Friday (August 19), 9:30pm, Stella Blues Cafe, Kihei; $5 advance/$7 door
(Tickets available at Stella Blues Cafe, Requests and 808 Deli.)
It’s a blistering Upcountry mid-morning, and I’ve just walked into Jayson Vierra’s home studio, nestled a few turns into a whimsical Pukalani neighborhood. Particle ply board stitched together by plaster, a mountain of Mesa Boogie stacks skirted with cigarette butts, and walls washed with pistachio paint and oxblood trim make this space a band room’s band room with rugged Upcountry flair. Over the years, Vierra’s practice space has hosted a slew of notable Maui bands—playing genres from reggae roots to pure punk—and on this day, Maui’s own Owaila has made it their home.
“This place has been a sanctuary for me,” says Owaila frontman and bassist Kanoa Kukaua, of Gomega et alia fame. (As an aside, I’m of the persuasion that Kukaua’s a nonpareil talent who’s every endeavor is worth your audible immersion.)
Kukaua and his comrades—Chad Kaya (guitar, vocals), Ryan Rego (guitar, vocals) and Tavi Tenari (drums)—recently revamped Owaila this past April (with a respectful shot-out to former, founding drummer Mike Russell); and the band’s since been songwriting with the voracity of their swift rock licks. And after months of honing their sound, Owaila’s slated their first big gig with their new lineup, this Friday, Aug.19 at Stella Blues Cafe.
As I sneak in to the “sanctuary” to sit beside Vierra and his soundboard, the band’s balls-deep in a track called “Stars”—an original, decidedly Incubus-influenced song that explores Polynesian seafaring navigated by the night’s stars.
It’s through songs like “Stars” that I discover that the band’s lyricism is what makes this new rock outfit so interesting. Versatile musicians with a penchant for heavy-hitting tunes, this youthful, local foursome—to my word-hungry ear—has a passion for heartfelt storytelling and an interest in the human condition.
“Sometimes we forget what it means to be a human on Earth,” says Kukaua of the impetus of their songwriting. The band then explains their songs are highly metaphorical and unafraid to delve into topics like death and dying in a way that reflects on tough predicaments in a mature and contemplative way.
This strikes a chord with me, and I inquire as to what makes something meaningful and their favorite things about being human.
At this point, we’re talking story outside during a break in their practice session, sucking on cigs under the slow-burning sun and sitting around a rough-hewn meat smoker looming in the yard. (And I can’t help but enjoy how very rock-and-roll this feels—especially with photographer and film director Don Lane on hand, working with fevered pitch and double-fisted cameras to document the band’s genesis.)
I discover they’re enamored with humanity’s capacity for feeling emotions and discovering new ideas. This makes sense for a band who prizes creative liberties (they tout how natural and uninhibited their collaborations are); and when the conversation turns to a worldwide music industry upended and in flux, Owaila expresses how “fortunate (they) feel to be in this band, at this time… A change is coming—a musical revolution—and we want to be a part of it.”
And because I find their music so toothsome, I also ask the band to describe their music as a flavor. They can’t help but laugh—especially Kaya who seems to observe my playful question with a serious that makes evident his commitment to his craft.
“Neapolitan,” says Rego of their post-genre raucous rock. “An Everlasting Gobstopper,” he later amends.
“Maybe a Hot Tamale,” says Tenari. “Da kine where you’re a little scared at first, but end up liking it a lot.”
“Bittersweet,” “salty,” “savory,” and “plate lunch,” are all other flavorsome descriptors they—and all apropos. We then reconvene inside so they can finish practicing their set (about fourteen songs so far, plus one Israel Kamakawiwo`ole cover, “Hawai‘i ‘78” which when you hear their rendition you realize that song is meant for such a heartbreaking hard rock reworking). It’s then I have the chance to reflect on what flavor I’d describe the band to have:
Owaila has the bite of a kiawe-smoked kabob; the kind augmented with the secret ingredient of seaside camaraderie bathed moonshine. Their audible aesthetic is forged of metal—which makes for a great show—but what keeps me listening is the transcendence of their ideologies; with roots firmly planted in Hawaiian-style positivity, while keeping their eyes to the sky and ears to the world.
It’s this concoction that makes me happy to have heard of them from the onset—and you can, too, by checking out their debut show this Friday at Kihei’s Stella Blues.
Become a fan of the band at facebook.com/pagesowaila and myspace.com/owaila. Also, check out a concert cool promo video by Don Lane: http://youtu.be/xGsCszm1Q2Y.