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Though we stumble across plenty of summery singer/songwriters during festival season, most of them seem pretty forgettable by the time winter rolls around. When Kevin Miso came onstage and owned his set during the Doheny Surf Festival in August, his smooth, soulful, acoustic tunes carried bright notes that made it impossible to stand still. Given the glut of rasta-ish acoustic acts in OC, finding one that actually leaves you feeling high from the songs alone is rare. Probably because unlike a lot of his influences, the songs from this Long Beach family man steer clear of the weed-toking, partying lifestyle of some of his musical influences. The results successfully avoid the stoner clichés ascribed to whiteboy reggae.
Instead, Miso's drug of choice has always been travel. Every time he strums his guitar, he has hot, exotic excursions on his mind. "When I started writing music, it was mainly based on surf trips," Miso says. "Then I moved to Seville, Spain, for six months, and that's when I really started writing music. When I hit the road, I get most of my material."
Living in a foreign country proved to be difficult for Miso until he found a way to break communication barriers with the locals. "There was a park across the street from where I was living, and I remember a group of people just hanging out there, so I grabbed my guitar and walked over," recalls Miso. "I could speak Spanish, but not very well at this point, and they couldn't speak English well at all, so I was having a lot of communication breakdowns. But we all ended up hanging out, and I played for them on this random day in the middle of the week. It was a really cool connection."
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It was after this pivotal moment that Miso realized his music was his creative outlet—diary entries for the thoughts fed by a happy, humble attitude with a surfer twist.
"I'm at that point in my career where I have a base of really supportive people," says Miso. "That has been the push I needed to go, 'Okay, I'm going to trust my instincts 200 percent,' as opposed to guessing and hoping what I do works."
Miso draws from such typical inspirations as Bob Marley, Led Zeppelin and Sublime. However, life-changing events such as becoming a father coupled with his traveling itch and humanitarian tendencies give his music a down-to-earth feeling. Onstage, he breathes life into simplistic reggae jams by building beats and compositions on the spot with a loop pedal that creates a striking piecemeal sound that builds slowly. After releasing two EPs—Smile and a self-titled one—he is now gearing up for his first full-length album, due out in spring 2013.
"Recently, I [got] married, and we just had a baby, so a lot of change has happened with that," says Miso. "My son, Kai, has been a huge inspiration and influence the past eight months."
As Kai turns the corner to toddlerhood, Miso often finds himself chasing around the cute, newly mobile mini-grom. "It's a trip to have a career in which you can share your experiences through a certain medium," says Miso. "I write not just about me, but also about a lot of things I connect with friends or strangers over."
Miso's full-length album draws from his jamming-style roots, but has more structure, truncating his 30-minute jams into two- or three-minute tracks. His recent jam partner, Black Crows lead guitarist Marc Ford, collaborated on the album and served as a solid foundation, as well.
"We're basically splashing paint in the studio," said Miso. "We're going to take these strong song formats and really capture the idea, the kind of 'now is the time,' not worrying about later or before, just right now."
This column appeared in print as "A Man for All Seasons."