Winnetka Bowling League
Images and Video by Jan-Willem Dikkers
“I think, like most storytellers, it always helps to have a place
or a foundation for where the stories and the characters exist.
And Los Angeles naturally was it, because it’s where I had my roots.”
— Matthew Koma
Winnetka Bowling League
LA-based indie rock band Winnetka Bowling League comprises singer and guitarist Matthew Koma, his brother Kris Mazzaris (drums), Maddie Lough (bass), Blake Straus (guitar) and Sam Beresford (keys). They signed to major label RCA shortly after forming, and released their debut self-titled EP in 2018.
With most of Winnetka Bowling League’s members growing up in the San Fernando Valley, it’s no surprise that the area’s culture, history and geography are woven deeply into the band’s sunny guitar pop. Their debut self-titled EP—which was written, ironically, in New York—bursts with Californian imagery, referencing The Beach Boys, gym junkies and, of course, freeways. The EP’s first single “On The 5” has found fans at KCRW and The LA Times—the latter calling it an “undeniably anthemic pop song.” Fittingly, the video for the song was filmed along Ventura Blvd, LA, and stars Elisha Yaffe (who played Lance on the AMC TV series Better Call Saul). The band talks with us about surviving the city, how geography impacts their sound, and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
Where are you from?
Sam Beresford: I’m from Orange County.
Matthew Koma: We’re collectively from the Los Angeles area, mainly the valley.
Kris Mazzaris: Austin.
Maddie Lough: I’m from the Valley.
Blake Straus: I was born and raised in the Valley.
Matthew Koma: So, a lot of valley. It’s the best part of Los Angeles. Nobody will ever argue that fact, ever.
When did you start making music?
MK: Together we started making music very recently. But separately we’ve all had our music endeavors for years and years; different bands, different projects and stuff. This is sort of a newly formed thing. In a word, we don’t know each other at all—likes, dislikes, preferences, what we smell like in a van after a long time. We don’t know these things yet. But we will.
Who did you listen to growing up?
MK: I grew up on a lot of singer-songwriters; a lot of Elvis Costello, Springsteen, Tom Waits. I love storytellers, and grew up playing in a lot of bands, so it’s kind of a mixed bag. Kris played in a bunch of hardcore bands growing up, so he comes from one end of the spectrum, and then the opposite is our own parents’ music. So, a little bit of everything.
“I think that’s a big part of surviving in Los Angeles—finding your group and finding your people.”
— Matthew Koma
How did you get started?
MK: We all have pretty individual stories, but for the most part, we all started at a pretty young age. And I grew up in a really musical household. Kris played drums.
KM: I still play drums.
MK: He still tries to play drums. He’s actually a shaker expert, so for any of your shaker needs, questions … he’s the guy. So email him. You can contact him and he’ll consult on any and all shaker problems. So Kris plays drums, I play guitar, and we’ve just always jammed together. That was our childhood. Instead of toys we had musical instruments. Our parents forced us.
What felt like your first break?
MK: I don’t know if you ever feel like there’s a break. I feel like any time you get to one mountain top you get a different view, and then you’re looking at the other mountain top that you’re not at yet. So I don’t know that I’ve ever experienced this moment, of like, “Oh, we’ve made it.” I think everything’s a real win for this band in particular, because the music is something I care so deeply about—every fan, every time there’s a little win, it feels like a really big victory. But your eyes are always set on what the next thing is. Not that that’s the healthiest thing in the world, but it’s definitely how my brain works.
How did you decide that this is what you were going to do?
MK: Blake, how did you decide you were going to play music?
BS: It chose me.
MK: Good answer. As opposed to the Boy Scouts?
BS: As opposed to the Boy Scouts. It was one of two outlets, and this seemed a lot cooler.
ML: Little did you know.
BS: Little did I know how wrong I was.
MK: Maddie, you’ve been playing since you were pretty young, right?
ML: Yeah. I started playing violin when I was four. But that didn’t go so well.
MK: I played clarinet really young. I used to throw it down the stairs at my school in hopes of breaking it so I wouldn’t have to play it.
“Your eyes are always set on what the next thing is. Not that that’s the healthiest thing in the world, but it’s definitely how my brain works.”
