Volume 1: Raiatea Helm & Dave Tucciarone

Aloha kākou nā hoaloha! Welcome to my new ongoing blog-series "Anatomy of a Mele". Each month I will feature a different Hawaiian Artist/Producer pairing and go behind the scenes to closely examine one song off of one of their albums, giving the reader a tiny glimpse into the sometimes magical, sometimes arduous creative recording process. The ultimate goal is to give YOU, the fans and music lovers a little insight into what it’s like to be in the studio. Hopefully it will inspire, educate and encourage the next generation of music makers!

To kick things off in high gear, I interviewed Hawai’i’s premier female falsetto vocalist Raiatea Helm & multi Nā Hoku Hanohano award winning Producer Dave Tucciarone.

The mele: Bina Mossman’s “Ku’u Home Aloha” from Raiatea’s 2004 ground breaking release “Sweet & Lovely”.

Listen To Sample of Ku’u Home Aloha

Purchase Ku’u Home Aloha on iTunes

Purchase Sweet & Lovely Complete CD:

Me Ke Aloha & Mele.com

Raiatea Helm

Steven Espaniola: “Ku’u Home Aloha” is a such a beautiful mele and not recorded very often. In fact the only other version I know of is Aunty Leina’ala Haili’s rendition. Is she an influence and what was the inspiration for picking this particular song?

Raiatea Helm: I discovered Leina’ala Haili’s music when I was 15 years old. My father bought me two CDs, one by Lena Machado and the other by Leina’ala Haili. He noticed my voice had a blend of Genoa Keawe, Lena Machado and Leina’ala. I fell in love with the old “Leo Ki’eki’e” styles of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. So, I focused on listening to these women but I would pay more attention Leina’ala Haili. She had a unique way of singing that I found very attractive and what I found so intriguing were the arrangements that she performed with. That being said, “Ku’u Home Aloha” was such a challenging song to perform in the studio because of the arrangement. It was a learning experience for all of us and how to appreciate the tools that we have today in order to record a song from the past. I wanted to honor Leina’ala by performing this intricate song.

How did you meet Dave?

I met Dave Tucciarone through Jon De Mello of Mountain Apple Company.

This was your first project with Dave. What made you select him as a Producer?

He is the best. He teaches you how to become a great recording artist and really improves your direction in the studio. Recording has become less challenging and a lot more fun after learning from Dave. You can focus more on the artistry and less on the technicalities which is what a performer should do. But it is also important to learn the environment you put yourself in. Dave makes you feel very comfortable in every way. 

Is there a particular method you prefer to record?

No particular method, all I need is the right space and vibe so that I can FEEL my music.  The cool thing with technology now days is that you can be in any type of room and with the effects on a the mic, you feel like you’re singing in a theatrical setting. 

Which ‘ukulele did you use on this song?  

Ku’u Home Aloha didn’t require an ‘ukulele on this recording but I do play KoAloha.

Were any studio musicians used on this recording?

Yes, Kit Ebersbach did the arrangement as well as playing the piano. Bryan Kessler played the jazz guitar. Noel Okimoto played the vibes and the percussion.  Casey Olsen played the steel guitar. The Upright Bass was played by Hoku Zuttermeister. At the end, Dave Tucciarone filled in the song with some keys to give it a full sound.

Any lucky charms or superstitions when in the studio?

 No, not really…just a glass of room temperature water.

Talk a little bit about the arrangement for “Ku’u Home Aloha”. That arrangement is very unique and “old school” sounding, how did you achieve that sound?

Well, we incorporated from what Leina’ala Haili recorded and Kit Ebersbach (the genius that he is) created a similar arrangement but to fit my style and my voice. Though it was very challenging to pursue, take after take became better and we finally got it down. It was by far one of my most challenging songs to work on, but I look back and I am very proud of what we did.

Who is your biggest role model or influence music wise?

