PSA: Queue up this Ocean Beach singer-songwriter’s debut EP to start 2021 on a good note
Paige Koehler shares her experience on the San Diego music scene, surviving the pandemic with her guitar, and staying positive in the new year
Ever wondered what Jack Johnson and Vampire Weekend playing beach volleyball together would be like? According to Paige Koehler, her music would be the soundtrack.
Koehler, who lives in Ocean Beach, released her debut EP “Sorry I’m Late” last month. At times, the 28-minute experience does in fact feel like those two bands are playing volleyball at the beach. Other times, though, it takes the form of a carefree ride down Newport Avenue, or moments of reflection perched on the bluffs of Sunset Cliffs.
While the music is light and breezy, her words are soaked with emotion. Koehler’s lyricism is rooted in her own lived experiences; nearly all of the songs on the EP are recollections of her younger years. Her writing explores the ebbs and flows of life, exposing the highest highs and lowest lows, in a way that’s both personal and relatable.
“It’s just been like a culmination of trying to tie in rhythmic, and seemingly simple, melodies and guitar riffs, while layering it with lyricism that hits home, is truthful and actually touches people ... and of course I want people to dance and have a good time,” she said.
Koehler’s journey began in her home state of New Jersey. The lifelong singer got her hands on a guitar at 15 years old, taught herself four basic chords, and began writing “teeny-bopper angsty songs.” Her sound matured once she moved out west and enrolled at San Diego State University, where she became involved in the local house show circuit.
“Playing house shows has really shaped me as a performer, I think because it can be awkward — like you’re so close to these people; you’re in their living rooms (or backyards),” she said. “You have to interact with them and gauge their energy and what they’re responding to and pivot your show around what they need. It’s much more fun that way.”
In her senior year of college, Koehler formed a band with a few musician friends and ended up winning SDSU’s Battle of the Bands competition. As a result, her group had the opportunity to open up for pop singers Jeremih and Tinashe at Cal Coast Credit Union Open Air Theatre, a stage with a history of hosting various heavy hitters in the music industry.
“It was amazing — we were (about) 20 years old, so to even go backstage at such a prestigious venue like that ... it was definitely pivotal in (seeing) the opportunities that are possible,” she said.
After graduating with a degree in public administration, the connections she made in college — coupled with her go-getter attitude — translated to various music gigs around San Diego, primarily in bars, cafes and restaurants.
Though the never-say-no attitude was exhausting, that commitment helped establish herself in the scene where she met individuals influential to her music journey. Jesse Orlando of the local band MDRN HSTRY was one of these early supporters.
He dropped his business card in her guitar case while she was performing at the Pacific Beach Farmers’ Market a few years ago. From there, Orlando invited Koehler to jam at Garage Mahal, a local practice space where San Diegan musicians set up live video sessions, as well as network, write songs and “just jam” together.
“It’s this garage full of memorabilia; they require you to bring one object that means something to you (to put on the wall) — it could be something really meaningful or really silly,” Koehler said. “You just walk into this garage full of life, full of memories for people.”
“It’s an exciting, really cool, really intimate setting — you just feel confident in there to do whatever you feel and experiment a little lyrically or on a new instrument,” she continued, noting a memory of her and MDRN HSTRY’s vocalist Shae Smith freestyling a song about his cat.
Garage Mahal has become a community for Koehler and a place she credits for helping her grow as a musician and develop confidence, especially as a woman in the music scene. That growth led to an exciting next step: making her debut EP. The eight-track “Sorry I’m Late” was released on Dec. 30 — a self-imposed deadline she set “to end the year on a good note.”
Koehler began recording the EP in 2019 at a local studio and collaborated with a few musicians she met through Garage Mahal. Though the majority of the work was complete before COVID-19 hit, approximately 25 percent was recorded in her bedroom closet. While challenging, Koehler said the unexpected turn of events helped her develop more discipline and learn new production skills.
Like many musicians in San Diego, Koehler approaches music as her “side hustle slash passion project” and holds a full-time job in the travel/hospitality industry. Once 6 p.m. hits, though, music becomes her second job.
In her song “Getting Busy,” she penned the line, “Find the thing you love and chase it until it makes you tired.” After chasing music for nearly a decade, including juggling (pre-pandemic) gigs with a traditional 9 to 5 job, has Koehler’s passion started to take a toll on her?
“Doing music after my job almost gives me the rejuvenation that I need ... I’m not dragged down by music; I never feel like I’m so tired I can’t do it,” she said.
2020 actually helped Koehler find more balance, and she looks forward to picking up her guitar every night after a long day in front of her computer. Rather than focus on organizing livestream concerts during quarantine, Koehler has taken advantage of the extra time at home to practice her craft, including writing and self-recording demos.
Koehler may be looking on the bright side, but that doesn’t mean she’s not eager for San Diego music venues to open up so she can start gigging again.
“I cannot wait for the energy of that first show (post COVID-19) — I can’t even imagine what that feels like anymore,” she said. “But I think the patience that we’ve all had to learn right now is just going to make our first shows and our return that much greater. You gotta stay positive, but I can’t wait to just practice and come out swinging.”
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