Posts tagged 'ukulele

New electric ‘ukulele offering from my guitar sponsor Godin

New electric ‘ukulele offering from my guitar sponsor Godin

Volume 4: Brittni Paiva & Tom Scott

Aloha kākou nā hoaloha! Welcome to my ongoing blog-series “Anatomy of a Mele”. Each month I will feature a different 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!

This month I am excited to feature ‘ukulele prodigy Brittni Paiva and award winning jazz musician/producer Tom Scott.

The mele: “Tell U What” from Brittni’s 2012 album of the same name “Tell U What”.

Listen To Sample of Tell U What

Purchase Tell U What on iTunes

Purchase Tell U What on Amazon

Purchase Brittni’s Complete CD “Tell U What”:

Amazon

Brittni Paiva

Steven Espaniola: Dig the vibe of “Tell U What”. I hear some influence of blues, funk, jazz, reggae, and even Japanese folk. Can you tell us a bit about the inspiration behind the song?

Brittni Paiva: “Tell U What” is kind of the attitude song of the record.  I was practicing one afternoon and played a little riff that sounded kind of cool, and it ended up being the hook of the song.  As I continued to work on it a bit, I thought I’d incorporate a bit of blues and funk to it to further enhance that “attitude” type of sound that the riff already had.  Tom and I worked together to complete the composition of the song.

What is the instrumentation on this song?

On “Tell U What”, there’s ukulele, bass, organs and synthesizers, and sax.

The song seems to follow a 16 bar blues format with an added tag at the end. Can you talk about that arrangement?

The 12 bar blues arrangement of “Tell U What” just kind of……happened, I guess.  Haha.  It seemed natural with the rhythm and melody.

Describe your songwriting process.

There’s almost always some sort of situation to spark the creation of a song.  Inspirations are really random at times.  I’ve had ideas come from watching my brother’s dog run around in the backyard, to seeing someone walking down the street.  I find that if I sit down and actually try to write a song, it doesn’t come out right and, sometimes, doesn’t come out at all.

I know you started on both guitar (ki ho’alu) as well as ‘ukulele. What prompted the switch to primarily ‘ukulele?

Well, after I became more experienced playing both instruments, I realized that I connected more to the ukulele so I decided that I would focus on the ukulele as my primary instrument.

Is there a particular method you prefer to record?

When I’m recording a song, I make a scratch drum/percussion track first and then lay down the rhythm ukulele/guitar tracks.  Once the rhythm is done, I do the lead ukulele track and then redo the drums and percussion.

What were some of the challenges recording this particular song?      

I thought it was somewhat challenging to break out even further with the ukulele by incorporating a little blues and funk into the sound — filling up the gaps but not making it too busy.

What kind of ‘ukulele do you use to record with?

I used a Kamaka tenor ukulele — Jake’s model, to be exact.  It’s what I’m using while Kamaka is building my custom.

Were any studio musicians or guest artists used on this recording?     

Tom Scott played sax on this track.  I think his parts really hit the spot with this tune!

With Tom’s involvement, it seems like you were able to really focus more on being an artist on this project. Was that liberating for you?

It was liberating, in fact.  Playing the ukulele as a lead instrument in a jazz setting was very fun, but challenging as well.  It forced me to think in a way that I normally don’t think when I play my music.  I have always enjoyed listening to jazz but when it came to applying it on my own record, it was a nice push for me and a great experience.

Any anecdotal studio or blooper moments you wish to share?

I didn’t use a tuner during the project.  And while recording the bass parts for another song, my G string broke and that left me with a four-stringed five string bass!  I didn’t have time to run to the music store to buy a new set of strings so I winged it without the G string.  Haha.

Any lucky charms or superstitions when in the studio?

I always have to crack my knuckles before I record.  Otherwise, I don’t think my hands work properly.

Who is your biggest role model or influence music wise?

I am a huge fan of Orianthi.  There aren’t a whole lot of women who can play guitar that well and who are around my age.  She’s a great inspiration to me.  I had the chance to meet her and converse with her a bit and she’s very down-to-earth and so very nice.

Any words of wisdom you would like to give to aspiring ‘ukulele players?

Regardless of what anyone says, keep practicing!  Never tell yourself and never let anyone tell you that you can’t do it.  Once you get into that mindset, you really won’t be able to do it.  Remain positive while you’re practicing and have fun!

What’s currently in your iPod? Five albums.

