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Indie rock, local style

An art house showcase brings together three bands and live video art

By Gary C.W. Chun

LAST UPDATED: 12:07 p.m. HST, Sep 13, 2010

This is a good time for local music, particularly in the indie-rock scene. Interesting bands can be found playing on any given night in clubs or bars around the city, presenting surprising diversity of sound and stage presence. The year 2010 may well be remembered as the year when indie rock blossomed in Honolulu.

Three of those bands will be showcased at the Honolulu Academy of Arts tomorrow in a program that will also incorporate video art being assembled by each band.

Event coordinator Josh Hancock (see sidebar) says the concert's visuals will include music videos played between sets from bands like Satellite Grey, the Hell Caminos and Linus. During Linus' set, watch for live video mixing by Joseph Pa'ahana of the Drop Shadows.

As it happens, each of these three bands is at a crossroads.

Linus, whose members recently celebrated a decade of playing together, is putting on its penultimate gig tomorrow night because one of its founding members is leaving for the mainland.

Clones of the Queen continues to hone and refine its avant-electronic sound, and has been finding increasing recognition at home and in the blogosphere.

And the members of Shopping List are looking at their spot in "Art, Rock and Video" as a defining milestone and the end of the first chapter of their development.

Doris Underground Presents Art, Rock and Video with Linus, Clones of the Queen and Shopping List

Where: Doris Duke Theatre, Honolulu Academy of Arts, 900 S. Beretania St. (enter theater from Kinau Street, behind the museum)
When: 7:30 p.m. tomorrow
Cost: $12 general and $10 academy members
Info: 532-8768 or

After Linus completed a successful Japanese tour this summer, Linus' Nik Daubert said he and the other members were caught off guard when his co-founder David Neely "dropped the news" about six weeks ago that he was planning to join his longtime girlfriend in San Francisco. "He admitted it was a hard decision to make, considering how long we've done this and our next record being 75 percent done," Daubert said. "It's tough to hide my disappointment, but it's a decision I respect.

"At first, I thought why not find another singer-songwriter, but with David out of the picture, we might as well stop. It's difficult because he is the face of the band. But I figure it'll be a good time as any to take a break -- I want to complete grad school by the end of next semester -- and afterwards, I'll look around to see where else I can play."

As with Linus' 10-year anniversary gig at Anna's in Moiliili back in April, Daubert said the band will include older songs in this show, as it prepares to cap off more than a decade on the scene.


There's more to the Honolulu indie music scene.

» 9 p.m. Tuesday at thirtyninehotel, 39 N. Hotel St.: "Kaleidoscope," featuring Persian Excursion and Circuit Creature; free before 9 p.m. Cover charge: $5, 599-2552.
» 9 p.m. Wednesday at NextDoor, 43 N. Hotel St.: "Broadcast," featuring Linus (final performance), Narwhal and the Hollow Spheres; free before 9 p.m. Cover charge: $5 for those 18 and over, $10 for 17 and under, 548-6398.
» 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 25 at Fresh Cafe, 831 Queen St.: event with Black Square, Big Mox, Deep Throat, Narwhal, Stephen A., Youth Speaks Hawaii, and the Jump Offs; free and all ages before 8 p.m., $5 donation afterwards, 688-8055.

And even more

With the current, welcoming atmosphere for indie music, there are other bands to watch out for. We asked three promoters -- Miss Catwings, co-promoter with Ross Jackson of Kaleidoscope, Tuesday nights at thirtyninehotel; Hancock, who promotes monthly shows at Anna's and Coffee Talk; and Laylo, responsible for Broadcast, Wednesday nights at NextDoor -- what other bands they would like to feature. Their response:

» Miss Catwings: the Hollow Spheres -- "tight, groovy haunting vibe; kind of reminds me of jazz-rock"; Mano Kane -- "amazing vocals with a surf/doo-wop/pop-rock sound"; and Persian Excursion -- "1960s garage rock feel with really raw vocals that sound better through a bad amp."
» Hancock: the Hollow Spheres -- "smooth, polished ethereal rock with a melancholy tone"; Painted Highways -- "upbeat, remind me of the best pop-rock indie bands, but with its own flair"; and Falcon Lord -- "aggressive garage rock sound, a little rough around the edges."
» Laylo: Narwhal, Persian Excursion and Alt/Air. "These bands represent the new generation of kids who are re-thinking indie music, and all have a strong female presence. Narwhal and Persian Excursion are part of this new breed of low-fi garage rock 'n' roll, and the duo of Alt/Air do this very dance-y electronic music."
» Two other top bands on the scene: the Jump Offs, who recently returned from a recording session in Los Angeles, and GRLFRNDS, who are currently on hiatus, but according to online comments by front man Alex Kaiser, will be morphing into a new band sometime soon.

