With a broad repertoire of original material ranging from to sweet bluegrass to Allman Brothers-style rocking jams, the Haiku Hillbillys stand out as a unique presence on Maui's music scene.
Led by Randall Rospond, the Hillbillys are about to release their debut CD, which they will promote with a party at Charley's on Oct. 10. This versatile work showcases the talented group in a live and studio setting, with six tracks recorded at Charley's, two on Mana'o Radio and four in the studio.
Besides Rospond, who composes most of the group's songs, the band comprises Rand Coon on guitar, banjo and vocals; John Pollock on violin, mandolin and vocals; Tom Conway (of Gypsy Pacific) on lead guitar; Geoff Coolidge on bass, Jimmy C on drums and vocals, and Klaus Simmer on keyboards.
Performing at last year’s Mana‘o Radio BarryFest were Haiku Hillbillys Rand Coon (from left), Tom Conway, Randall Rospond, Jimmy C, John Pollock and Geoff Coolidge.
Sandra Conway photo
Depending on the venue, the musicians perform in a variety of combinations from a duo through the full seven-piece band.
"Tommy and I do a duo, and the violin player and I do a duo," Randall explains. "The trio features John on violin and Rand on banjo, and we do that on Thursdays at the Hana Hou Cafe. If you go to the Stopwatch you see five of us, and at Charley's there's seven, and each setup is different."
Recorded at Charley's, the 10-minute track "Seek and Find" eloquently captures the breadth and dynamics of the band. Opening in toe tapping, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band-style country/bluegrass territory with prominent banjo and fiddle, it segues into an Allman Brothers-flavored jam propelled by Tom Conway's wailing guitar, and rewinds back and forth.
"So many people know us live and we're so different than seeing the trio play which is like a quieter front porch thing," Randall continues. "Then they see a big show with the seven-piece band and it goes way outside. I wanted to spotlight Charley's because people have been very receptive when we play there. It's a big room and people are allowed to dance. Because of the liquor (commission) thing there are so many places where you can't dance legally on Maui and that astounds me. At certain gigs I have to tell people, sorry you can't dance."
Randall has described his band's music as funky, groovin' poetic folk.
"I came up with it one day," he says. "It could describe the band and the music. I approach music from a poet's angle. I started out mesmerized by the Beat guys, then I got into the lyrical rock writers from Bob Dylan and Jim Morrison to Lou Reed and Patti Smith. On the Mainland some people catch on to the poetic meaning of Haiku."
With influences that run from country and bluegrass into rock, the new CD features studio songs by Rospond such as "So Long Mr. Chaos," "Workingman's Blues," "Trail of Tears Saloon," and "Turn it Around," which encourages personal transformation.
"I was performing at a music club in my hometown (Toronto, Canada) on a brief family visit, and I wrote this song to reach out to a lot of the younger folks who were coming to the club," he explains. "The club was in a rough part of downtown with lots of bad vibes and bad drugs. I thought the chorus, 'turn it around' might help some of the listeners connect with the positive, the light within their own eyes."
Aside from Rospond's songs, the album features two colorful instrumentals by banjo player Rand Coon, "Kahakuloa Sunrise," and "West Kuiaha," which resembles the playful, folky side of Pat Simmons' contribution to the Doobies.
"Rand adds another aspect," says Randall. "He's into that old-school bluegrass style."
It was Coon who sparked the formation of the acoustic side of the Hillbillys on Maui. "About six years ago Rand had an ad wanting to play bluegrass with people," he recalls. "I phoned him and said I love bluegrass, but as a songwriter I don't play in any particular style. We got together and found common ground. Now we're just starting to touch on some original reggae and rock songs. I've got about three or four hours of original music that we haven't touched on yet."
* The Haiku Hillbillys present a CD release party at Charley's on Oct. 10. The Haiku Hillbilly Trio comprising John Pollock, Rand Coon and Randall Rospond play from 6 to 9 p.m.Thursdays at the Hana Hou Caf. Tom Conway and Rospond will play Cafe Marc Aurel from 6 to 11 p.m. on Friday as part of Wailuku's First Fridays promotion. And Rospond will perform and sign CDs from 4 to 6 p.m. Oct. 24 at Be Happy Books and Music in Paia.
