The Throwdowns

Will somebody please get a hold of Spence Jah—he keeps saying ‘E. Smith and the Throwdowns’,” drummer Ian Hollingsworth reads aloud from his iPhone. His face flushed, shoulders shaking with eruptive laugher, he leans over to show guitarist Ola Shaw the text message he’s just received from bassist Kimo Clark (who’s out playing softball on the West side).

Grinning, Hollingsworth clenches his fists and mimes mashing them into the table. “It’s The Throwdowns!”

“I bet Shaggy put him up to it,” says Erin Smith, laughing along.

The band formerly known as Erin Smith and the Throwdowns wisely whittled their name last year. But—as they prepare to drop their first album—they’re still fighting to get people to recognize the change. Granted, as Smith suspects, some of it may be the intentional, lighthearted needling from those who know it’s one of the group’s touchiest topics. They’re still all smiles when the subject arises—as they are with most subjects. But seriously, don’t call them Erin Smith and the Throwdowns.

With the heavy exposure Smith, a Toronto native, has gotten since she hit the Maui scene, it’s no wonder the misnomer lingers. I’m sitting with the band (sadly sans Clark, whose missing energy is notable) at the South Shore Tiki Lounge, at a table set up in the very spot Smith gigs solo weekly. Her acoustic work garners a healthy following, enough to “pay my bills,” Smith says. 

“She’s like our spokesperson,” says Clark in a later phone interview. “One of the things she does really well is talk to people. She’s really professional.”

I first meet Smith at Requests in Wailuku. She was out working her band beat, hitting the streets with a pile of posters and a stack of tickets, promoting The Throwdowns’ big August 28 release party for their debut effort, Don’t Slow Down, at Mulligan’s on the Blue. 

Smith enthusiastically chatted up the guys at Requests and was mindful to include me in the conversation, which I found pleasant, as I’d made no mention of my role as reporter. In a place that’s often uncomfortably sauna-like, she’s literally kept her Canadian cool: dressed in grayish periwinkle ensemble, her hair done up enviably in chic frizzle-free curls. Even when we parted, hugging local-style, she was chill to the touch—something I would later notice to be a strangely perpetual state, even after a raucous practice session.

The attention heaped on Smith is by no means undeserved. She’s a vivacious go-getter who packs stiletto high-class into her fiery frontwoman kick. You really can’t blame those drawn in by her magnetism. Already, I’m guilty of it myself.

But there is a downside: the rest of the band is often relegated to second-fiddle status, given little more than an obligatory nod. Because of this, I was ill prepared for the complete package that is The Throwdowns. By the second song of their practice session during my first evening spent with them, it was resoundingly clear that this band is anything but the Erin Smith show. 

Each member is well-schooled and well-practiced, each plays beautifully to their individual strengths and each engages in a marvelously open, collaborative manner. “We really believe in each other, that’s what makes it all run,” says Smith.

At first, I found their perpetual positivity to be formulaic and even a tad insipid. They seem to shy away from speaking about themselves and instead prefer to tout the talents of one another, and everything—everything—is “cool.” It just didn’t seem reasonable that a rock outfit, even one aspiring to edge-maintaining accessibility, could be so genuinely positive and willingly unselfish.

But I quickly discovered that their love—and yeah, I’ll call it love—for one another is legitimate. Hollingsworth is the most buoyant in his proclamations of adoration for his bandmates. “I’m in the band of my dreams!” he says in a Facebook post made after their gig at The Gap at the Shops at Wailea (which earned their single, “Kihei Town,” some national exposure).

But who cares if they like, let alone love, each other? They’ve gotta be good, right? 

There’s no doubt that the band has some haters. Their win at last year’s X 92.5 Battle of the Bands, a four-round showdown culminating in a “battle royale” held at the Hard Rock Cafe, ignited some backlash. 

