Local music: Karate Coyote

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From the September 27, 2012 edition

Upon forming in 2007, Columbus pop-rock combo Karate Coyote became the toast of the city’s music scene. They opened for major touring artists, got into regular rotation on CD102.5 and attracted all sorts of attention from the kind of people looking to launch (or ride) a band to stardom. 2010 debut album “Inner Animals,” was a shiny, punchy pop record with promise.

They were racing up a mountain until all of the sudden they were falling off a cliff.

“After ‘Inner Animals,’ it just seemed like it went from super-fast, things were happening and things can happen, looking forward on the horizon — and then it went from that to almost like rock bottom,” singer-guitarist Ryan Horn said.

First came the sudden departure of singer Sam Corlett in summer 2010 to focus on visual art and her other band, Maza Blaska. Karate Coyote was not prepared to exist without Corlett, a key architect and core component of the group’s sound, so the band scrambled to replace her with April Kitchen, a friend of Horn’s.

It wasn’t a good fit. Kitchen later found a vehicle for her theater background and abrasive punk sensibilities in Slave Labia, but she never quite jibed with Karate Coyote’s gleaming pop-rock sound. Earlier this year, she quit.

After two years of confusion and stalled attempts to progress, the remaining members were discouraged. Their situation resembled one of those movies where the popular kid in high school has to learn what it’s like to approach life’s challenges like everyone else.

“It’s just hard to go from being what I would consider kind of Columbus’ baby,” Horn said. “We don’t have this buzz anymore. The buzz we had is lost. It’s like we’re starting new.”

Starting from scratch five years into your career is daunting, especially when you’ve invested so much hope in your band. Losing a second lead singer was a requiem for Karate Coyote: Were they up for slugging it out?

You can probably see where this is going. As guitarist Eric Vescelius put it, they loved being Karate Coyote, no matter how many people were paying attention.

“It was kind of this super-cliché ‘Varsity Blues’ sort of moment, like, ‘Go team!’ We want this still,” Horn said.

One factor in the decision to forge ahead was the blooming of keyboardist Kendra Jados, a timid presence who tended to be outshined by Corlett and Kitchen. In the past two years, Jados came into her own as a performer. Furthermore, she knew Kitchen’s parts well enough to pare Karate Coyote’s three-way vocal attack down to two. They’ve been rehearsing as a five-piece and feeling formidable.

That said, Kitchen was deeply involved as the band honed its songwriting, and she’s all over the self-titled album Karate Coyote is releasing with a show Friday at Skully’s. A tightly wound web of guitars, keyboards and voices, it’s a document of a transitional period the band emerged from intact, ready to begin climbing again.

“I think it’s the best thing we’ve ever written thus far,” Horn said. “And I hope we have a chance to make another record and to feel that way about that record.”