A HIPSTER crowd revolves around Honolulu's indie music scene, but members of Shopping List and Clones of the Queen say they avoid getting caught up in any potential social mayhem by concentrating on making music that is true to their visions.

Shopping List's Grey Jennings and the Clones' Ara Laylo diverge in terms of years of musical experience. Shopping List is just this side of being a year old, while this is Laylo's third band during a decade's span, having previously been in Pterodactyl and the Malcognitas. But they both find mutual respect and inspiration in what's happening in the scene.

"I think we're more welcoming to newcomers from out of state, mixing in with the local guys and gals," said Laylo, whose band includes Massachusetts transplant Matt McVickar and her longtime musical compatriot Paul Bajcar.

Downtown, Chinatown in particular, "has been a mecca for all kinds of artists recently," said Jennings, "and it's taken care of us, in terms of providing us a practice spot and venues to play."

Toni Wong, who provides Shopping List's rhythmic backbone with Eric Pecoraro, said, "The focus for the gathering of bands downtown is more than just the people that, in general, go out drinking and who want to be seen."

At weekly events such as Tuesday's Kaleidoscope at thirtyninehotel, or Wednesday's Broadcast at Nextdoor, both on Hotel Street, and frequent shows at Chinatown bars Mercury and Manifest, live bands are being featured and people are coming out to listen. Other venues, including Anna's and the Pipeline Cafe and Fresh Cafe in Kakaako, also provide prominent outlets.

"There was this huge lull, and now people are doing these different musics," Wong said, "and it's getting better. It's not just punk and metal."

"The scene here is so small," said McVickar, "so I consider it a great opportunity to become a part of what's happening. It's excellent to experiment with the music with events like this."

"We're being more selective now," Laylo said. "It's easy to burn out by doing too many gigs. We want to make each performance we do to be special, because it'll benefit both us and our audience. It gives us to time to work on songs."

Clones of the Queen return to the museum after what they consider a breakout gig in February at the monthly ARTafterDARK event.

"Compared to what we did back then, we're trying to have more fun by playing some upbeat, banger tracks," Laylo said. But the band will continue to mine the moody "space rock" soundscape they've made their reputation on, with Laylo's reverbed vocals floating over Bajcar's pedal-effect guitar and McVickar's electronic loops and beats triggered by two MIDI controllers interfaced with his computer's arrangement and performance software.

"I think what we play is more grown-up music," Laylo said. "There's a story line through our entire set, and we let it evolve. The songs are stepping stones in the overall conversation we present."

"We offer up more variety than your typical four-piece rock band," added Bajcar.

IT'S THAT sense of variation that's upcoming with Shopping List, who plan to add an additional voice in guitarist Sean Davidson.

"I remember going to Chinatown with the intent of starting a band," said Jennings, "and meeting Sean. We played some but then went our different ways."

Jennings' music initially came from a painful, private place. His writing was an outlet for the turmoil of emotions he was feeling brought on by two deaths that came closely spaced together: his father due to brain cancer and a 19-year-old friend from Crohn's disease.

During that time, "I used to do open-mike sessions at coffee shops by myself, and I didn't feel I was in the right venues to be singing these songs. I was bringing people down because of the subject matter, and they sounded unconventional."

Luckily Jennings found the right musical chemistry in Pecoraro, who's been playing drums since he was 5, and Wong, who first did fill-in duties with longtime bar band Missing Dave and then was a member of the short-lived, all-female SheCanDevour.

The members of Shopping List have gotten on well enough that, seven months in, they did a short nine-date tour through Arizona (where Jennings went to college), California and Las Vegas.

Besides its well-crafted music, the band has distinguished itself with its stark stage-floor lighting, run in sync with the tunes.

Jennings knows something about presentation, having worked as a production assistant on "Lost" and now "Hawaii Five-0."

"Along with the projected video, we'll continue with that whole lighting scheme, but we'll be using larger lanterns tomorrow night," Jennings said.

"We're really excited about the show, what with the changes coming up in the future, the plans and goals we have in mind," he said. "It's been a really good first year."

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