Hawaii has had a great thirst for ska music, churning out several local ska-inspired bands in the last few decades like Mr. Simon, Tantra Monsters, Red Session, Go Jimmy Go, Pimpbot, Warsaw All Stars and, most recently, Black Square. They’re dead set on continuing the tradition of punk infused ska sounds into 2014 and beyond. They did a show with national ska act Mephiskapheles at Hawaiian Brian’s last month and will host a few Maui appearances at the end of March.
At MauiTime headquarters, we found their 2011 self-titled album in Spotify and got amped for their upcoming shows at Stella Blues and Three’s Bar and Grill. Then we caught up with lead singer and guitar player Josh 86 for the real scoop on Black Square:
MAUITIME: You’ve pretty much made it when you have your own Wikipedia page. Did you know you had one?
JOSH 86: Yes, I think it’s been up for a while, but I have no idea where the info came from or who created it. If it means we made it because we have a Wikipedia page, then I need to let my band mates know that we finally made it! They will also be stoked.
MT: So welcome back to Maui!
J86: Thanks! We love Maui. Maui is better than Oahu. Please don’t tell Oahu.
MT: So what inspired the name Black Square?
J86: The name was inspired by the art of Kazimir Malevich, who was an strange artist from Russia who painted a black square on canvas in 1915. It was controversial because it was simply a black square, and non-objectional art was not very well received in Russia at the time. Other artists were pissed. He developed an art movement called Suprematism which stated that the importance of the artwork was based on the feeling behind the art work or what it invoked rather than the content it displayed. This concept was inspirational to me and we named the band Black Square, as we saw our music in a similar light.
MT: Really? How does that translate into ska?
J86: We’re definitely not traditional in any of the genres we play. If you heard us, you wouldn’t say we are a Reggae band, or a ska band or a punk band. Yet those are the genres associated with us. Black Square is its own sound. It’s a result of punk rockers trying to play Reggae and ska. The drummer, Brian Kim, was only in hardcore punk bands prior to Black Square. I was in a Reggae band and a punk band, but had never played ska. Our horn players had mainly been in only ska bands. You blend us all together and you get a unique sound that’s completely our own.
MT: Social issues appear in Black Square’s tracks as well. Why do you think that’s important to communities like Hawaii?
J86: Hawaii has been the site of major injustices. From the Hawaiian kingdom being illegally overthrown by the US, to the bombing of sacred Hawaiian sites by the US military, to the occupation of native lands. We live in a state that’s ripe with historical travesties. Currently, we have employed sketchy, unproductive politicians to run our state and have an ineffective corrupt police force. Many bands in Hawaii prefer to write music with no content whatsoever. Listen to any pop Reggae song on the radio in Hawaii and you hear no reflection on meaningful happenings in our state, yet the songs they sing receive massive airplay. This solidifies the acceptable disconnect between the role of musicians/artists in Hawaii and the culture and society they represent. Art should be a reaction and reflection of culture, and not turn a blind eye to it and sing about “honey girl.”
MT: Well, there’s definitely a market for your music because you’ve completed more than 10 American tours. Can you give us a crazy fan story?
J86: How about a crazy VAN story? A few years ago, we were on tour heading east on the I-80 coming from Boise passing through Wyoming. We were driving at night in a 16-passenger van with our trailer in tow. We were all asleep, when the driver hit a patch of ice on the road and the van went into a fish tail. The driver was unable to get control of the van and we went into a spin and then spun out off the road, down a ravine, flipping the van and rolling down a hill. One of our members was ejected from the van through a side window.
MT: Oh my God.
J86: We all survived with modest injuries. We had the van pulled out of the ravine the next morning with a tow truck and inspected it. We were told the van was totaled. We decided to try to start it up, and it started. We did a test drive in the parking lot and it seemed okay. We put duct tape and trash bags over the side windows that had been smashed out. We put clear tape over the tail lights and blinkers that had been shattered. The van was covered in mud with huge scrapes all along the sides of it. We had no side mirrors, as they were torn off. Our windshield had a spiderweb cracks all across it. We drove the van 300 miles that same day and made it to the show in Denver on time and played the show to a packed house.
MT: Too bad you didn’t YouTube that! Speaking of which, Black Square’s music has been featured on many films like Board Stories, One Kine Day and Noho Hewa. Can you recall a time you heard your music play and couldn’t believe it?
J86: I’ve actually never seen those films, but we were featured on a fresh water kayaking DVD that I saw. I was super stoked and proud of that. We are huge in the kayak scene now. Our music is perfect to kayak to.
MT: In a time of auto-tune and sophisticated sound technology, a live performance can take many forms. How has that affected Black Square shows?
J86: We keep things pretty simple. I don’t use any effects on my voice and I don’t use many pedals with my guitar. Our live sound is usually better than our recordings and I think that’s how it should be. You can use effects in the studio and kind of cheat, but I’m not a fan of any of that. Keep it raw and real.
MT: Can we expect to hear any new music at your show?
J86: We have a few new songs right now that aren’t on any of our records. We will be performing them all at our Maui shows. There is one new track on our Facebook bandpage that you can download now for free–it’s called “Discord.”
MT: Where can fans keep up-to-date with Black Square?
J86: On our Facebook page: Facebook.com/blacksquareband. We also have an Instagram [account] you can follow @blacksquareband.
Josh86: Guitar and Vocals
TR: Alto Sax
Evan “Babyface” Lewis: Tenor Sax
(Both shows $10 and include appearances by Order of the White Rose and The Minorities)
Friday, Mar. 28, 9:30pm: Three’s Bar & Grill, 1945 S. Kihei Rd.; 808-879-3133
Saturday, Mar. 29, 10pm: Stella Blues, 1279 S. Kihei Rd.; 808-874-3779
Photo courtesy Black Square