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Blazing with KO

Toronto-based urban folk artist sings of struggles of addiction on debut album, Let’s Blaze

Who: KO

When: Saturday, May 15, __ p.m.

Where: GLC

People usually write and sing about what they know and what they've lived, exploring themes of love and loss. But musician Ko Kapaches - or just KO - likes to get a little more "real" with his material.

"My personal opinion is that love and loss has been done to fucking death," KO said. "I love you, you love me, who cares, man? There's more in the world out there than love. Soft music makes me want to blow my brains out; you've got to give people the realness."

He pauses.

"That's probably why I love rap so much, because it's a guy who's got nothing, giving his all."

KO doesn't make rap, but he knows how to keep it real. Raised in a middle-class Greek family in Toronto, KO fell into the trap of selling and using a rainbow of drugs at a young age, a lifestyle that ultimately landed him in a series of rehabilitation centres throughout the U.S.

"It wasn't fun," he sighed. "When I was 14, I had just started getting into drugs and then I got shipped to rehab shortly after that."

But rehab didn't seem to stick; he attended three separate programs, graduating from just one. Instead, he's discovered a personal rehab in his own music, signing to Atlantic Records in the U.S. and releasing his debut album, Let's Blaze , last year. The project is an honest, introspective account of KO's struggle to overcome drug addiction.

"My record, I call it a therapy session," KO said. "It's like my craziness all put down on disc.

"I've been to many AA meetings and all that stuff - and it's not my thing. I don't like attend and go - but the most important thing they say is that if you don't realize you've made those mistakes you're going to keep making them, and talking about them is the best way to realize you screwed up, so..."

His lyrics are greatly influenced by the personal struggles he's endured with drugs and living in the streets.

"I like to think of myself as a folk musician. But I'm not singing about country folk things, I'm singing about city folk things. I didn't come from an impoverished background, but I still see things on the street every day," his bio reads.

The process of assembling such a personal project wasn't easy.

"Putting (the album) together was as hard as it was to write everything, you know? My next one is probably going to be a little happier because I have more happy stuff to talk about."

Musically, it's difficult to put a finger on KO's style: a self-described folk musician, he started off rapping. There's still a strong urban element to many of his songs (just take a listen to Drunk on his My Space page).

"I go from rock to reggae to rap, and I think if it sounds good, it's good! I just like to mix it up and test things out."

But almost all of the genres he draws on are heavily based on rhythm.

"If there's no thump to it I'm probably not going to be feelin' it," he added.

His personal musical influences are vast and varied, as well. While he's a fan of mainstream rap he also admires artists like Everlast, Kid Rock, Ani DiFranco, Thelonious Monk, Van Morrison and Neil Young. So it makes sense that his style is eclectic.

But none of these artists is on heavy rotation in his CD player right now. Rather, he's listening closely to a collaborative side project he's working on with a new crew, Unknown Nation, made up of himself, female vocalist Kendall Thompson and rapper Unknown Misery.

"We cook all the stuff up in-house and its like sampled but not sampled, because we sample live instruments, and it's just funky ass stuff!"

KO just kicked off a tour of Western Canada, playing two "phenomenal" sold-out gigs in Edmonton and Calgary over the weekend before making his way to Whistler to perform at the GLC on Saturday night.

"Great people, wicked crowd; I love Alberta... they're all really good people. Its not like Toronto where there's hate mixed into the love, its just all love out here."

KO is no stranger to the West Coast of Canada. In fact, in many ways, he feels his musical sound and style resonate better with the crowds here than at home.

"I think the record, Let's Blaze , it just clicked; it just made perfect sense. I didn't have to explain it to the West Coast - they're like, 'Let's Blaze? You got it,'" he laughed. "Like I said, the vibe out here is just so different. People just want to have a good time, life's too short to be stressed and hating on things."

So far, KO has opened for Ill Scarlett, Swollen Members and Ash Grunwald. Since releasing Let's Blaze last year he's also had the opportunity to perform alongside some pretty major names, including Snoop Dogg and De La Soul.

Next up, KO's set to play an après session at the GLC to celebrate the opening of the Whistler Mountain Bike Park, playing an afternoon set before the Vancouver-based Metallica cover band, Damage Inc., takes the stage for an evening set.