It's easy to see why The Throwdowns' debut CD was nominated for the Rock Album of the Year Na Hoku Hanohano Award. One of the most exciting rock albums ever released by a Maui group, "Don't Slow Down" signals a band ripe for major attention.
Bristling with energy and raw power, the CD sports artfully forged songs that run the gamut from the catchy, reggae- flavored rock of "Redemption on The Dancefloor" to the breathless punk pace of "Getting Bored."
And it seems they're only getting better and evolving to greater things as their new single "Stay HI" amply illuminates, mixing an intense jangly guitar opening with a chilled Police-style reggae groove and instantly memorable chorus.
We’ve been very lucky. We’ve been getting a lot of chances to play, and we get to learn from the big guns. Our name came from giving your all when you’re going for something or performing. We have a lot of energy …We go pretty hard on all cylinders and I think that’s part of the appeal for people.
— Erin Smith
The Throwdowns lead singer
No wonder they've been picked up for distribution by the ADA/Warner label, and are selling as many downloads in New York as Hawaii.
"We're recording our next record in the summer," reports the band's magnetic lead singer, Erin Smith. "The natural progression would be to tour this album more, but our sound is changing so much we're taking the opportunity to record again. We're getting a taste out with the new single. Fiji is going to do a duet with us on that song, so when we release the full record we'll have the Fiji remix on there. Our next record has songs like 'Honolulu' and 'Heart Attack,' and there are more big Coldplay/U2 moments. We're trying to make the strongest songs we can."
Having arrived on our island around six years ago from Toronto, Smith is joined in this dynamic quartet by Maui-born musicians, guitarist/producer/studio whiz Ola Shaw and bassist Kimo Clark, and drummer Ian Hollingsworth from Pennsylvania.
*What: Hawaiian Airlines presents The Hawaii Academy of Recording Arts' 33rd Annual Na Hoku Hanohano Awards, culminating the first Na Hoku O Hawaii Music Festival
*When: Sunday, 7:30 p.m.
*Where: Televised from the Hawaii Convention Center in Honolulu, beginning with Red Carpet Arrivals beginning at 6:30 p.m. on K5, followed by HARA Lifetime Achievement Awards Luncheon at 7 p.m. and live award broadcast at 7:30 p.m. on KGMB 9.
*Maui musical nominees: Anuhea Jenkins, Kulewa, Amy Hanaiali'i, Raiatea Helm, Ekolu, Testafiyah, Uluwehi Guerrero, Willie K, The Throwdowns, Gail Swanson, Derick Sebastian, Ranga Pae, Hula Honeys, Masters of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar, George Kahumoku Jr., Jeff Peterson.
Acutely attuned to the times, The Throwdowns employ arresting graphics to enhance their appeal. The creative team behind the imagery - Maui's Dogtowne Design's Scott Johnson and photographer Tony Novak-Clifford - are nominated for the Graphics Award Hoku.
Propelled by strong radio play around the state, lately they've been the band of choice to open concerts, playing on bills with Matisyahu, Bad Brains, 311, NOFX, the English Beat and Sammy Hagar.
"We've been very lucky," Erin notes. "We've been getting a lot of chances to play, and we get to learn from the big guns. Our name came from giving your all when you're going for something or performing. We have a lot of energy. Ian just goes for it on drums and Kimo jumps around a lot, Ola has these crazy dance moves and I'm animated charisma girl. We go pretty hard on all cylinders and I think that's part of the appeal for people."
Drawing comparisons with groups ranging from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Sublime to even The Pretenders, they are riding the current wave of popularity of women ruling the charts in rock and pop.
"I realized recently that that's happening," says Erin. "We don't focus on the girl thing much, it's just part of our deal. We draw comparisons in the press to cool indie rock acts. We really think we can pull some neat stuff off and represent Maui out there."
And having Maui as a base also seems to be helping open doors. They have some showcases in L.A. already set, and there's talk of attending the SxSW fest next year.
"There's a little island feel in our music that comes from our surroundings," she says. "We had a Kihei song on our last record, and 'Honolulu' on the next record is about the cutting edge rock scene there."
On Sunday they will find out if they can add a Hoku Award to their achievements. "We're excited and honored," Erin concludes. "We're happy to be included."