"Believe" by Justin Bieber

"One Song at a Time" by Jamie Grace

"Borrowed Heaven" by The Corrs

"Music for Speeding" by Marty Friedman

"This is What Happens" by The Reign of Kindo

Tell us a “betcha didn’t know” tidbit about yourself.

I’m a pyro.  I love fire and blowing things up!

Bonus Question by contest winner Tim Culler:

Brittni, I first saw you perform in a theater in Kona a long time ago, I bet you were only 11 or 12 years old! Now that you are a more mature 23, can you tell us how your perspective has changed about playing music and about performing and recording?

When I first started, I never had the experiences of performing on stage and performing as a backing musician or guest artist on someone else’s recording.  Over time, I realized just how much I enjoy being that support role for others; lending my skill and craft where someone needs it.  As a long term goal, I’d love to be a studio musician and producer to inspire creativity and allow for a wider range of experimentation.

Tom Scott

Steven Espaniola: How did you first meet Brittni?

Tom Scott: Brittni sat in with my group at a concert on Maui last year and really knocked me out!

Where was “Tell U what” recorded?

Not exactly ‘studios’ in the traditional sense. Brittni was recorded in her Hilo home studio, a hotel room in Maui, and my home studio in Ventura, California.  Michael McDonald recorded vocals at his Maui home studio, Arturo Sandoval his Calabasas, CA. home studio, Ray Parker, Jr. at his Calabasas, CA. home studio.  Chuck Findley and all the other instruments were recorded in Ventura.

What type of equipment did you use to record “Tell U What”? 

I have a MacBook Pro. I used Logic Pro for recording. Brittni played using a direct pickup into my M-Audio Profire 2626 audio interface which is routed into the Mac via Firewire.

Were there any special microphones that were used?

I don’t know all the mics that were used except for mine, a 30-year old AKG 414.It is still the standard by which I judge other wind instrument mics.

The ‘ukulele is an inherently “quiet” instrument without a lot of dynamic range acoustically. How were you able to balance Brittni’s ‘ukulele with the contrasting sound of horns, drums, etc. so effectively? 

Here’s my big producing secret. I tweak the ukulele audio files A LOT. I like to go in and permanently alter the gain, sometimes one note or one chord at a time to even out the volume. It can take many hours, but it’s well worth it in the end.

Were there any obstacles along the way? 

Not really, except scheduling Michael and Arturo to participate. They have very busy lives.

Any superstitions or lucky charms in the studio? 

Nah, each day you have to sit down & go to work, using your critical abilities to figure out how you can make this or that song sound better. It’s a taxing job if you’re doing it right and only hard work will allow you to achieve your goals.

The list of studio musicians & featured artists on the album is pretty impressive. How did they get involved with the project? 

I’ve known these gentlemen for many years and I thought it was time to call in a few favors.

Any advice or words of wisdom you’d like to give to aspiring Engineers/Producers who want to break into the business? 

Well, if you insist on starting out prior to my retirement, I would say: Find yourself some talent [artists] and get busy!

Was this your first time working with ‘ukulele? Do you play ‘ukulele yourself?

Oddly enough, ukulele was my first instrument (age 5-6). But whatever I played bore little resemblance to the instrument as Brittni plays it.

Tell us a “betcha didn’t know” tidbit about yourself. 

I’m a big fan of classic films. You know, the ones with a strong plot, great actors & great film scores!

Mahalo nui to Brittni & Tom!

For more info on Brittni, please visit:

www.brittnipaiva.com

For more info on Tom, please visit:

www.tomscottmusic.com

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

Archives

Steven

Volume 3: Kawika Alfiche & Forrest Lawrence

Aloha kākou nā hoaloha! Welcome to my 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!

This month I am very excited to feature my cousin, renowned Kumu Hula and musician Kāwika Alfiche (Hālau o Keikiali’i) and Engineer Forrest Lawrence who has worked with everyone from Norteno heavyweights Los Tigres Del Norte, to rock icon Chris Martin of the band Coldplay.

The mele: “Hoʻi Hou Mai” from Kāwika’s 2011 sophomore release “Kaleʻa”.

Listen To Sample of Hoʻi Hou Mai

Purchase Ho’i Hou Mai on iTunes

Purchase Ho’i Hou Mai on Amazon

Purchase Kāwika’s Complete CD “Kale’a”:

Me Ke Aloha & Mele.com

Kāwika Alfiche

Steven Espaniola: “Ho’i Hou Mai” is a very beautiful mele. Can you tell us a bit about the inspiration behind the song?

