Please enjoy the transcript of Episode 049 with Kawehi.
Dan: After her first year of college in 2002, Kawehi moved to California as a signed artist in a newly formed superband. Two months in she quit and moved back home. Unable to get any attention with her music going the traditional route and still tied to her contract, Kawehi took a 5 year break from music.
Kawehi then switched it up and with the support of her husband, Paul, created her own path in the music world, successfully supporting her career through crowdfunding on Kickstarter. She recently raised over $9,000 to fund her US tour. While growing her fan base Kawehi’s also grown her musical ability as she now has incorporated looping and beatboxing into her work.
You’ll hear from a musician who has figured out how to be a successfully funded independent artist on how she made it happen and that those fears that you have, they never go away…so what are you gonna do?
“Having to pay the bills but not willing to give up the need to be creative will push you harder than you can ever imagine.” – Kawehi
Kawehi: Hi, this is Kawehi. I’m a musician, and you’re listening to Prologue Profiles.
Kawehi: My grandpa’s nickname for me was Lekio which in Hawaiian means radio. I was constantly singing. No one could ever shut me up.
Dan: So Kawehi, how would you describe what you do?
Kawehi: I always describe it, I’m a singer, songwriter, beatboxer, looper, crazy Hawaiian chick, that’s definitely a good one-liner, but I’m a musician to the core.
And recently I picked up this thing called looping. I start off like a drum track and then I put on some base and then I put on some background vocals and some guitar, whatever.
Dan: You’re like layering yourself on top of yourself and building a song.
Kawehi: Exactly, and I basically record everything live.
Dan: And talk to me about the tour that you’re on.
Kawehi: It’s a whole US tour completely funded by Kickstarter supporters. This is my fourth Kickstarter project that I’ve successfully done which is amazing. I mean I really have fantastic followers. They’re just really great people.
And I’ve just been going from California, now I’m here in New York doing a show here and hanging out with you in Jersey! So yea [Laughs].
Dan: How many states have you performed in so far?
Kawehi: Gosh…California, Nevada, Denver. I know that’s not a state. [Laughter]
Dan: We’ll count it.
Kawehi: Hawaii, I think I have 25 dates listed everywhere.
Dan: And how much did you raise for yourself?
Kawehi: I raised over $9,000. I don’t know the exact number. I asked for $6,000 and I ended up getting like $9,400 or $9,500.
Dan: So Kawehi, let’s talk about how you got here. What was the path you took to get to this point?
Kawehi: Well I started out, 19 years old in Hawaii. I was just a young kid and just wanted to sing and I had a piano teacher at the time and he was like, “Hey, I saw these auditions, you should try out.”
Dan: What was the audition for?
Kawehi: They were basically forming a superband and I was one of the people selected out of 4 people.
Dan: And this was in 2002 during your first year in college, so what did you do?
Kawehi: They gave us this fat wad of paper saying, “Hey here’s a record contract. Trust us.” So in my mind, I’m 19 and I’m like, “You want to move me out to California? You want to pay me? You want to put me up in an apartment and give me a car? Sweet! I’m doing music and getting paid. Like this is amazing.”
So I didn’t even think about it. I signed the contract, boom. That was it.
Dan: So what was promised in the contract?
Kawehi: You’re signed, you have an agent and management and production and we’re going to get you signed to an even bigger label. So that was what was offered.
Dan: And how’d that play out?
Kawehi: It didn’t. I ended up quitting two months in.
Dan: Really, why did you quit?
Kawehi: We did the demo and the music wasn’t what I wanted it to be. It was very commercial, very pop. Just not about music.
And I had no clue what kind of music I wanted. I just knew as I’m going through this that this isn’t the kind of person that I wanted to portray myself as and I knew after that experience that that’s what I wanted to do the kind of music that I wanted to do.
Dan: So what did you do?
Kawehi: I quit and moved back to Hawaii and I lived there for two months and hated it.
As soon as I moved back, I knew exactly what I wanted. I said, “I’m moving to Los Angeles. I’m just going to work for a couple of months and make some money.” Which is what I did. I went back home, worked for a couple of months and then packed everything in my Camry and shifted over to Los Angeles. At that point I was going to do anything possible to be a musician. So I got together with Paul, who’s my husband and also producer.
