This is Local Music / Melodic drums roll and seamless guitar chords blend into gripping bass lines. All elements slowly come together and crescendo into what seems like an all-encompassing wash of noise at unconventional time signatures. Drummer Jack Tawil says, “We’re the odd man out because we’re the only band with no vocals”–“that’s not a jam band,” quips guitarist A.J. Feducia. But the music of the performance-based band still packs an undeniable energy–the audience can’t hear anything but.
No, this is not Portland. Or Toronto. Or even Omaha. This is Honolulu. And the band in its current incarnation is just two months old. As Hawai’i’s only instrumental post-rock band (at least as far as the band members know), City, formerly known as At Sea, already has a strong reputation as one of the top local indie rock bands. City has four members–Feducia and Noah Viernes on the guitars, Jason Lowe on the bass and Tawil on the drums. All have been members of other local bands, all have spent years both on the mainland and here and all have navigated the island’s physical and sometimes cultural isolation to use it to their musical advantage, citing other instrumental bands that operate successfully out of isolated areas such as Icelandic band Sigur Ros.
Similarly, Lyle Matsuura, one-half of the brains behind what he describes as “psychedelic stoner rock” band Vaive Atoish (“alights from the cloud” in the Native American Cheyenne language), chose to move back to Hawai’i after three-and-a-half years in pursuit of musical opportunities in New York. “I liked being in bands with buddies,” Matsuura says, alluding to the type of chemistry that is conducive to creating good music, but is often only cultivated by luck. Drummer Aren Souza co-writes songs with guitarist and vocalist Matsuura and records them. The two then play the tracks for bassist Ryan Miyashiro and guitarist Mike Pooley to make up their own parts, and all pull out a performance that transitions from piece to piece so well that it seems as if songs stretch to an epic 20 minutes or more in length. What originally started as a recording-based project has turned into a well-liked band that sounds different in live performances, to the delight of the band.
Welcome to the Honolulu indie rock scene. A place where it “is the easiest place to ‘do it yourself’…[there are] plenty of shows, plenty of venues and a small, tight scene that makes it easy to be a known band,” said promoter, Kaleidoscope (a weekly indie rock club night) co-founder, 86 List and Black Square band member Josh 86. And while bands, venues and other support systems aren’t as plentiful compared to other indie rock hubs such as San Francisco and New York, KTUH DJ and promoter Catwings expounded, “The scene isn’t dead. It’s just always changing.” “There never was a heyday or a bad time, it just goes in waves,” said Tawil.
Many young people move to the mainland in search of greater musical opportunities, but “a lot of people move back and are staying. The quality of life is so amazing here…there’s no reason why we can’t have amazing music,” said Kaleidoscope co-founder, KTUH DJ and promoter Ross Jackson. Jackson’s Kaleidoscope partner, promoter and (recently on hiatus) Malcognitas lead singer Ara Laylo “chose to stay here” even after her family moved out-of-state to help the indie rock and and arts scene grow.
And with the Internet enabling access to music from around the world in a heartbeat, the Information Age is rapidly eroding the disability that Hawai’i has of being five years behind mainland cultural trends. City, Vaive Atoish and Jackson all pointed to the newly formed (and mostly underage) indie rock band The Jump-Offs as an example of Hawai’i youth utilizing the Information Age, with Jackson observing that the band sounds, “contemporary and sharp, forward looking.”
While all-ages venues can be liabilities for promoters, many interviewees pointed to the importance of all ages venues in encouraging young people to create music and keep the indie rock scene moving, reminiscing about venues such as Club Pauahi, Club Mustang, Pink Cadillac, Detox, warehouses and Otto’s old bakery parking lot. Laylo pointed to higher authorities–the city and state–that should create safe all-ages venues and artistically-oriented festivals “so young people don’t want to move away and they’ll want to throw shows…Hawai’i is such a beautiful place, a positive environment for anything. People take it for granted and don’t utilize what’s in front of them. Don’t move away. Stay here and make it better.” Lowe agreed, “It’s a waste to be a musician in Hawai’i and not be in a band…Everyone should get off their asses and play music.”