News Column

The Record, Stockton, Calif., Tony Sauro column

November 28, 2013

YellowBrix

Nov. 28--If Johnny Kosich acts as intensely, enthusiastically -- and rapidly -- as he speaks, things just might get more rocking in Stockton ... a bit.

Maybe more like Chico.

"People said the rent is too high," Kosich said in speedy syntax. "There's no money in it. That's no deterrence. I just wanna bring back the music scene. Just show I'm still thankful for (what) we had here."

That's when the Plea for Peace Center provided a dependable, supportive site for young bands and their fans -- "even if it was just 20 or 30," Kosich said -- to play and hang out in a hassle-free environment.

He's trying to replicate that with Thankfest, a gathering of six bands Friday at Stockton's Empire Theatre.

Final Last Words, Kosich's pop-punk band, plays and he and teenage brother, Jake, perform for the first time together.

"I'm just excited," said Kosich, 24, a singer-songwriter and guitar player. "I know he's very excited. We've been practicing and loving it."

They'll team up on "Summer Life of a Kid," a new song. When he was 13, "Brookside" made Jake, now a 15-year-old Lincoln High School sophomore, a center of YouTube attention (30,000 views).

Jake motivated Johnny, a Lincoln High and San Joaquin Delta College graduate who earned a degree in music industry and technology at California State University, Chico.

"When he told me he was ready, I thought it was a great idea," said Kosich, who returned to Stockton in June after spending three years in Chico. "My brother playing his first show could inspire other people who want to do it to start."

Kosich and Final Last Words -- they played their first show at the Empire -- performed often at Plea for Peace before it closed in August after five years. He'd been acclimated to an energetic music vibe in Chico.

"Every day I would eat, sleep and breathe music," he said. "If I wasn't in school studying music or the business aspects of it, I was at home jamming with my friends. Or the band was playing out-of-town gigs.

"It was a bit of a culture shock to come home to the one venue that was left closing, and having nowhere to put on, play or even attend a show."

Now, he, drummer Derek Blythe, 23, and guitarist Marion Orino, 23 -- both friends from Lincoln High -- and bassist JAvie Cota, 24, a native of Tecate, Mexico, whom Kosich met in Chico, return to the Empire.

While in Chico, Kosich founded DubHouse Presents to "help people break into the music industry," he said. "Help them understand how it works and don't get taken advantage of. What to do. What to look out for. How to build fan bases properly."

Kosich's brother might eventually be a client. Jake is known as the "snake" -- a name given to him spontaneously when, as a 10-year-old, he out-rapped a group of Johnny's friends in an impromptu contest.

As an eighth-grade promotion gift, Kosich bought Jake a recording session at Sacramento's Pus Cavern Studio. A cousin, Brian Dunne (Lost in Time Films), helped them convert it into a "no-budget, backyard" video that generated some intense reactions.

He was 13 and "rapping about Brookside," Kosich said. "Because of how quick it took off and it was talking about Brookside and stuff, ... there were a lot of haters on YouTube saying, 'You're not really from Stockton. You don't know what you're talking about. You're just a boy. You're not as ghetto as we are.'

"It was really funny. A lot of people hating on it when it was saying something positive about Stockton."

Formed as an acoustic duo in 2006, Kosich said Final Last Words "never was meant to be anything. It was just my way of expressing what was in my diaries, journals and blogs and have my music.

"It grew into full membership, tours, getting a house together and putting out records ('Hypothetical Hot Tub Party,' 2010 and 'NORMAL,' 2011)."

The band's biggest followings are in Mexico and Las Vegas: "In Mexico, they tell us, 'I have no idea what you're saying, but I love your music.' "

He'd prefer seeing that more often in Stockton.

Kosich developed his instinct for assisting others from parents John, who owns RJR Transportation in Hayward, and Donna, who teaches at Lincoln's Independent Learning Center. Sister Allison, 23, played water polo at Hartwick College in Oneonta, N.Y., and is an assistant coach at Staten Island's Wagner College.

Kosich, who worked at United Cerebral Palsy for three years, now helps others at Stockton's Person Centered Services, where he's been teaching guitar and assisting with vocational training for six months.

He wants to regenerate some musical smiles, too.

"That was really tough and sad on so many levels," he said of Plea for Peace Center's closing. "I have friends who wanna play Stockton. Now, there's nowhere to put them. There are a lot of struggles in life, but ... we get through everything better through the eyes of an optimist."

Contact Tony Sauro at (209) 546-8267 or tsauro@recordnet.com. Follow him on Twitter @TSauroRecord.

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