Dan: How’d you and Paul meet?
Kawehi: He was a producer that worked for the production company. He wasn’t producing our demo, he was producing other stuff that went through there and I just met him. We were sitting on the couch one day just talking and I thought he was a really cool guy. We just talked about music, what kind of music we liked and just pretty much clicked right from the beginning.
Once I moved back from Hawaii, I moved permanently when I was 20. We did a demo and it was 3 songs and it was terrible. [Laughs]
Dan: What did you do with that demo?
Kawehi: I mailed it to whoever I could possibly find. Record labels, agents, management. I sent CDs to everybody.
I sent it out and nothing happened and I was really bummed. I put a lot of work into it and I thought that maybe something might come along the way and nothing did so I didn’t do any music for a really long time, maybe five years. Pretty much did everything but try to be a musician.
Dan: Really, 5 years. Why such a long break?
Kawehi: Well it was a lot of things together. When I was 19 I signed a contract with this production company and it was a very traditional contract where it was like, “You can’t do anything for seven years.” So I was stuck in this contract that I couldn’t get out of. And in the meantime I thought I would start doing these demos and putting out some music and find out I can’t even do that. So it was just kind of a combination of, I was tied under a contract, I wasn’t putting out any good material, maybe I should just take a step back since I have to anyway. Because you know, even if I was under a contract, I could’ve kept writing and could have kept creating but I just was at a bad place at that point.
Dan: Right, what was that like?
Kawehi: It was horrible. I felt really awful. Pretty much every job I hated because it wasn’t music. It wasn’t what I was really passionate about so I was really bummed. It was a black hole. [Laughs] Something I would never want to experience again. Just feeling like you’re not doing what you’re supposed to be doing in this life. You have no purpose, that’s what I felt like.
Dan: So how did you get yourself out of that black hole you were in?
Kawehi: Paul and I were sitting down and he was like, “What did you move out here for?” Like, “Why are you here?” And I was like, “ Yea! [Laughs] I’m here to do music!” Like, “What am I doing?”
So my contract was ending and I pretty much just said, “Get off your butt and do something about it ’cause you’ve been moping around for the last bunch of years. It’s time to do something.” So we put together Songs From My Apartment which we recorded it entirely in our one bedroom apartment in Pasadena.
Dan: So which job were you working on at this point?
Kawehi: At that point I was a server at Black Angus and I don’t even eat steak and I worked at a steak house.
Dan: Ok. [Laughter]
Kawehi: So I needed to start making music again and this was kind of my way starting that. I had never done an entire album ever before that so that was one of the things I needed to do just for myself.
And that’s what I did. I didn’t send it to any labels. I just kept it for myself, put it on the internet and kept working my job.
[Interlude: Kawehi’s ‘Addicted’]
Kawehi: I started up a Facebook page. I think back then it was MySpace and I was getting a lot of followers, I started to finally get some sort of following that wasn’t just my parents and Paul.
Dan: So what did you do next?
Kawehi: I did a Kickstarter project where I was kickstarting my second album. And at this point, I had like 100 followers. I had enough people interacting with me but not that many people.
So I did this Kickstarter project and it failed miserably. I think I got like 15% funded.
I thought I would just do a Kickstarter project. I didn’t have to put any work into it. It’ll just succeed. And that was really stupid of me to think that.
Dan: So what did you do?
Kawehi: From there I said, “This isn’t gonna happen again. I’m going to do a bunch of research and figure out who else has been successful doing this and how did they do it?”
There was a chick, Allison Weiss, she was kind of like what Kickstarter was promoting. She had a really successful project and they were like, “You too can also have a successful project if you kind of follow what she’s done.” So I did a lot of research on her and how she got her project funded and in this day and age, you just need so much content just to get a following. You know, put out more music, put out videos. So that’s what we started to do.
Dan: You and Paul?
Kawehi: Paul and I, yes. We just started shooting a bunch of different covers and originals and from then, the second time I did a Kickstarter project, I went from like 100 to 400 followers. And in my mind, I thought, “Okay, since I’m going to be making more music and this is what I want to do, I’m just gonna start doing EPs.”
Dan: And what are EPs?
Kawehi: EPs are short releases so they’re anywhere between 3 and 5 songs. I started my EP, the 1st Volume where I said, “Okay every 3 months I am going to start a Kickstarter project to raise funds for the next EP.”