Late August at San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, the historic, three-day Outside Lands Festival featured 64 bands on six stages including headliners Radiohead, Tom Petty, and Jack Johnson, who invited Paula Fuga to sing along with him before 55,000 fans.
She obviously mesmerized many folks because a blog writer later announced: "Paula Fuga awed me. You're seriously going to have to provide copious amounts of proof before I'll even entertain the possibility that she isn't some divine being who descended from sun beams and vapor particles for the sole purpose of crooning that powerful honey voice out over the throngs of astonished mere mortals."
So how was it for Hawaii's beloved Na Hoku-winning artist?
"I was really nervous, but it just felt good to get a glimpse of something like that," says Fuga, who returns to Maui on Oct. 10 to play Mulligan's on the Blue.
Since Johnson "discovered" this soulful artist, and invited her to perform at the first Kokua Festival, Fuga recorded "Country Road" (featured on the benefit CD "Mana Maoli") with the contemporary star, and gained further exposure heading out on the road this summer as part of the "Sleep Through the Static" tour performing with opening act the Culver City Dub Collective.
"I feel really blessed to have made friends with him," she continues about Johnson. "He really believes in me. I had an awesome time playing for huge crowds. I look forward to working with him. I'm going to be recording my new album at his studios here in Hawaii and in Los Angeles."
Winner of the "Most Promising Artist" award at the 2007 Hoku Awards, for her irresistible debut album, "Lilikoi," Fuga's a spellbinding artist who crafts emotionally stirring music that displays her early shaping by gospel, blues and classic soul.
Heading to the studio in early 2009, Fuga's currently compiling a bunch of new songs. "I've learned a lot," she says. "I'm letting all my experiences mesh together. I see a lot of growth in my songwriting. Music is something I was born to do, and it feels so fulfilling and rewarding."
Legendary DJ Mark Farina returns to Maui for a night of funky music on Oct. 10 at Longhi's in Lahaina. This "Mushroom Music Festival 2008" show also features DJs G-Spot, IKON and Daniel J.
Acclaimed for his Mushroom Jazz CD series, Farina is best known for his down-tempo San Francisco style of mixing jazz, house, and hip-hop. Voted in the top 20 DJs in the world by MUZIK and BPM Magazine, Farina plays hundreds of shows a year.
"I look at my job as a modern- day traveling minstrel, to bring new music to as many places as I can, and expose obscure records that, otherwise, might go hidden," he says.
Farina's most recent CDs include "Live in Tokyo," featuring jazzy funky beats combined with soulful house, and the 21-track "Fabric 40," focused more on the jackin' house subgenre.
Producer Alvin "Abbey" Brazley has launched a new independent record label called Carat Records on Maui. In conjunction with the startup, the label is sponsoring a "Win a Recording Deal" talent contest. The first prize is worth $5,000.
The contest is free to enter and open to all kinds of talent, including established or new artists, bands, comedians, singers, halau, etc. The entry deadline is Oct. 30.
In a press release Brazley stated: "With all the easily downloaded recording software plus online music communities and worldwide radio direct promotions, they (musicians) can almost do it all themselves online. But you've got to present an exciting complete release package with all the right elements. What's missing is cutting-edge record business know-how to make you competitive and really stand out these days."
Interested artists should send a photo and recording by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, or by mail to Carat Records, P.O. Box 12746, Lahaina, Hawaii 96761. Attn: Contest Submissions. Include phone number and return address. For more info, check out www.caratrecords.com.
Heading to the County Fair this weekend as an added bonus you can hear local musical stars like Keali'i Reichel, Na Leo and Willie K.
Among the highlights, 2008 Hoku winner Napua Greig performs at 7:30 this evening, Ekolu plays at 8 p.m. Friday, Willie rocks at 9:30 p.m. Saturday, and Sunday's entertainment includes Sean Na'auao at 2:30 p.m., Keali'i at 7 p.m. followed by Nuff Sedd at 8:30 p.m. (For more on the fair, see pages 5 and 14.)
* Contact Jon Woodhouse at email@example.com.