But upon closer inspection, the hate is hollow—mostly sour grapes from those with vested interest, or whose masculinity seems challenged by a girl with guts and grit (from Canada, no less), or from those who are disappointed by the rock scene on Maui, and insist on comparing it to the homes they left rather than appreciating what it does have to offer and participating in its growth.

It’s also worth noting that The Throwdowns have come a long way in the last year. Their early efforts showed talent, spunk and promise, but they were undeniably raw and rough around the edges.

Enter the band’s newest member, and missing ingredient: all instrument-wielding Shaw. Shaw, Clark’s brother-in-law, was initially brought on board to mix a few tracks. But after catching Throwdown fever, with a little persuading from Clark, he returned to Maui to complete the foursome they now seem destined to have become. Born on Maui, but raised a Big Island boy, Shaw spent seven years in California, where he attended the prestigious Musicians Institute College of Contemporary Music. “Not many people get into there,” beams Clark.

As for Clark? “School of hard knocks!” he yelps in his too-cool, effervescently joyful timbre that stands in contrast to his tough-guy, tattooed exterior.

The technical training Shaw brings to the table provides the polish that The Throwdowns needed; he seems to draw out the best in everyone, and catapults the band to a whole new level. At their practice session—a non-stop workout that lasts several hoursemerges as the relentless musical director. He winces when they miss something that to the untrained ear is almost unnoticeable; he halts the train when he feels a change needs be made; he beams the brightest when they hit their mark and hit it hard. 

In the studio—an almost church-like place where they recorded Don’t Slow Down and have the luxury of practicing thanks to studio owner Pete Lago—they’re working on a track called “Shake Your Bones,” which has never been heard outside the band and their ‘ohana.

“You’re like the first person to hear this!” says Hollingsworth, eager and glowing. His regularly appearing, toothy grin reminds me of actor Ed Helms; I’m instantly smitten by his infectious passion.

Later that week, The Throwdowns are playing Center Stage at Queen Kaahumanu Center thanks to Hot Topic’s nationwide showcase, Local Static. It’s Friday night, the mall is hopping and a more than healthy crowd has gathered. The upper level on both sides of the stage is packed with curious spectators, and the band gives loving shout-outs to the folks upstairs. The folding chairs aren’t nearly plentiful enough to accommodate the turnout; for most onlookers it’s standing room only. 

“World premier! Right here on Maui!” Clark shouts with double fists in the air, as they kick off with “Shake Your Bones.” 

The crowd is all about it. A group of teenage girls runs up to the stage to rock out for nearly the entire hour-long set, even making up a little hand jive to “Kihei Town,” which is currently racing up local charts.

“Thanks for making a ‘Kihei Town’ dance, girls,” says Smith, who has a knack for eye contact and creating audience rapport. 

Afterwards, Smith and Clark head up to Hot Topic while Hollingsworth and Shaw break down the onstage setup. They sign autographs, hawk a few shirts and, most importantly, sell tickets to the release party. Plaid-clad youth with purple hair and chain jewelry throng the store, some with their parents, all wanting to express how “awesome, really awesome,” they think The Throwdowns are.

“We try to do the smart guy thing,” says Smith, back at our sit-down at the Tiki Lounge. The Throwdowns know that kids buy music, and that building a young following is huge. In keeping with this, they’ve made their release party an all-ages event, a feat Smith says required “pull[ing] some strings.” They’re also hip to the technological age—the album is available on iTunes August 29. 

The Throwdowns are a band that’s endured its share of criticism, playing in a small, under-the-radar rock scene. Yet their goals are lofty: they want to be famous; they want to be the first multi-platinum band from Maui; they want to tour internationally, to fill stadiums. And—though nothing in life, and certainly nothing in showbiz, is guaranteed—they’ve got a shot.

But the best thing about The Throwdowns is how easy it is to root for them. Their good nature is no act; once you get used to it, it’s incredibly refreshing. They’ve found the right parts, they’ve honed their style and they’re dedicated to constant evolution. 

Now, if folks would just get their name right. MTW

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