Kāwika Alfiche: First off, Mahalo! A couple of things were happening about the same time this song came about.  We were on a cultural exchange in Aotearoa (New Zealand) and we were so lucky to be able to stay on the Marae at the University in Auckland. We spent our first night in a very familiar Hawaiian way, over beers and music. Wow can they Kanikapila. until sunrise! Freshly back from this trip, I had a kanikapila with a friend of mine and we exchanged songs and one Maori song in particular had a similar vibe to Hoʻi Hou Mai and out it came. The theme of the song like most. Love. I wrote Hoʻi Hou Mai as a gift to my Ipo on our 15th year anniversary.

Would you be willing to share any kaona (hidden meaning)?    

Sure thing! The purpose of this song was also to celebrate love that has withstood the test of time. I’m always fascinated meeting people who’ve been together for a long time. And certainly always interested in finding out what the secret is. I wrote the line, “E pili kāua me ka mahina” (Let us be in company with the moon), my promise that we will always be together in company with the moon or my nights are to be with you, always.

Is there a hula that accompanies the song? 

Oh Yes, I think every song I’ve written comes with a hula especially this one. All of my songs are written with hula in mind and meant to be choreographed. The interesting part about the hula to this mele. It was choreographed by the person whom I wrote it for! I think if you search Hoʻi Hou Mai on youtube.com, you can see the dance.

Watch Video

The vocal melody really sticks in your head at first listen and the instrumentation is very sparse. Was that intentional to bring focus to the vocal melody? 

Yes definitely, for Hoʻi Hou Mai I didn’t want anything to take away from the vocal melody. I tried adding some other melody picking with guitar and ʻukulele and it seemed to take away and fight with the melody so I kept it clean and simple.

Describe your songwriting process.

You know, the process for me happens differently depending on the inspiration. Sadly, when someone passes away, the process seems to happen effortlessly. In my latest CD, Kaleʻa, two of the mele were composed for my Kumu, Rae Kahikilaulani Fonseca. They are track 1 Mele Aloha and track 14 No Kalopa. Both of them were written in minutes. So far every song I’ve written has been text first, then the melody. For me, the mana`o of the song makes the melody. This past year I’ve been experimenting with song writing in English, wow, a completely different process. We’ll see how that goes.

Is there a particular instrument that you normally use to compose with?        

I think when I first started composing I was using my 8-string Kamaka which was a gift from my hālau. These past couple of years songs have come from my 12-string Seagull. Although I’ve only been playing guitar a few years I love love love my guitar and I feel sad when I’m away from her to long…is that normal???

Is there a particular method you prefer to record?   

Definitely. I lay down ʻukulele tracks first, like in most Hawaiian music, ʻukulele starts it off and then everything else comes in after. After ʻukulele, I usually lay down the melody vocal tracks. After that the other instruments and the other vocal tracks.

What were some of the challenges recording this particular song?      

I think going into the studio and tracking out the songs was difficult. We were so used to singing live. It took a few tries to get the same emotion out as if we were singing side by side.

Love the call and answer of the female vocal line. Who is singing that part?    

My good friend Lehua Yim. She’s an English Lit. Professor at SF State Univ., a great guitar player and vocalist. Together we have great synergy and we play all kinds of music. We love playing Journey songs! We’ve spent a lot of time the past couple of years playing all of the San Francisco scene and beyond. She has a great ear for harmony and music!

Were any studio musicians or guest artists used on this recording?     

My band consists of friends and students. As for this song, on guitar and vocals with me is Lehua Yim and on upright bass is my haumana, Kale Ancheta and I’m on ʻukulele and vocals. It’s laid out very simply. 2 vocal tracks, 3 instrument tracks (ʻukulele, guitar and bass).

Any anecdotal moments or bloopers you wish to share?      

It’s funny cause my first cd, Nalei, I added a bonus track with bloopers. We decided to leave it out this time but man, I’m sure we had a handful. I asked Forrest (sound engineer) to keep them on standby. I think we’re going to add em to our website sometime soon, depending how embarrassing they are. I do remember the mic was so hot I think Forrest could hear every time I was hungry, which is pretty much always ;-(

Any lucky charms or superstitions when in the studio?

I have a little furry troll with rainbow hair, a lucky penny from the year I was born and I walk around the microphone 3 times before I record. I’m totally kidding I don’t have any…Now I’m thinking maybe I should. Do you?

