HAWAI – We’re talking about the band, not the state

If you haven’t heard of HAWAI (pronounced huh-way), I don’t blame you. They’re still new; it takes time to find an audience, and they’re still working on their yet-to-be-named, debut EP. However, if you’re in Ellensburg Friday, Sept 30, and you’re not planning on seeing them for FREE at 8 p.m. in the SURC Pit, then shame on you.

These guys are the real deal and I would be shocked if they aren’t famous by the time 2017 rolls around. Their singles, “Fault” and “In My Head” – which they recently released on Soundcloud and Youtube – are radio ready and sound as if they were produced on equipment worth millions of dollars. Well, they weren’t. Though, recently they’ve collaborated with Lars Staffers who produced for Cold War Kids and The Mars Volta – and with his expertise – HAWAI has been able to create some of the catchiest songs I’ve ever heard.

I recently had a chance to catch up with lead singer and song writer Jake Pappas who spoke on behalf of his bandmates, Casey Lagos, Jared Slaybaugh, Matt Gillen and Jesse Dorman who all make up the five-piece southern California alternative rock band, HAWAI.

Jake Pappas is second from the right, in the white shirt.

First question I have to ask: where did the name HAWAI come from?

We racked our brains for a while trying to come up with a band name. Everything in the entire world is already taken. Not only is it already taken, it’s taken by three different bands. We had a lot of things we were considering. We actually had a list of what we wanted the band name to encompass, and HAWAI checked off on every part of it. We wanted people to hear something with the name. We went through every process: combining two words together and see how that works or taking stuff from childhood and see how that connects. We thought it would be cool to have a statement, and have a name that hasn’t been taken yet. You think about something when you hear about that state and it’s normally good things. It’s kind of what we felt our music was; it’s good vibes. We wanted and we always will want our music to take people places. The plan is at some point, when people talk about HAWAI, for them to think, ‘Are you talking about the band or the state?’

You five had a previous band called J.Thoven. Why did you guys decide to start over and what’s different this time around?

This particular project is not like a start over at all, it’s more so a continued thing we’ve always known. It’s a different sound. It’s basically like a new chapter of what we’ve always done together. It’s been great, this time around the song writing has been really different. We’ve actually focused on structure; following the rules of songwriting if you must. Playing live has been a lot more fun, you can engage people a lot better. Our past projects, we never did any of that. We had 10 songs in one. We’ve just kind of straightened out a little bit more.

I noticed you guys have brought in Lars Staffer to produce your EP. What’s that been like?

We signed a publishing deal and they hooked us up with a couple of different producers and we immediately meshed with Lars Staffers. He did the last Cold War Kids record, did the last Matt and Kim record. He’s done a couple of The Mars Volta records. His catalog is getting better and it’s already awesome. We met with him and immediately clicked. He caught our vibe right away and it felt just immediate. Working with him was a huge success in terms of understanding the process. Ever since working with him, we feel an ease when we go to write songs. It doesn’t have to be crazy difficult.

While playing at these different venues, have you had the moment of ‘Oh wow, these people are singing my lyrics right now’?

We’ve got an under the radar thing a little bit. We’ve reached out to blogs and attempted to get our music online as much as possible. Right now is where we’re in the stage of playing out more. So, the locations that we’re playing at, there’s not really anybody that is familiar with us yet. We play our home town in Orange County, but even then, playing our home town is kind of different because you get a lot of your friends. So far this tour has been rad. The kids seem to really really enjoy what we’re doing.

What does playing live mean to you guys?

We all love music so much and it’s what we spend the majority of our day thinking about. And we’re super critical too about what we do and what music is about. So much goes into that, and when you get to play live, you let all of that out. It’s an outlet for us and it feels really good to play a show and feel the energy of the crowd and feel the energy of each other. The live show is like the payoff of that.

You mentioned the songwriting process has changed. Is this from maturing as musicians?

We kind of have a new structure of songwriting that’s just worked the best for us. I will come up with a melody and our lead guitarist has been really into recording over the past few years and has gotten really good at it. We’ll start with a drum beat to say what kind of vibe we want the song to have. We learned from our producer that the drum beat is the vibe of it. Do you want to do something that’s upbeat, a ballad? It’s all structured off the beat. From there, we add a melody of what I think of. Then we layer on top of all of that. We’ve figured out all of that best. Everything is building off of what makes the song best which is the melody. All of the other stuff is secondary really.

How did you meet the other four members in the band?

The drummer and bassist of the band, I had played music with prior to starting community college. While there was when I started writing for the first time. When I was in college, I started writing lyrics and singing. I shared with them the first song I had written. We started playing music again and it led to something that we never expected to do. I fell in love with something I never thought I would pursue.

Don’t miss the chance to catch something truly special when HAWAI visits CWU this Friday at 8 p.m. in the SURC Pit.

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