won’t think I’m crazy if I say:  The Beatles, The Beach Boys, NG La Banda, Los Van Van, and Townes Van Zandt.

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Tell us your future plans pertaining music. 

We are already well on our way with our second album.  We are probably about 50% complete at this point and are VERY happy with it so far!

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Tell us what you think about creativity and originality in music. 

Obviously creativity and originality are extremely important in music.  However, balance is everything and the original elements of a song must be balanced with the familiar.  And sometimes you can’t just wait for creativity as an artist, and instead need to just go “ok, I’m going to write/play/practice something now.”

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Tell us the reason you are into music. 

Music can transform life. It can turn a bad day into a good day.  It can make you think about things in a different way. It can create hope where there was none.

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Tell us your view on old school music and new school music in terms of preference. 

Personally, I tend to prefer older music on average.  However, every once in a while a new song or artist emerges that just blows my mind.

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Tell us your most memorable day as an artist. 

The first day I played rock music with other musicians (as opposed to with recordings).  Being in a room with a real drum-set being played by a real person while I was playing my guitar was a life-changing experience.

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Tell us what you would do for the people if you found yourself in a position of power. 

If I could, I’d solve the problem of inequality, in all its various forms (income, gender, racial, environmental, species, etc.).  That would be amazing and I believe it would in turn solve a million other problems that we might not ordinarily think of as problems related to inequality.

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