It’s pretty tough to go wrong with bluegrass. The genre’s sun- and moonshine-soaked sound seems to fall nicely on the ears of a demographic vaster than the Great Smokies.
Anyone who’s been on Maui for a piece has probably come across Haiku Hillbillys, the Upcountry outfit that puts a Maui spin this mountain-born genre. Fronted by Randall Rospond, the ‘Billys have played as a three-piece as well as a full band for five years. They usually have a steady gig at Hana Hou Café in Haiku, and Rospond can often be found jamming at Mulligan’s on the blue in Wailea.
Rospond and crew will take the stage at Charley’s in Paia this Friday to celebrate theeir latest release. The disc comprises 12 original songs the band recorded at various places throughout Maui, both live and in the studio.
While Rospond calls the band’s style “bumpkin,” those expecting a full-blown hoedown this Friday may want to leave their washboards and clay jugs on the lanai.
The ‘Billys may incorporate some bluegrass elements into their songs, among them staccato mandolin strums and 1-4-5 chord progressions, but by no means are they riding on Ralph Stanley’s coattails.
Tom Conway (of Gypsy Pacific fame) adds electrifying, jammy guitar leads throughout, and violinist John Pollock enforces the band’s roots with winding solos between verses. Drummer Jimmy C provides solid beats that give another dimension to some of the disc’s tracks.
Two instrumentals, “West Kuiaha” and “Kahakuloa Sunrise,” are aptly named tunes that evoke images of landscape.
Fans of Dylan, New Riders of the Purple Sage and the Allman Brothers will certainly enjoy themselves this Friday, though I have a feeling the Haiku Hillbillys have accrued a following in their own right. KB
Friday, October 10, 10pm, Charley’s, Paia, 579-9668
Paula Fuga loves Maui. It’s been two years since Maui Time caught up with Fuga, and in that time she’s played at the Maui County Fair, the Maui Arts and Cultural Center and thrown a music festival, the Lilikoi Fair, at Mulligan’s on the Blue. But it’s not just the rainforest that draws her here; it’s our music scene that she prefers. “No other island roots harder than Maui,” she says. “The people of Maui are leagues ahead of Oahu on supporting new music. Oahu folks expect covers, but the Maui people really truly love original music.”
Fuga’s career began just over four years ago in a whirlwind that included a cameo appearance on American Idol as a rejected auditioner. That experience led to her meeting her business partner, Spencer Toyama, starting her own label, Pakipika Productions, and releasing her first album, Lilikoi, in 2006. Now she has just come off of touring with Jack Johnson on the West Coast. “I never would have been invited by Jack if I hadn’t been promoting myself and playing on the West Coast,” she says. “A lot of artists don’t take that risk. Early in my career I had thought that playing Kapiolani Community College music festival was the pinnacle. So after I did it, I thought, where do I go from here? I had to reevaluate. Now the sky is the limit. As far as my music will take me, I will go.”
Right now Paula is working with the ten piece roots band Dubkonscious and looking forward to releasing their first album, At the Foot of the Mountain, produced by Punahele Productions. Fuga is deep into the underground reggae music scene in Oahu along with about a dozen other roots bands that play regularly. These bands don’t have any commercial backing, no mainstream radio play, no large scale distribution connections. There is also an underground support network forming with the Hawaii Reggae Guild and KTUH, the University of Hawaii Manoa student radio station. “Without this support we wouldn’t even be a movement,” says Fuga. “Compared to the number of people on Oahu the movement seems small. But on Maui people are really into it.”
The music industry has a reputation for being image driven and money hungry, a business that promises overnight stardom if you look the part. Rather than get caught up in this, Fuga says she makes the music that comes from her heart while trying to please her hardest critic: herself. During a recent trip to the Kauai Music Festival, many artists asked her how to get their music out. “They were in disbelief when I tell them they have to promote themselves,” Fuga recalls. “Everyone thinks Hollywood is instant, and you will become famous like magic.” She says next year she is coming back to the festival to head seminars to teach musicians to drive their own destinies, to encourage more independent labels, and more self-promotion.
“I see the light at the end of the tunnel and I am in control of it. I am active in the music scene and I don’t want to lose momentum,” says Fuga. “I can look over a contract and I can negotiate a contract.” Fuga is currently working on a new album, writing songs, revisiting poetry and meditating on past and present experiences. “I am really sensitive—I don’t let anyone listen to my drafts. If any songs are in an unfinished state, I am not comfortable playing them in front of anyone,” she says.
Paula says Lilikoi was inspired by falling in love and winning her man’s heart. “Now that I won the guy, this next album won’t have as many love songs,” she says. “But I am really looking forward to writing about what is important to me.”
