New chapter for Paige Koehler: Ocean Beach singer-songwriter puts out her debut EP
The San Diego State grad shares her experiences on the local 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,” in December. At times, the eight-track, 28-minute experience does 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 experiences; nearly all 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,” she said. “And, of course, I want people to dance and have a good time.”
Koehler’s journey began in New Jersey, her home state. The lifelong singer got her hands on a guitar at age 15, taught herself four basic chords and began writing “teeny-bopper angsty songs.” Her sound matured once she moved 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 friends and ended up winning SDSU’s Battle of the Bands competition. As a result, her group had the opportunity to open for pop singers Jeremih and Tinashe at the 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 and restaurants.
Though it was exhausting, that commitment helped establish Koehler in the scene where she met people influential to her music journey. Jesse Orlando of the local band Mdrn Hstry was one of those 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 Diego musicians set up live video sessions as well as network, write songs and 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 said, noting a memory of her and Mdrn Hstry 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 making her debut EP. “Sorry I’m Late” was released 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, about 25 percent was recorded in her bedroom closet. Koehler said the unexpected turn of events, while challenging, helped her develop more discipline and learn new production skills.
Like many musicians in San Diego, Koehler approaches music as her “side hustle/passion project.” She 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 wrote 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.
The tumult of 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 livestreamed concerts during quarantine, Koehler has taken advantage of the extra time at home to practice her craft, including writing and self-recording demos.
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.”