Besides the actual awards show on Sunday evening, this year's Na Hoku festivities encompass a four-day program of music, culture and the arts, including more than 75 workshops with artists ranging from Keali'i Reichel, Eddie Kamae, Jake Shimabukuro and Henry Kapono, to Kenny Loggins, Mick Fleetwood and Lee Ritenour. Fleetwood Mac's legendary drummer will perform at Sunday's show, first playing with Henry Kapono (nominated for the DVD Hoku), plus presenting the Rock Hoku with Raiatea Helm (also up for the DVD award) and probably joining the mass artists' grand finale on Loggins' classic "Danny's Song."
"It's going to be a blast," says Henry, who will perform a song from the upcoming "Wild Hawaiian 2." "We haven't recorded it yet, it's a new song, 'Ka Leo O Ka Manu.' "
Mick will open the segment on a talking drum and then switch to a regular drum kit. "The way Mick plays, his style really works with us," Henry continues. "And (slam poet) Kealoha does an amazing piece of poetry in it. We're all really excited about it."
Kenny Loggins will join Hapa near the show's close to perform a new, stripped-down version of Matisyahu's anthemic hit "One Day."
"With Kenny coming in I thought what could we do to end the Hokus," Barry Flanagan explains. "We're releasing the Matisyahu song on iTunes. We've been playing it on tour on the Mainland and all of a sudden there's 2,000 voices singing along. I took the reggae edge out and did it more like a soft Barry McGuire (of "Eve of Destruction" fame), almost like an anti-war love song."
With Memorial Day in mind, the powerful song will be performed along with images of all the island service men and women who have died fighting in Iraq and Afghanis- tan. "We're honoring all those who gave up their lives," Barry adds. "We'll have a montage behind us of all who passed."
Hapa just finished filming on Maui playing with Led Kaapana in a scene for the romantic comedy "Just Go With It."
"The director, Dennis Dugan, was a Hapa fan since the first CD came out," Barry reports. "He placed us in the one scene with Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Aniston, Adam Sandler and Dave Matthews, a goofy hula competition, and we're playing in the background."
Besides attending the Hoku festivities, jazz guitar great Lee Ritenour will play the Castle Theater on Friday at 7:30 p.m.
This Grammy Award-winning guitarist played his first sessions at 16 with the Mamas and Papas, accompanied Tony Bennett at 18, and went on to record with an extraordinary array of artists from Herbie Hancock, Steely Dan and Aretha Franklin, to Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins and Pink Floyd.
Ready for release at the end of June, Ritenour's latest album project, "6 String Theory," pays tribute to the guitar, with an amazing all-star line-up that includes George Benson, B.B. King, Slash, Robert Cray, Vince Gill, Taj Majal and Jonny Lang.
"I'm excited to share the music with everyone," Ritenour announced on his website. "We've assembled an incredible roster of guest guitarists. This was an amazing album for me to produce and perform on."
Known as "Captain Fingers," this prolific artist has produced more than 40 albums spanning straight-ahead jazz, fusion, Brazilian and contemporary crossover styles.
Influenced in his early days by the guitar styles of Wes Montgomery and Joe Pass, Ritenour was a founding member of Fourplay, one of the most successful bands in contemporary jazz. The first Fourplay album in 1991 spent 33 weeks at the top of Billboard's contemporary jazz chart. Two years later, he again topped the jazz chart with his tribute to Wes Montgomery on "Wes Bound."
In recent years he's found success with various tribute albums including "A Twist of Marley," "A Twist of Motown" and "A Twist of Jobim," celebrating the music of Brazil's Antonio Carlos Jobim.
Following a three-week tour of New Zealand, the Mana Maoli Collective returns to Maui to perform a fundraiser at Casanova Saturday night. Proceeds from the concert will benefit Na Lei Na'auao, an alliance of 12 Hawaiian culture, community and environment-based charter schools.
One of a series of shows across the state, the Makawao event will draw from an all-star pool including John Cruz, Anuhea, Paula Fuga, Pearl Jam's Boom Gaspar, Wayne Enos of Natural Vibrations, Kapali Keahi of Lahaina Grown, Moku of 4Fathers, Shane Veincent of Sudden Rush, Grant Ka'au'a of Mixjah, CJ of HI-town and percussionist Lopaka Colon of the Wild Hawaiian Band.
The Shantala duo of Benjy and Heather Wertheimer will join Ram Dass at The Studio Maui on Sunday for an afternoon of music, singing and meditation from 3 to 6 p.m. Known for leading kirtan chanting, Shantala has performed and recorded with such sacred music artists as Krishna Das, Deva Premal & Miten, and Jai Uttal.
Yoga Journal praised their CD "Sri" as "an intoxicating mix of Eastern and Western - a sense of devotion and authenticity shines through in each track." There is a $15 suggested donation.