Dan: What year was this?
Kawehi: ’09/’10. I was already putting out videos out once a week, putting out content, so by that time I was doing college tours. I still do it now. I play at a lot of universities. And I had actually come out here for a show in New York and everyone was so great and I went home thinking, “You need to get better. What can you do to get better?”
Dan: Which led you to pick up looping…
Kawehi: I had just picked up my first loop pedal. I was tired of just playing guitar and being the chick up on stage who just sings and plays guitar. It was boring to me and I needed something different. And I’ve always wanted to try looping but I’d never done it because it’s so terrifying. So I picked up the loop pedal, was just learning how to use that and I did this cover of a Britney Spears song called ‘Criminal‘.
Dan: And the music video got attention on Vimeo.
Kawehi: One of the staff members saw it and it just kind of went around the office and then they ended up putting it as, if your video that is picked as a Staff Pick, it gets released to a huge group of people.
Dan: So this was pretty key in getting your second Kickstarter funded?
And then just doing videos once a week, I went from $2,100 in the end, it was $9,200 or something. Like 400% funded from this one video that got picked from a Staff Pick.
Dan: So what was that like?
Kawehi: That was insane!
Dan: [Laughs] Duh…
Kawehi: I was like, “What? I don’t…are you sure?!” [Laughs]
Dan: So in the Summer of 2012, you left your server job to focus on music full time. So what was your next move from there?
Kawehi: I have momentum now. I picked up looping and really started to find my way to what sound I wanted and how I wanted to make music. So I did an EP called Pop and it was 5 songs. I basically just said, “Ok this is going to be my last commercial music that I put out there that sounds like it would be picked up on the radio. After this I’m going to do whatever I wanted to do, any kind of style of music.”
Dan: And for your next EP called Vox, you picked up beatboxing…
Kawehi: That wasn’t my idea, that was Paul’s idea. He was like, “You gotta do it! You’re doing this loop thing and it’s great using your guitar.” I was using my guitar as a drum, just kind of beating on it. He’s like, “You should really pick it up.” ‘Cause I saw Reggie Watts and he does beatboxing. I think he’s like fantastic.
Dan: He’s the man.
Kawehi: So I went on YouTube and looked up a bunch of like tutorials on how to beatbox and that’s basically how I learned to beatbox. And we did a whole EP where everything was vocal sounds. I had like an octifier thing in my loop where it would drop my vocals down to bass.
So from that, I started with the little tiny loop pedal that only did two tracks and after just hours of obsessing over it and practicing and just getting to know it, I ended up picking up the one that was like six tracks so the possibilities of things that you could create just kind of exploded from there.
Dan: So you now had beatboxing under your belt, so tell me more about the inspiration behind your next EP, Vox.
Kawehi: I was tired of writing songs about myself and I wanted to start writing about other things besides myself and love songs and all that stuff. So I said, “Ok this EP is gonna be anything that you guys pick except for love songs. I’m not going to do any love songs on this. It’s just going to be like stuff that matters.” I felt like I was at a point where I really just wanted to write music that matters.
So Vox was 3 songs I picked from Kickstarter pledgers. And I think I had like 10, I picked three from ’em. So three songs, all acappella loops.
Dan: What were some of the ideas you used?
Kawehi: The ones I ended up picking, one of them was about Felix…the guy who…
Kawehi: Yea, who fell, who did the supersonic, yea. Writing about that and just how significant you are as a person in this world and just about the human connection. So that was one topic.
Dan: Damn, that’s beautiful.
Kawehi: I was like, “Sold!” You just made it easy for me man, that was a really great song topic. Another guy I picked, he has a daughter named Lucy Punch and he sent me this video of her and he wanted me to write a song for his daughter, so I ended up writing a song called ‘Lucy’ and it was just like a lullaby for her.
[Interlude: Kawehi’s track, ‘Lucy’]
Dan: So Kawehi, let’s talk about your day to day. How would you describe a typical day?
Kawehi: I wake up, have a big ol’ cup of coffee, 7:00-7:30 at the latest. Walk into the studio. I used to walk into the garage, now it’s like I walk into a studio which is awesome!