[Steven’s reply: “haha…no, I don’t”]

Who is your biggest role model or influence music wise?

Wow, tough question. There’s definitely more than one and it changes but the one person I’m really thinking about right now is one of my Mentors/Kumus Aunty Harriet Keahilihau-Spalding. She loved to sing and entertain. She had so much life and energy when she did and captivated any audience. and I mean any audience. I remember she came to my housewarming party, my first home, everybody was there to have fun and go crazy (New Years Eve). Aunty Hariett had everybody singing and dancing hula at one point and all I could think was, amazing.

Who is your biggest role model or influence in hula?

Definitely my Kumu, the late Rae Kahikilaulani Fonseca. I am a formal ʻuniki of Kumu Rae. As they say Hula is life and he was my father/teacher/brother/friend/psychiatrist. He was and still is my world. I miss him dearly and think of him every day. I carry on his work in every way possible and try to be the best Kumu I can be.

Do you find it difficult to “self produce” in the studio?

Well, I don’t know any different. My first cd we did at our Cultural Center (Kaululehua Hawaiian Cultural Center www.apop.net) without any clue in how the process works. Although I am not at all opposed to working with a producer, I actually work well on my own. And, I just haven’t had the opportunity to work with one.  

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

In the words of Hiʻiakaikapoliopele, “Mai paʻa i ka leo” - Don’t withhold/obstruct your voice. My take on this is: Sing from your guts, sing from your heart, this is what truly turns your voice and song into prayer. Something I try to live by.

Tell us a “betcha didn’t know” tidbit about yourself.

I owned a café for 10 years so I was a Barista for a decade and I bartend every so often at my friends restaurant downtown for a change of pace. It’s good fun and truly humbling. You meet all kinds of people bar-tending downtown.

Bonus Question by contest winner Aunty Wanda Certo:

What do you think is the best way to carry traditional style Hawaiian music into the future?

I have 2 answers to this question. 1: Be mindful of the past. I like to try to play the music that the kupuna nod their head to. 2: Be mindful of the future. The challenge is how to get young people to enjoy traditional Hawaiian music. I try to make it interesting in story-telling. I try to find something that refers to them so they can feel a part of the mele. Great question Aunty Wanda!

Check out some behind the scenes video from the session:
http://youtu.be/l859V_of7E8

Forrest Lawrence

Steven Espaniola: What studio was the song recorded at?

Forrest Lawrence: The Annex Recording Studios located in the Bay Area of Northern California.

What type of equipment did you use to record?

The album was recorded in Studio A on a Neve V3 analog mixing console. We tracked to Protools instead of reel to reel tape so as to take advantage of the editing capabilities and the overall flexibility of the medium.

Are there any special microphones that were used? Do you prefer any in particular for vocals vs instruments?

Kāwika’s vocals were recorded using a vintage Neumann U87 from the 60’s. (It says made in west germany on it, so you know it is old!) All instruments were recorded using similar vintage Neumann mics, (ukulele KM84, guitar TLM 193, bass U47) this was done to maintain the organic qualities of the music and to avoid things sounding too sterile and digital.

What was the tracking order for “Ho’i Hou Mai”?

The order that the songs were recorded was pretty random. We would record whatever song Kāwika felt like doing that day, then at the end of the day, I would put all the best takes from that day on a CD for him to take home and review. Then the next day we would either record new songs, or sometimes try ones we had already done again to see if we could capture a better performance. Some were done in one take, some took many takes. Trying to find the right feel can be tricky in the studio since it is a foreign environment than what some performers are used to, so sometimes it takes a little while to get the right vibe going, then it is just a matter of me being ready to capture the magic.

Were there any obstacles along the way?

We had a lot of trouble with the bass if I remember. The group played live together, but they were in separate rooms to isolate their sounds, so they could see each other through the glass, and they could hear each other via the headphones. The upright bass that was used was pretty noisy. It made a lot of weird creaking wooden noises when certain notes were played, so thankfully, since we had the bass isolated, I was able to go in and edit out those noises. That is the trouble with using real physical instruments sometimes as opposed to synthetic instruments is that they are prone to sounding, well, natural, and that character is sometimes what makes them special, and sometimes, it creates unintended noises that would distract the listener.

Any superstitions or lucky charms in the studio?

Not really, Kāwika might have sometimes went through little rituals or meditations to get his head in the right place before recording, but I wasn’t really aware of this as I was usually fiddling with knobs and headphones.

Any advice or words of wisdom you’d like to give to aspiring Engineers who want to break into the business? 