She is not the only one looking forward to her new songs. Jack Johnson’s label Brushfire Records is onboard to collaborate and offer studio time, as are some of the members of Jack’s team including producer Robert Carranza and bass player Merlo Podlewski.
Paula is committed to her musical independence, and making it all work within the reach of her own diligence. “Success for me is how I am able to grow as a person,” she says. “I don’t look at myself as a musician first, I am a person first. If you only look at a dollar amount as success then you are already unsuccessful.”
Friday, October 10, 9pm, Mulligan’s on the Blue, Wailea, 874-1131
He is probably one of the most accomplished musicians to come out of Maui, but at the moment music is keeping award-winning guitarist and singer Willie Kahaiali’i (better known as Willie K) a little too occupied to rest on his laurels. In the past decade he has released eight records and won ten Na Hoku Hano Hano awards. He also plays pretty much any festival that occurs on Maui. With his talent comes versatility; he is able to play in pretty much any mode you throw his way be it blues, classical or slack key. This week he plays two shows on island. The first takes place Sunday at Maui Mall as part of its free autumn concert series. (We’ll forgive MM for dubbing this “ a super shopper event with Willie K.” This time.) The show will benefit Hui O Wa’a Kaulua, a nonprofit that Uncle Willie heads. The following Wednesday Willie K brings his tunes to Mulligan’s on the Blue in Wailea for a 21-and-over set. KB
Sunday, October 12, 12-1pm, Maui Mall Center Stage, Kahului
Wednesday, October 15, 8-10pm, Mulligan’s On The Blue, Wailea, 874-1131
Somewhere at this very moment there is a young woman ascending a small stage, plugging in her guitar and adjusting the mic stand to suit her height. She may commence fingerpicking, reciting T.S. Elliott’s The Wasteland over power chords or playing a theremin with her tongue. No matter, for when the night is done the same old tired comparisons will fly: Jewel, Alanis Morrissette, Sarah McLaughlin. It takes a lot for female singer-songwriters to overcome the swift pigeonholing they usually endure, but Maui Battle of the Bands 2008 winner Erin Smith doesn’t let it faze her. She may take the stage in a party dress and high heels, but Smith says she’s a rock and roller through and through.
How did you get started playing?
I started playing violin when I was really little. We have one of those great big, sprawling, musical families. So I did violin until I was about fourteen… I didn’t really pick up guitar until I was seventeen or something, because I kept being the lead singer in bands and I was getting bored.
When did you start writing music?
There’s a handful of terrible songs from when I was like, you know, ten. But you just develop… I started seriously playing my own songs out and about in mid-high school.
Have you been playing out the entire time you’ve lived on Maui?
When I first got here [four years ago], some buddies down here were really cool with me. I hadn’t been here three days before I played a gig at Neptune, so it was kind of like “here we go.” At that point I’d been touring in Canada and the northeastern States and Europe for years.
So where are you from originally?
What brought you here?
Probably about the same story as everyone, you know? You have some kind of connection out here that pulls you.
Did you always envision having a band to back you up?
I’ve been a really lucky girl with that stuff. I had a great band in Canada and I have a great band here. I like being able to play on my own and with the band, but it’s totally two different things. I write a song a certain way on my own or just with a bass player. But then when you get the whole band, you know, that stuff’s got to be slammin.’ My band here—they’re great guys and they’re super-talented and really energetic and animated. My bass player, Kimo [Clark], jumps around; he’s got this whole “hit the ceiling before you hit the note” philosophy. And my drummer [Ian Hollingsworth] just gives ‘er.
When you set out to write a song, which usually comes first, music or lyrics?
Music first. On rare occasions I’ll have lyrics first. It’s funny that you ask that, because the boys are always waiting on me. I was complaining to my friends the other day that I had to go sequester myself at home because I was four songs deep in completely finished songs without lyrics.
What are you usually writing about, lyric-wise?
I’ve been getting into writing about my own life, and that’s going to be reflected on the newest record, but I’m largely a story writer. I tend to make things up.
Who are your primary influences?
I’m real big on PJ Harvey. I’m real big on old jazz. I’m really big on the Strokes and stuff like that… I get a lot of comparisons to PJ Harvey and Fiona Apple—informed comparisons—it’s not just somebody saying “you sound like Jewel.”
Constant comparisons to other girl artists just because they’re girls must be irritating.
But I think girls are making headway in music. At the same time, I’ve gotten compared to all the popular ones under the sun. Some of them are so laughable, and people mean it as a compliment.
Which ones do you get most?
