Band Camp: Four hours of live rock, punk and more
By Derek Paiva
Advertiser Entertainment Writer
So this first time ... at Band Camp ... eight acts will throw down the live punk, reggae, acoustic folk, alt-rock, soul, R&B and more for four hours on two stages at Mass Appeal Enterprises' summertime Beach House venue.
Star 101.9 FM promotions director Christine Yasuna advises arriving earlier than Band Camp's 6 p.m. Saturday start time to make sure you get in admission is free, after all.
You'll find one stage on the Pier 7 lawn near Aloha Tower Marketplace, and the other adjoining it on the deck of the good ship Clyde.
As for us, we decided the fest provided as good a reason as any to talk story with a couple of the musically inclined counselors set to lead Band Camp's sing-alongs. One opens the party. The other will help shut it down.
One of the best things about repeated listens to Johnny Helm's "At Random" is a weird sense of rediscovery on each spin.
And after speaking with the singer/songwriter/guitarist at length about his graceful (and mostly acoustically spare) 2002 Hoku award-nominated debut, I finally figured out the reason for my continued appreciation of the CD's subtle musical charms.
"Some of the songs really don't make sense, linearly," said Helm, chuckling. "They're not story songs. It's almost like a lot of different little stories or different little thoughts in one song that paint a picture. It's 'At Random' because all of the songs were pretty much random thoughts that happened when I was writing."
And though it may seem otherwise on initial spins, "At Random" standouts such as "Round and Round," "Breathe" and "Colors of the Night" really do offer less in the way of deep lyrical thought than they do a soothing aural environment of well-crafted musicianship and wonderfully abstract musings. Helm copped to a writing process as seemingly stress-free as the altogether pleasant joys of absorbing "At Random" on, say, a rainy Sunday at home.
"I'd pick a chord progression, I'd find chords that sound nice together, play 'em and just start singing," explained Helm. "Whatever came out, I recorded on my computer and then later picked apart to make a little bit of sense. None of the songs were written for anybody or anything. Hence the title."
Born and raised in Hartford, Conn., Helm moved to Hawai'i in 1996, initially finding use for his University of Rhode Island wildlife biology degree as a chemist. He had played both solo and as part of a Grateful Dead cover band and recorded a three-track demo before moving, but wasn't looking to revive anything related to music here.
That all changed when Helm met former KQMQ-FM deejay Wili Moku, who introduced him to the intimacies of the recording studio. He hung up his lab coat six months later for radio internships first with Moku, then with Caribou Broadcasting (now New Wave Broadcasting).
"The radio station had a full production studio, so I started recording and engineering on my own," said Helm. He wound up recording an almost full-length acoustic CD while holding deejay jobs at a couple of local stations, logging time as a barista, and performing nights at now-shuttered Manoa bar and grill Shipley's.
"At Random" came together last year. Its recording was financed by a local media company and Helm. Pressing was largely financed by family and friends who handed over $20 each for a home-burned advance copy.
Sales of "At Random" haven't yet matched the positive critical and word-of-mouth notice that has given Helm's music much of its lasting buzz, but "Breathe" did make it on to Star 101.9's playlist this spring. Helm began recording an "At Random" follow-up last week. His aim is a "raw" and "unpolished" sound more reminiscent of the aggressive guitar and rough-hewn vocals that characterize his live performances.
And the songwriting?
"There's more of a storyline, I think, with these songs but they're still pretty random," said Helm, laughing.
No song that's had a chorus beginning with the question, "Why don't you have some dirty hot sex with me?" has failed in 50 years of rock 'n' roll history. Tack on a bridge where our hero asks the very same girl, "Why you gotta sleep with my dad?" and voila! You've now captured the bitter end of an average 19-year-old male's worst libidinous nightmare. Let the airplay and CD sales begin!
So why should native Kailua-Kona rock-reggae trio Pepper have any regrets about finally busting onto local radio with "Give It Up," an infectiously jaunty pop-punk parody that dominated Star 101.9 FM's playlist this spring? Uh, well, they don't have any regrets, actually.
"Basically, we just sat down and were, like, 'OK, let's just write a song mocking all these pop-punk bands out there that sing about their girlfriends," said drummer Yesod Williams. "While making the album, the producer was, like, 'This should be the single.' And we were, like, 'Uh, we don't know about that.' "
Discovered by radio a full year after the release of Pepper's second CD "Kona Town," "Give It Up" is hardly representative of the bulk of the now SoCal-based band's compositional oeuvre. Instead, "Kona Town" more often showcases a tight lineup of musician/music fans with a love of rock, reggae, ska and dub, and influences ranging from Sublime and especially The Police, to Gabby Pahinui and The Clash.
Pepper became Pepper in 1997 when Williams hooked up with fellow Konawaena High School grads Kaleo Wassman (guitar/vocals) and Bret Bollinger (bass/vocals), who were already jamming together. The band's first gig was a summer house party in Keauhou for 30 friends shortly before Williams headed for more postgrad festivities in San Diego.
"It flashed on me then, that San Diego would be a really good place to base our band," said Williams. "It seemed like we'd click with the (live) scene that was going on over there."
Still, the band decided to file a San Diego move in its "future goals" file and instead saved its cash to record a seven-song demo. By 1999, Pepper was signed to Los Angeles-based indie label Volcom Entertainment and had its first CD "Give'n It" ready for launch. Four months after signing, though, all three members were still working Kailua-Kona restaurant jobs while chasing their musical dreams part time. Williams came home late from work one night to a call from his bandmates.
"Kaleo and Bret were, like, 'We just put in our two weeks' notice! We're going!' " remembered Williams. "I put in my two weeks' notice the next day. A friend who had moved to San Diego had an extra room in an apartment, so all three of us slept in this one room for six months."
Initial gigs for Hawai'i expats at clubs and house parties and relentless touring eventually led to opening slots for Shaggy, Burning Spear, Eek-A-Mouse and Pato Banton. Pepper will play its third consecutive Vans Warped Tour in July and August.
"We just made playing our lives and made sure something happened," Williams said.
Pepper is in the middle of a two-month "longest break in three or four years," resting with family on the Big Island, rehearsing songs for a third CD set for release in early 2004, and playing the occasional show. A June 5 Pipeline Caf homecoming gig that sold out two days before showtime took the grateful band by surprise.
"We'd played raging shows (in Honolulu) that were super nuts ... but at this show, every single person was there to see us," said Williams. "Being able to headline our own O'ahu show at a legit venue like Pipeline Caf and sell it out was definitely a dream."