Do it for the right reasons, which hopefully, is love. Music, and sound in general, is a beautiful and powerful thing. So if you want to work on making audio art, do it, but try and not get caught up in the business side too much, because that can be very distracting. The hours can be long, the pay can be very little, but the rewards of helping create art are great.

This was your first Hawaiian project. Any difference in recording technique versus another music genre?

Not especially. I have found that it is important to quickly decode the language of any performer and find out what they like and don’t like sonically so that everyone is on the same page going into the process. Kāwika sent me some recordings of other similar artists that he liked so that I could get a sense of the audio spectrum he was looking for. Every genre has a general tonality, and so you want to honor that so that the listeners feel comforted hearing sounds they can identify and relate to. Working with Kāwika was a pleasure. He was very passionate and focused about his art, and so that made my job easy. All of the guest musicians were really professional and each brought something special to the project. Sometimes we would try experiments to see what could be added to a song to bring it to life, and generally, we found that less is more. I think the only issue we had during the recording was that there were a couple songs that were not finished lyrically, and so Kāwika delayed recording those until the end so that he had more time to finish the lyrics. I have found that the deadlines associated with the recording process can sometimes be very inspirational in terms of getting artists to commit to their ideas, which is key, because otherwise, those unfinished ideas may never see the light of day, and in the end, music is meant to be shared.

Behind the scenes at Annex:
http://youtu.be/l859V_of7E8

Mahalo nui to Kāwika & Forrest!

For more info on Kāwika, please visit:

http://www.kawikaalfiche.com/

For more info on Forrest and The Annex Studios, please visit:

http://theannexstudios.com/

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

Archives

Steven

Black Sabbath transcribed for the ‘ukulele!

Black Sabbath transcribed for the ‘ukulele!

Volume 2: Mailani Makainai & Trey Terada

Aloha kākou nā hoaloha! Welcome to my 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!

This month’s pairing are Nā Hōkū Hanohano award winning singer/songwriter Mailani Makainai and Producer/’ukulele wunderkind Trey Terada. As an added bonus, I also took the opportunity to interview the song’s Hawaiian language consultant Keola Donaghy (Ka Haka ‘Ula O Ke‘elikōlani College of Hawaiian Language at the University of Hawai‘i Hilo).

The mele: “Penei Iho, Penei A’e, Penei Nō” from Mailani’s 2009 debut solo release “Mailani”. Co-written by Keola Donaghy and Mailani.

Listen To Sample of Penei Iho, Penei A’e, Penei Nō

Purchase Penei Iho, Penei A’e, Penei Nō on iTunes

Purchase Penei Iho, Penei A’e, Penei Nō on Amazon

Purchase Mailani Makainai Complete CD:

Me Ke Aloha & Mele.com

Mailani Makainai

Steven Espaniola: “Penei Iho, Penei A’e, Penei Nō” has a very modern groove and vibe. How did that come about?

Mailani Makainai: I have always been a rhythm guitar player and vibes like this one in particular got me going - I wanted the chorus to stand out as well so I went for a major chord - G and just sang along to it with thoughts in my head.

Love the arrangement of the song as it follows a very western style “verse chorus verse chorus” pop format. Can you talk a little about bit about that arrangement?

Sure! Yes it’s true that traditionally Hawaiian mele doesn’t typically have a chorus.  In our older chants you will see some lines that are redundant or a typical ending with “Ha’ina” or a “puana” which brings you back to the first opening lines of the a mele. 

However, when reading the Queen’s Songbook - Queen Lili’uokalani - I found a mele named “Keolalani” and it was just beautiful.  In it had these lines of Pēnei iho, pēnei aʻe, pēnei nō…

And because of that it really answered my wanting of arranging a mele in this way.

Is there a particular method you prefer to record?

In terms of recording not really. I like to listen to myself and my voice on some earphones just to get into the studio mindset if I’m trying to create and write a piece. Vocally it helps me, musically instrumentally it pushes me forward because it just heightens the sounds you hear in your head and how you want those sounds to either be apart of your new creation or not.

What type of guitar did you play on this mele?

Hmmmm I can’t remember. I actually think I recorded with one of Trey’s Taylors but Larivee’s are my fav.

How did you meet Trey?