Jewel. I’ve had situations where people are like, “Play some Jewel!” And I’m like, “Well, I know how to play Tool.”
What challenges do you face as a singer/songwriter/performer on Maui?
Well, I’m not a “Margaritaville” /”Brown-Eyed Girl” kind of player. I’ve stuck to my guns on that, and people have been really, really good to me. I know that it’s not the ideal situation for certain gigs—some of the hotel ones and stuff—they need more familiar music.
You seem to play out constantly. Who or what has contributed most to your success?
Other musicians. There’s a great musical community. People are more willing to help around here. They want to have a strong music community.
How do you respond to your detractors? There’s a comment on our Web site complaining how ridiculous it was that a girl in a white dress and high heels won Battle of the Bands.
Well, that’s just stupid. It’s not even worth acknowledging. I don’t feel like I’m a girl musician. I feel like I’m a musician. It’s not like it was Battle of the Bands and I’m up there with a tear in my beer singing sappy love songs into my acoustic guitar. It was a rock and roll show.
Were you surprised when you found out you won the Battle?
I wasn’t surprised, not that I expected us to win. We threw it down as hard as we could. The other bands were really good, and a lot of them were buddies. Everybody was so good that anybody could have won that.
So many people I talk to bemoan the supposed lack of a music scene on Maui. What do you have to say about that?
I think, as with everything, it is what you make it. There’s stuff happening; you’re just not going to trip over it every two feet like you would in a city. Keep your eyes peeled and your ear to the ground and you’ll find it.
Friday, October 10, 9pm, Mulligan’s on the Blue, Wailea, 874-1131
If you dipped into San Francisco’s electronic music scene in the ‘90s chances are you were impacted by Mark Farina, the multifaceted DJ responsible for the genre-bending Mushroom Jazz series who blew in from Chicago and infused the West Coast with his infectious sound. Fortunately for music lovers everywhere, Farina has spread his influence worldwide, touring voraciously and packing houses wherever he goes. His new record is set to drop later this month and he’s slated for a MushroomFest Maui stop-off on October 10.
We caught up with Farina to discuss the evolution of electronic sound, the Maui house scene and the future of the industry.
How did your love of music first develop?
I played the trumpet all through grammar school; I was into concert band type of stuff, musicals and marching bands. The first couple of bands I got inspiration from were Rush and the Police. The first show I went to, in sixth grade, was Rush on their Moving Pictures tour.
What prompted you to leave Chicago for San Francisco?
I’d been playing in Chicago for quite a while, that’s where I started. I was into the whole Chicago house sound. All the DJs there at the time had to throw their own parties—the DJs were the promoters. So me and some other DJs like Derek Carter and Gemini, once we got over throwing parties for ourselves, we went to California and there were actually people throwing parties who weren’t DJs. You know, actual promoters, which was new for us. Also, the party scene in San Francisco at that time was just crazier than Chicago—there were parties going all night, all day. Chicago has more normal club hours, midnight to 4am. People would usually go home before sunrise out there, you know, 5am and the night’s over. Which is good in some ways. But in San Francisco there was just this hunger for the music that really drew me out there. Also, at the time the Chicago house sound was pretty new, so it was kind of fun to represent this new sound.
Did your sound evolve after the move?
In San Francisco people were into different sounds, different tempos. Chicago is mainly into a certain tempo, break beats, like a 125-130 beats per minute. In San Fran you can change tempos a lot more; that’s where I developed the jazz sound. It allowed me to do different things.
What’s your take on the Maui electronic scene?
I’m lucky to have been coming there for quite a while; I definitely have a special vibe with the place. I think the people understand my sound. It seems like there’s a real appreciation for good music [on Maui], maybe even more so than Oahu. I’ve played Oahu the same amount, but it seems like there’s a bit more of a house crowd on Maui.
So much has changed in the record industry over the past decade-plus, in terms of the way content is created and delivered. What are your thoughts on where things are headed?
We’re still in a transition period. I came from a big record store background, where you hang out in the record store and get tunes. But that culture’s kind of dying. It’s a digital world these days. I’m undecided on the whole digital thing. There’s definitely advantages—things get out quicker, you can do it from home, you don’t have to deal with distribution anymore. But I also find it takes away from the physicality of having a piece of vinyl, something with a cover you can look at and hold. Digital files are a lot more abstract. This whole iPod culture, it’s just different. Growing up, if you didn’t go out and party, all you could get was the stories. Now, you could theoretically listen to the DJ at home, and have kind of an experienced club life without going out. Which is a weird concept.