So I walk in and I’m in there. Sometimes I don’t come out for the entire day. But typically I go into the studio, I try to hash out an idea, right from bed and if I don’t have anything then I’ll get online and I’ll answer people’s questions about looping or something on Facebook.
And then I just work on music the entire day. I dedicate at least five hours to creating something new. If I don’t come up with anything, it’s okay, but as long as I’m doing it every day and trying to come up with something, it comes eventually.
Dan: And how do you know you have a loop you want to work with?
Kawehi: It just feels right. It feels right, it sounds right. Hopefully in 10 hours I’ve come up with something that is workable and then I come back tomorrow and scratch it and start all over. [Laughter]
Dan: What would you say you love about what you do?
Kawehi: I love making music. I love getting that creative part out of me, it’s very cathartic. I get to express myself. ‘Cause I’m a very introverted kind of person. So music is a good way for me to express myself.
Dan: What else do you love about music?
Kawehi: What I love about music is that you can find one thing in any kind of song whether it’s Beethoven or whether it’s Jay-Z or whether it’s Britney or whether it’s anything, you can find something in a piece of music that you like and that you admire. I can. And I think that’s wonderful about music, is you can’t really hate on it. There’s something positive in every song, really.
Dan: And what would you say you dislike about what you do?
Kawehi: I definitely struggle with being on stage. Even this interview, I rarely do any kind of interviews. I just have a hard time being like on stage and talking sometimes. It gets me very nervous [Laughs].
But I loved the way you sent me the email with “Interview request, yo”. I was like, “He knows me!” [Laughs] He’s like a long lost friend already!
And the stage part is just very stressful for me. To this day, I still suffer from stage fright.
Dan: So how do you deal with that?
Kawehi: I just nut up and do it ’cause sometimes it’s just what’s required. You know, I just love the fact that I’m pushing myself to do something that’s hard to do but you know, in the end most of the time, I’m really glad that I did it. That connection you get on stage with people can be really great.
Dan: You’ve been so ambitious and motivated to create your own path. What is it about you that’s allowed you to do that?
Kawehi: There is no Plan B for me. This is it. This is what I’m doing. So having to pay the bills but not willing to give up the need that you have to be creative will push you harder than you can ever imagine.
Dan: So what’s coming up next for you?
Kawehi: November I do an Asia tour which I’ve never been–
Kawehi: Yea we’re going to China, Korea, Singapore everywhere just throughout Asia so that should be really fun, too.
Dan: Is that Kickstarter as well?
Kawehi: No, that’s just somebody who’s been a follower. He puts together these trips and needs musicians and I was one of the people.
Dan: It’s like, “I’m a musician!”
Kawehi: Yea I’m like, “Ok!” [Laughs]
Dan: Do you have a vision for where you want you take things in the future?
Kawehi: I have no desire to be famous. I have no desire to sell billions of records.
Dan: Why’s that?
Kawehi: To me, it takes away from what I really want to do. If it were to happen, I wouldn’t be like, “I’m never doing music again” but that’s not what I strive for. I strive for being able to be a musician and do the kind of music that I want to do and just be able to pay the bills, that’s what my goal is in life – is to be able to do what I love and to live, really.
Dan: And what fears do you have?
Kawehi: I just fear that the product is not going to be good enough. I fear that the record’s not going to be good enough. That I won’t put enough work into it. That I can’t pay the bills anymore. I mean, that’s always the fear.
Dan: How often do these fears play in your mind?
Kawehi: Pretty much every day. I definitely always worry. Just the chronic fear of not being good enough, not putting out the best music that you can. A lot of people suffer from that. I definitely do. It’s always, “I can do better” and, I mean, it’s a good and bad thing. Sometimes you need to know when it’s enough and sometimes it’s good to keep going.
[Interlude: Kawehi’s track, ‘Telescope’]
Dan: So Kawehi, what advice would you give to someone who sees what you’re doing and is wondering if it’s possible for them?
Kawehi: The only thing I can say I guess, is to work at it and to give it your whole heart and to do it with your whole heart.
Dan: And what if they want to go for it but they’ve never gone out of their comfort zone before and they’re on the fence about it?
Kawehi: I always say it’s good to be uncomfortable. If you’re feeling comfortable then you need to change it a little bit. It’s good to feel scared.