— Matthew Koma
What life events have impacted you and your music the most?
MK: I don’t know that there’s any one event. I think when you’re in music, it’s sort of just this long expression that continues throughout. So that whatever you’re experiencing, you filter through these goggles and it comes out the other side. I think it’s a series of events that continuously influence or dictate a direction, or provide some inspiration.
What’s the story behind the name, “Winnetka Bowling League”?
MK: I’m on a bowling league in Winnetka, called the Winnetka Bowling League. You can put the rest together.
So tell me a bit about your debut self-titled EP that you just released.
MK: It’s kind of our first little dive into the pool to start swimming. First five songs written and first five songs recorded to start letting people know who we are and what we do. But it’s a little bit of our calling card, I guess. Just a, “Hey, check it out. This is what it sounds like. This is who we are.”
What role does California and Los Angeles play in your music?
MK: I think lyrically it was the backdrop for a lot of stuff, which is kind of ironic because most of this EP was written in New York after having lived in Los Angeles for ten years. I think, like most storytellers, it always helps to have a place or a foundation for where the stories and the characters exist. And this naturally was it, because it’s where I had my roots.
All of us have, obviously, come here from different places, but once you’re here long enough, it sort of just becomes home, because it is a very mixing pot of a place where you meet a lot of people who aren’t necessarily from here, but who find their groups to make it their own. I think this is, lyrically, kind of about that experience, whether it’s the characters in it, or the actual place. And it’s playing a little bit with the stereotypes of what California is and not taking it so seriously. I think that’s a big part of surviving in Los Angeles—finding your group and finding your people.
What are some things that are important to you that you like to address through your music?
MK: I don’t know that I ever think about that. I think the music is to be interpreted by the listener, for the most part, so you could share your experience and you hope to find an audience that subscribes to that perspective so they can go through their life experience. But I don’t know that I ever think about the purpose of trying to communicate anything lyrically, it’s just an honest perspective of what it is I’m feeling or experiencing, and hoping that just connects in a way.
Who would you most like to collaborate with, and why?
MK: Elvis Costello would be pretty cool, because he’s cool. We could talk about glasses.
Californian musician Stephan Jenkins (b. 1964) is best known as the lead singer, songwriter, and guitarist for the rock band Third Eye Blind. All five of the band’s albums ranked in the top 40 of Billboard’s Top Album Sales chart, including Third Eye Blind (1997), Blue (1999), Out of the Vein (2003), Ursa Major (2009) and Dopamine (2015).
BS: Aren’t you forgetting Stephan Jenkins?
MK: I’m so sorry. I only want to work with Stephan Jenkins. Singer of the band Third Eye Blind. I sell T-shirts with his name on it. Just reach out to Winnetka Bowling League with your size and your color preference and I will hand-make them for you. I actually have a piece of art drawn by Stephan Jenkins. There’s the certificate of authenticity on the back. It’s right next to my picture of Costello.
BS: That’s our collaboration wall.
MK: It’s our mood board.
ML: Stephan Jenkins, Elvis Costello, Godzilla, sushi.
“I don’t know that I ever think about the purpose of trying to communicate anything lyrically. It’s just an honest perspective of what it is I’m feeling or experiencing, and hoping that just connects in a way.”
— Matthew Koma
What are your interests and passions outside of music?
MK: I like bowling. Hiking, dogs, sippy cups. Food.
SB: Escape rooms.
All: Escape rooms!
MK: We love escape rooms. That’s been our band bonding experience. I’m terrible at them; they’re great at them.
SB: Everybody plays their part.
KM: Flashlight not important.
MK: Yeah. I wear the jackets.
What’s your favorite book, film, and music right now?
MK: What to Expect When You’re Expecting. That’s my favorite book right now. I’m three weeks from a child, so that makes sense.
ML: The book is way better than the film.
BS: Way better.
MK: The film can be seen on my Instagram over the course of the next sixteen to twenty-five years.
BS: Soundtrack is questionable.
KM: I just watched Rampage twice on Delta.
SB: With Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson?
KM: It’s really good.
ML: I just found out that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Vin Diesel are not the same person.