Friday, October 10, 10pm, Longhi’s, Lahaina, www.groovetickets.com,
Order of the White Rose
Since 2004, Pukalani-based hardcore punk band Order of the White Rose has been bringing its political message to stages on Maui and beyond. The band is playing a Pacific Cancer Foundation Benefit this Friday, and their latest 7-inch single “Ghosts of the Sidewalk” is available at Requests in Wailuku (all proceeds from sales of this record benefit food banks on Maui and Oahu). We recently caught up with Nate Robertson and Steve Hart (bass and guitar, respectively):
Do you think your unique position (political punk band on Maui) limits you (shortage of venues, geography), or makes for potential to do something that hasn’t been done before?
NR I think that both of those positions would be true. On one hand we are sort of cut off from the continental US –it’s not like we can jump in a van and go on tour. We don’t have the opportunity to play big venues on the weekend in front of crowds that are into type of music we play. On the other hand, Hawaii is possibly the best place to be as far as playing political music goes. There is a growing amount of people concerned with the issues that we find important and address in our music. For instance, we all have seen the super rich coming in and driving real estate prices through the roof and that how this affects all of us. We support the Hawaiian Sovereignty movement and self-determination for the Hawaiian Nation. We are also concerned that for hundreds of years, one company has controlled a majority of stream water and we support the movement to release water back into the streams. The Superferry and the potential for invasive species like the bee mite to decimate our local agriculture are another concern that we share with a majority of Maui residents.
SH I think there is a shortage of venues to play on Maui for any band that plays mainly original music. Even though we address a variety of political issues through our music, I don’t think that hurts our chances of playing on Maui. In fact, there is a huge potential to do things that haven’t been done before. I am currently working on developing a plan to start an all-ages space similar to the Gilman Street Project. There are details of this plan on our MySpace page. All-ages shows on Maui are the best –they are the best attended and the most enthusiastic, it’s too bad that some of the clubs won’t have matinee shows for all-ages kids to come in and play. Sunday afternoons would be a perfect time for a club to open up their doors, have a small cover charge and not sell alcohol for a few hours. It’s not like they would be hurting their business, it would actually bring in more business and give the under 21 kids a chance to perform and attend shows. This would help our local music scene and encourage more kids to play music.
So how does a band in such a remote spot make its mark on the national scene?
NR We toured the west coast in 2006 and are planning another tour right now. Networking tools like MySpace are extremely helpful in reaching audiences away from Hawaii. Having our music up on iTunes and a variety of other download sites helps too.
SH If we are to make any “mark” at all, we have to make great-sounding records with excellent songs. We are currently writing and re-writing our songs to make our next record sound great. It is important that we use the Internet effectively; we are featured on a variety of Internet radio programs and college radio stations. If any band wants to be played on the radio, they have to send the radio stations a CD and a press kit. If it sounds simple it is because it is. I look for radio programs that feature punk bands and put a CD in an envelope and send it to them. Then, I get emails from people all the time saying they heard us on their local college station or on Pandora. It takes an effort for any band to get their music heard. You don’t need a street team, you just need to get off your butt and do it.
What subject provides the most fodder for your lyrics?
NR A lot of our music lately has focused on indigenous people and groups around the world. We are influenced by the literature of the Native Hawaiians, Native Americans, and the Mayans in the Chiapas region of Mexico.
SH Our first record, “War Machine,” addressed the Iraq war through a variety of perspectives. I don’t think we wanted to do that again. Currently, we’re focusing on what is happening right now through imperialism and colonialism in Hawaii and elsewhere in the world. Almost every day, I receive an email asking about our band. Every email starts out with, “There’s punk rock in Hawaii?” Because of this, I feel that it’s very important that we address what is happening to the people of Hawaii. Some of the most left-leaning punk rockers out there in the world have no idea that Hawaii was illegally overthrown or annexed. It’s not written about in world history books. So, it’s our duty to write about these issues. We also recently released a 7-inch single called “Ghosts of the Sidewalk.” All the proceeds of the 7-inch benefits the food banks of Maui and Oahu. It’s available as a download on iTunes and can be found at Requests in Wailuku.
Are you getting a lot of inspiration from current events?
NR Yes. This president (Bush) has done more harm than any other in my life time, including president Reagan. He seems hell-bent on spreading the U.S Empire through any means necessary while cutting the social programs here in America. Look at the how the Patriot Act was forced upon America and tell me our freedom isn’t being taken away piece by piece. We are quickly moving towards a fascist dictatorship.
SH I’m not so much inspired by it, I refuse to become a person who is solely reactive to the national political discourse. It is up to us to be proactive and dictate to them what We the People want, not react to what they do or say. They work for us, not the other way around!