I met Trey years ago through Jon Yamasato along with Jaymie Lei Melket my first musical partner from Keahiwai. Jon was with the musical group known as Pure Heart at the time and we were just kids - like college girls that played music for fun. Jon took interest in us and I recorded a scratch track - “Over” with Dr. Trey and then I didn’t see him for several years. We started work together again on a podcast dedicated to the Hawaii music industry and we created a project called Mighty J with Jennifer Wright and Tiki Suan. It was one of the most inspiring and daring projects to date. I loved every moment of it and wish it could have done better than it did.

Were any studio musicians used on this recording?

hmmmm for Penei? I don’t think so I think it was just us.

Any lucky charms or superstitions when in the studio?

Trey has a few charms like his James Brown doll and idk for me I don’t have any charms really its go in and jam.

Tell us a “betcha didn’t know” tidbit about yourself.

I betcha didn’t know that I am a closet comedian. I love making ppl laugh even if the joke is on me, I just believe that laughter can cure diseases and illness and laughter is just one of the best feelings in the world. To laugh out loud and tear and being hunched over because of something funny - it just brings peace of mind into our lives and that’s why I would love to be a comedian. Plus, I love to laugh too!

Who is your biggest role model or influence music wise?

Teresa Bright is my all time favorite singer in the world. She has given of herself to our industries across the world and just has a majestic voice.  There is no one like her. She is so humble and loving.  She is magic to me I love her and am grateful for the time she allows me. She helps everyone and also teaches young girls on the techniques of using their voice in theatre as well. She is a true artist and can read music. 

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

Find your own voice. Don’t copy cat too much. Yes - it’s good to exercise while singing to other people’s material but find your very own voice. I will always want to sing like Beyonce - but in truth I have my own voice that I can perfect. 

Find what works and practice every day.

Aloha!

Trey Terada

Steven Espaniola: Where was the mele recorded?

Trey Terada: It was recorded at my studio (The Doctor’s Office/Four Strings ‘Ukulele Studio) in Kāneʻohe and mixed at Mountain Apple Company.

What were some of the challenges of recording this particular song?

What was interesting was that when Mailani brought this song into the studio, she had a different melody for the chorus altogether. It was, in fact, almost chant like and I felt as though it wouldn’t have worked as written. So I gave her the melody for the chorus, and it became what it is today.

What was the instrument tracking order for “Penei Iho, Penei A’e, Penei No”?

Although I can’t remember the exact tracking order, I generally like to lay rhythmic instruments first and the voice last. In the case of Mai though, I always try to base the music off of her unique guitar strum. Therefore, we almost always record her guitar part first and vocals last.

Were there any obstacles or challenges along the way?

I think the biggest obstacle was convincing Mailani that her [original] melody didn’t really work for this song.

The separation of the individual instruments and vocals are very apparent on this recording. How did you achieve that?

Mailani’s sound has been pretty consistent in its very acoustic approach to Contemporary Hawaiian music. I like this because it offers space to all the instruments while not taking away from the vocals. Sound stage has always been important to me. I always try to imagine myself in the middle of things when we record and try to get each instrument to sit in its sweet spot.

What equipment do you use to record?

My favorite mic is usually the [Neumann] U87 so it’s very likely that we went in that direction.  I was an early adopter of recording at 96khz 24bit. The sound was apparently better with that resolution. Mountain Apple took awhile to adopt that philosophy and although our original intention was to mix at 96khz 24bit, when the tracks got to MAC the sample rate was dropped to 44.1khz.  I was disappointed but we worked it as best as we could.  We recorded into pro tools 96/24 through apogee converters, and mixed and bounced at 44.1/24 using digital performer.

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

This song practically sang itself for Mailani.  Often times we go through a lot of coaching to get her to sing the part in her particular and specific style.  My approach with Mailani is to generally give her a visual to think about to intensify her performance. When sheʻs on she is so amazing!

Describe the dynamic between artist & producer.

Mailani and I are great friends. This has contributed greatly towards our recordings. I like to keep the general atmosphere in the studio kinda fun.  We know it’s ultimately work, but music is our passion and therefore, we keep our heads on straight and try to translate the fun that we have together into the music we put out.

Was it particularly difficult to record yourself on this track?

I actually find it easier to record myself than I do others.  We have a general rule in studio, it doesnʻt leave the studio till we are both happy with it.  When I record my parts, Mailani is often not there and I just sit in the room with my cans and a mic and I remotely control the desk so basically if I screw up I know exactly where it happened and I head back towards the measure, and punch it.

Who do you most admire as a Producer?