I have so many role models, all of which come from different times in my life whether it’s family, friends and singers. My biggest role model would probably have to be my Tutu (Mom’s Mom). She taught me a lot when I was young, to work hard and to always be proud of my Hawaiian Culture. When she helped raise me as a child she had a very charming but very powerful spirit to her. I always listened to the things that meant the most to her. She was the first to teach me to play the ‘ukulele when I was 4. I miss my Tutu dearly, now and then she crosses my mind and I can deeply appreciate all that she has taught me.

Any words of wisdom you would like to give to aspiring singers?

Sure. It is YOU that make the choices in life. Don’t let anyone shape you, you build yourself into whatever you want to become, but work hard at it. People are always there to help you fulfill your dreams but you have to make that final choice. Live life to the fullest. Don’t ever give up. Life is beautiful. Live it !!! XO Raiatea

Dave Tucciarone

Steven Espaniola: Where did you record this project?

Dave Tucciarone: The majority of “Sweet and Lovely” was recorded in my home studio. We did some sessions at Audio Resource Honolulu when we had a larger ensemble.

Describe the recording process for “Ku’u Home Aloha”.

Raiatea discussed doing this song with me, and we agreed that it would be fun to try and capture the style and spirit of the original recording. So, when we asked the different musicians to participate, we asked them to learn their parts as close as possible to the old recording. I felt that was important because we don’t think the same way about arranging now as they did then.

Were there any obstacles or challenges along the way?

Yes, the challenge of comping that old style arrangement was more difficult than we all thought. It turned out to be a very tricky chart for the players, but we worked through it until it felt natural. Noel Okimoto in particular did a fabulous job on the vibes.

What equipment do you use to record?

I use a Focusrite ISA430 mic preamp and a Universal Audio LA-610 Signature Edition mic pre. My main microphone is a Neumann TLM170, but I use the AT4040 and Shure SM81 also. I’m a Mac, and I run Digital Performer 7.24 on a quad core 2.8GHz.

Are there any methods that you use to achieve results from artists?

I always encourage artists to do their best or even exceed what they think their limit is. In order for an artist to bring their best representation to the studio, I expect them to prepare as much as possible outside of the studio. I remind them in a good way that we’re all going to listen to what the end result is for the rest of our lives, so try to make it as good as possible.

Describe the dynamic between Artist & Producer

There has to be trust between and artist and producer for good things to happen in the studio. It can be a very personal expression that the artist is trying to convey, and a sensitive producer will recognize when to push, to hold back, to suggest a break, to change a line or a chord. The artist has to feel that the producer is knowledgable and caring enough to be making good, intuitive decisions about every aspect of every part recorded in every song.

Any anecdotal studio moments from this session?

Hmm, nothing comes to mind, but then again that was almost 8 years ago!

Who do you most admire as a Producer?

Quincy Jones, Walter Afanasieff, George Martin, Hugh Padgham to name a few.

Any words of wisdom you would like to give to aspiring Engineers/Producers? 

Listen, listen, listen! Use your ears and learn to use your software as if it were an extension of yourself. To seriously become a producer/engineer, you really have to approach it like you would any serious endeavor of study. That is, you have to put the time and focus into it if you want to have a chance of competing with the million other guys doing it.

What advice would you give to youngsters wanting to break into professional recording?

Don’t ever stop trying if it’s your passion. Give 1000% and always seek knowledge through practical application, resources on the internet or books on producing/engineering, as well as dialog with others who have the same passion. For 99 out of 100 people, do not go to one of those expensive recording schools with the expectation of graduating and getting placed in a career job in music. It’s not going to happen. Follow trends in the music biz and be open to all forms of music that are good. There is something to learn from all of these. Lastly, learn and instrument if possible. It will help you communicate in the language of music with other musicians.

Mahalo nui to Raiatea, Dave Tucciarone and Mountain Apple Company.

For more info on Dave and Raiatea, please visit:



Stay tuned for next month’s artist/producer pairing!!! A hui hou!