Here’s what I don’t understand, If we (the collective “we” of America) are the Government, and the Republican Party says that they hate the government, does that mean they hate the collective “we?” It certainly seems so. Thomas Frank’s book, “The Wrecking Crew” documents the dismantling of FDR’s New Deal by the Republican Party in minute detail and I recommend it to everyone. The Republican Party has waged a war on America for the past 30 years.
All that being said, I’m not just going to write songs reacting to their insipid political platforms –that would make for some bad music and I’m not interested in doing that.
What are your influences?
NR I got into punk music from watching skateboard videos when I was a kid. Bands like Minor Threat, Bad Brains, Black Flag, Bad Religion, Propaghandi, The Gorilla Biscuits, and many more.
SH I think we’re influenced by any band that is committed to their music and message. It’s important for any punk rock band to listen to bands outside of their genre. It’s too easy to try and sound like someone else. What music did the Sex Pistols listen to? Or the Ramones? It wasn’t like they listened to punk rock. I like to go to the wells they drew from; The MC5, The Stooges, The Ronettes, along with a variety of musical styles that developed since the advent of punk. Every musical genre is fair game.
Saturday, October 11, 10pm, Hard Rock Cafe, Lahaina, 667-7400
Kool & the Gang
Yes, you heard right: Kool & the Gang is coming to the MACC. This means that those aching to boogie can, for a certain price, finally find relief. The band started out as purely a jazz outfit, but evolved over the years to embrace rhythm & blues, funk and, yes, disco. A few of their instantly recognizable tunes: “Celebration,” “Jungle Boogie” and “Get Down On It.” Oh and, according to wikipedia.org (yeah, I know), their 1979 tune Ladies Night inspired a longstanding tradition of ladies’ nights for bars and dance clubs in New Jersey. Hey, thanks guys. KB
Wednesday, October 15, 7:30pm, Castle Theater, MACC, 242-7469
If you belong to my generation, your first exposure to Styx may have been Cartman’s rendition of “Come Sail Away” in an episode of South Park. I first heard them on a Chicago rock and roll station at age 12 (I place no chronological limitations on my musical preference). In any case, by way of tunes like “Lady,” the aforementioned “Come Sail Away” and “Renegade” as well as four consecutive platinum albums (from 1977-1981) this Chicago-based band has managed to prove exemplary of an era defined by big hair and even bigger (i.e. hugely theatrical) songs.
This Friday, Styx comes to Maui for the first time for a performance at the MACC. Two of the band’s original members—James Young and Tommy Shaw—are part of the lineup this time around.
In Greek Mythology, the River Styx circled the underworld and all of its residents nine times. Condemned souls were ferried across it by Charon. It is also used in some Christian images of Hell, namely in Dante’s The Divine Comedy. The word stygian can be used to describe anything hellish or gloomy.
Given the dismal implications of this mythical river, it seems unlikely that a band known for its top of the world, arena rock ballads would choose Styx for a moniker. Then again, it’s doubtful that a band whose best-known songs include “Mr. Roboto” takes itself too seriously.
While the mythical river circled Hades, so, too, has the band with which it shares its name continued to circle the globe for years.
Bassist Ricky Phillips, who signed on with the band in 2003 upon the departure of Glen Burtnik, says that Styx is on the road nearly 200 days a year. This year has proved to be a busy one for this quintessential ‘80s rock outfit, as they have been out all year; first with Def Leppard, then with Boston. They head to Japan in March 2009.
“That’s the way it is these days,” Phillips said, speaking with us from his home in Austin, Texas just ahead of a three-night turn on the Ontario side of Niagara Falls.
The band’s fan base, he said, has changed quite a bit over the years. Phillips concedes that Guitar Hero may have something to do with a recent surge in the band’s popularity among people who were pre-embryonic during the band’s heyday.
“It’s great that the kids care enough [to come out to the shows],” he said.
While bands often tour to promote a new release and adopt some kind of theme for the road, Philips said that touring has become a way of life for him, his band mates and the crew—a way to “keep the family together.”
“The theme is ‘this is who we are; this is what we do,’” Philips said. “We have a crew we love… we lean on each other so much. We have a brotherhood within the band.”
Hardcore fans may want to get their fill of the deep cuts before heading to the show.
“We always do a real hit-driven set,” Phillips said.
He added that they may delve into some of their recent material, including a cover of The Beatles’ “I Am The Walrus,” which spurred Big Bang Theory, an entire album of covers.
Friday night’s Maui performance is one of three nights they’ll spend performing in the Hawaiian Isles before they take a well-earned break.
Make sure your lighters are in top shape for this one. MTW
Friday, October 10, 7:30pm, Castle Theaer, MACC, 242-7469