Although heʻs better known as an engineer, I am a big big fan of Roger Nichols. Roger just passed away a year or so ago, and it was very meaningful to me that I had the chance to talk with him via the internet.

Any words of wisdom you would like to give to aspiring Engineers/Producers and what advice would you give to folks wanting to break into the business?

I would say to aspiring engineers and producers to make certain that they’ve got what it takes. We are all born with a certain skill set and its very easy to buy into what others tell you youʻre good at but it may not be true at all.  There are shitty engineers out there doing well and great engineers out there that are suffering. Which will you be? Don’t contribute to the steady decline of quality throughout our industry.

You don’t need schooling to hear, and realistically the only prerequisite for a producer is to be able to hear. So if you know what you like, try it out.  Ask people what they think of it. If you get a lot of negative responses, chances are that you don’t have the ear to create something for the masses.

Finally, be certain to keep your files organized. I’ve heard way too many horror stories about people who lose tracks.  Clients get pissed, and ultimately youʻll be out some cash.

Keola Donaghy

Steven Espaniola: How did you and Mailani work on composing the song together?

Keola Donaghy: To be honest, I can’t even remember how she and I first became acquainted, it seems so long ago! It was definitely online, I remember that she was on some of Dr. Trey’s podcasts while they were working on her first album, we swapped a few emails, and later she ran for and was elected to the HARA Board of Governors, which I also serve on. It’s been an unbelievable pleasure to work with her in both composing and serving on the board.

I do recall she and Trey sending some early demos, with a request for my input into her pronunciation, I helped do some research on lyrics of some older songs that she wanted to re-record. Later she sent some of her own mele with the request that I help paka them. As we started to work together, it started to be come more of a collaboration than just paka, which is more directed at addressing issues of language and perspective in the mele.

For “Penei Iho”, she had a great idea for the hook and knew what she wanted to say in it. It was one of the first original mele she shared with me. She wanted to be very direct, as though she was speaking to this person. So most of the song is a fairly direct expression, very little kaona (hidden meaning) in there. I helped restructure the mele to make it fit the music she had better, chose words and grammatical structures that better suited what she was trying to say. There was a lot of back and forth, but obviously we were both very happy with the result.

Any advice you’d like to share with aspiring songwriters?

The most important lesson I learned from Kenneth Makuakāne through working with him was that our songs are everywhere, if you just pay attention you’ll find that every minute of your life is a song, look at it deeply enough and take the time to document it. Since the time that he and I started working together, I’ve never been in a situation where I felt inspired and said, “wow, this would make a cool song” and not been able to produce one. Ma ka hana ka ‘ike. You learn by doing. Write a lot of songs. Don’t wait for inspiration, find it. The more tools you have in your toolbox, the easier it is (credit to Puakea Nogelmeier for the metaphor). That doesn’t mean you have to have every mele recorded. I have a lot that haven’t been recorded and may never be, because I’m not totally happy with them. Remember, that once a song is performed or recorded, it’s alive in the world, has its own mana, and can never be retrieved. Be sure that you’re ready for the consequences of that before you record it or allow someone else to.

When it comes to haku mele, it took me a long time to get over my aversion to re-using common phrases, and always looking for a new way to express something. But those kinds of things are what help connect the listener to the rich archives of Hawaiian songs and literature. It instills a sense of connectivity and genealogy. There is plenty of room for creativity in Hawaiian language expression, but I think in our modern, very western-influenced society, there is a very strong inclination to establish oneself as a unique individual. It took me a while to be comfortable with reusing what some people might view as “cliché” lines and references. Sometimes they are the lazy way out; sometimes they are simply the best way to say something. The trick is being able to know when they are one or the other. To me, there’s a delicate balance between individual expression and being true to what’s been written before, contributing to that vast body of work.

Mailani is a great example for aspiring composers. She’s doing her homework and comes up with great, original ideas. But her songs are solidly grounded and have roots in the traditional literature. She’s building on that foundation, strengthening her knowledge of the grammar, vocabulary, and the structure of mele. She never stops striving to improve and is unafraid to share her work with others and get input. She puts the song before herself, and that’s great.

Tell us a “betcha didn’t know” tidbit about yourself.

I have thirty-something first cousins on my father’s side of the family alone. Three of us were born on the same day–two of us have Ph.Ds and the third is a rocket scientist at NASA. There is something magical about June 29 in our family. Haha.

Mahalo nui to Mailani, Trey, Keola and Mountain Apple Company.

For more info on Mailani, please visit:

mountainapplecompany.com/mailani/

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

Archives

Steven

Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters rockin’ a pink ‘ukulele!!!
Photo: Barry Maz

Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters rockin’ a pink ‘ukulele!!!

Photo: Barry Maz

Kanile’a ‘Ukulele workshop by Joe Souza at Aloha Warehouse in San Francisco

Kanile’a ‘Ukulele workshop by Joe Souza at Aloha Warehouse in San Francisco

'Ukulele Kani Ka Pila/workshop @ Aloha Warehouse 2/26

Join me tomorrow morning at Aloha Warehouse in San Francisco!!! These classes are geared more towards having fun and learning some very useful ‘ukulele tips along the way. Call Edgar Dang at 415-346-7553 for info and reservations. 2/26/11 $15 9-10:30am pst. If you don’t own an ‘ukulele yet, come anyway…Aloha Warehouse has the best selection of ‘ukuleles in the Bay Area for you to peruse…try…and buy ;)

The ‘ukulele has crossed over into mainstream marketing. Came across this larger than life fashion  plastering at a Banana Republic store. I wonder if it was in tune for the photo-shoot?

The ‘ukulele has crossed over into mainstream marketing. Came across this larger than life fashion plastering at a Banana Republic store. I wonder if it was in tune for the photo-shoot?

Had a blast at my kani ka pila at Aloha Warehouse in San Francisco! The next one is already scheduled for next month so be sure to RSVP early as space is very limited! These classes are geared more towards having fun and learning some very useful ‘ukulele tips along the way. Call Edgar Dang at 415-346-7553 for info and reservations. 2/26/11 $15 9-10:30am pst. If you don’t own an ‘ukulele yet, come anyway…Aloha Warehouse has the best selection of ‘ukuleles in the Bay Area for you to peruse…try…and buy ;)
Photo: Kawika Loo

Had a blast at my kani ka pila at Aloha Warehouse in San Francisco! The next one is already scheduled for next month so be sure to RSVP early as space is very limited! These classes are geared more towards having fun and learning some very useful ‘ukulele tips along the way. Call Edgar Dang at 415-346-7553 for info and reservations. 2/26/11 $15 9-10:30am pst. If you don’t own an ‘ukulele yet, come anyway…Aloha Warehouse has the best selection of ‘ukuleles in the Bay Area for you to peruse…try…and buy ;)

Photo: Kawika Loo

Join me and incredibly talented ki ho’alu guitarist Kimo West when we perform together for the very first time in the Santa Cruz area (Sunday February 27)! Tickets are $12 for this 7:00pm show. Call Don Quixote’s in Felton, CA for reservations @ 831-603-2294. Also sitting in on steel guitar for this show will be the fabulously gifted Patti Maxine! Promises to be a wonderful evening of mele and hula!

Join me and incredibly talented ki ho’alu guitarist Kimo West when we perform together for the very first time in the Santa Cruz area (Sunday February 27)! Tickets are $12 for this 7:00pm show. Call Don Quixote’s in Felton, CA for reservations @ 831-603-2294. Also sitting in on steel guitar for this show will be the fabulously gifted Patti Maxine! Promises to be a wonderful evening of mele and hula!

One of the axes in my equipment arsenal. Risa electric ‘ukulele. Used this on a couple of tracks from my first CD and people constantly swear that It’s an electric guitar.

One of the axes in my equipment arsenal. Risa electric ‘ukulele. Used this on a couple of tracks from my first CD and people constantly swear that It’s an electric guitar.

'Ukulele Underground NAMM Coverage!

Initially I had planned to update my blog with extensive daily NAMM coverage featuring vids, photos and more. However rather than try to reinvent the wheel, please head on over to my friends at ‘Ukulele Underground. They were able to cover so much real estate at the enormous music merchant trade show and do an excellent job with interviews! It’s probably the most thorough coverage I’ve seen yet! Kudos guys! Click on the topic link above to re-direct to their page.

Posing with my ‘ukulele sponsor Kanile’a ‘Ukulele (Joe & Kristen Souza) and fellow Kanile’a artist Aldrine Guerrero ~ NAMM 2011

Posing with my ‘ukulele sponsor Kanile’a ‘Ukulele (Joe & Kristen Souza) and fellow Kanile’a artist Aldrine Guerrero ~ NAMM 2011

Brand spanking new ‘ukulele case prototype from my sponsor Mono Cases

Brand spanking new ‘ukulele case prototype from my sponsor Mono Cases