For some, this Hawaiian singer-songwriter may need no introduction, because she has been creating waves on the interwebs for as long as we can remember. The best part is, the extraordinarily talented Kawehi has been doing it all pretty much alone! Yes, she’s that highly talked about (and super duper envied) “one-woman-band”, the one who has done multiply “one-woman-show” type of covers ranging from Nirvana to Michael Jackson, to Radiohead and NIN, and even Maroon 5.
See, the thing is, Kawehi was in town on 7th Oct (Tuesday) as part of her tour, to play a gig at Hard Rock Cafe Kuala Lumpur! And we managed to catch her right before her soundcheck for a quick chat. So, right smack in our very own sunny city in the middle of a weekday afternoon, we got to know the internet sensation just a little bit better.
We know, we know, just how lucky did we get, right? 😉
Hi Kawehi! How are you coping with our Malaysian weather? Has it been kind to you?
Hi! The weather’s not so bad actually. I was just in Singapore earlier so I’ve kinda gotten used to it a little. It’s alright.
For those of our readers who aren’t in the know, tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Kawehi and I’m originally from Hawaii, born and raised. I moved out to Los Angeles and I kinda got into the music scene and basically, I make a lot of videos like covers and originals. And I do looping which is just like recording everything live and building track by track the entire song. That’s kind of like my thing 🙂
Your videos, Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box” especially, was a hit! What was your first thought when you knew that it went viral?
Yeah, I know! It’s really weird and it really is the biggest compliment because..it’s Courtney Love and it was such a big deal for me! It going viral was unexpected. I couldn’t believe that it was happening and a lot of people asked, “Did you ever make these videos with the intention going viral?” and the answer is always no. I usually do cover videos that my fans have requested – it’s just something that I do and there were never really any plans for it. It’s exciting, it’s terrifying, and now it’s like, “Oh my gosh, people are actually listening. Now I really have to do a good job!”. It has been a really cool ride so far.
On your Twitter profile, it says, “Songwriter, Singer, Southpaw, Shit Talker, Lover, Musician-who-walks-like-a-trucker. Avid looper. Indie”. Shit talker?
(laughs) That, well, oh man..especially if you know me, and it doesn’t even take that long, I give so many people shit. As in I like to tease and mess around – that’s just my personality. And it doesn’t change as the years go by. I’m just like that.
And on that note, what do you think has been the greatest misconception about you? How different are you from your social media platforms and in real life, would you say?
That’s a really good question! I’m really not different at all from my videos. I’ve tried that route where I tried to be a “package material” kinda thing. I did that initially when I first moved out to Los Angeles and I hated it! It was a horrible experience. And I think after that, I just realised that I can’t be anyone else but myself. I really can’t, it’s really difficult for me. I’ve tried and I didn’t succeed because I’m one of those type of people who gets really unhappy if I can’t say what’s on my mind or if I can’t do what makes me happy. My videos are really good windows to who I am inside.
Your dogs in your videos though..
(laughs) They’re always just sleeping! A) They sleep all the time and, B) they’re always around when I practice or when I’m trying to put something together; and they’re just like, “Whatever”. Like, “Again? You’re doing this again?”. So it’s really funny because they’ve become a fixture in all of my videos. Whenever I do a video and they’re not in there, people would be like, “Where are your dogs, man? I miss your dogs”.
What has been some of the most defining moments for you, having achieved so much in such a short span of time? Does being an internet sensation come with offers & crazy requests?
Oh yeah, labels, managements. I have an agent now although I didn’t before. I also have a publicist now. The one thing I won’t do is label though. I’ve done it, I’ve gone down that path before, and I wasn’t happy. I didn’t have any control over anything or creative control even, and I was somebody that I wasn’t. But after having gone through that, that was a big eye-opener. I was in a 7-year contract and I could’ve stayed with the band and made some records or quit the band and wait 7 years. So that’s what I did. I think that after that experience..I’ve had pretty much every single label approach me and I’d always say no because it’s not for me. I really like how I’m doing things now – it’s really independent, and it’s very grassroots.
Tell us about that spread of gadgets & electronics that you usually set up for your “one woman band” music videos.
Well, everything goes through Ableton through my laptop, and then the Launchpad is basically a midi controller and it helps me record and stop recording whatever layer I’m building. It’s a good way to organise everything like all the chorus elements are in one line and the other elements are in another, and it’s a good way to turn everything on and off. Then right next to that I have a Chaos Pad which is an impromptu way of using different filters and everything just kind of goes through that. I also have a Novation keyboard, it’s a MiniNova and it’s just a keyboard in which I use to control all the different keyboard sounds, synths, guitars, and it has this really cool pitch bend in it – I can make cool sounds! On the right side, I have an interface that everything goes through and it connects the sounds like it kind of translates everything – it’s a good connector. And then all of my harmonies, I do it on this thing called the VoiceLive Touch. It’s usually perched on my mic stand and it’s a good way to do harmonies especially since I don’t have backup singers so it’s good to use 😉
And which one of those is your most prized possession? And why?
Oh man..the most prized possession. Well, for function, I can’t do anything without my laptop. But I really enjoy the Chaos Pad because you can really do a lot of weird shit with that. I mean, I can really get lost using it! It’s very visual and it has got lights moving around so it’s really cool.
How many takes does it take you to get one music video right for example, the “The Way You Make Me Feel” Michael Jackson cover that you did?
It’s common that I do 2 or 3 all the way through and out of those 3, I’d pick the one that’s the best. But there are no cuts or edits. Everything is done in one shot, you know, and you can watch me just going through the whole thing. But the Nirvana “Heart-Shaped Box” one, there were tonnes of mistakes in everything that I heard but that’s part of the charm when it comes to looping.
Last one for the road! What can your 87,000 odd fans expect from you for the rest of 2014? Any surprises in the pipeline?
Yeah! I’m working on the continuation of my previous EP called, “Robot Heart“, and the Kickstarter fundraising..it has been going on for like, 30 days, and I think we’re on our last week. It’s doing really well and a lot of people are interested because I do so many Kickstarter projects – I think this is probably the 6th Kickstarter project that I’ve done. It’s a good way to stay independent and raise funds, and do it in a way that you’re giving back to the people who are supporting you. It’s really amazing – people from all around the world are helping out. It’s a really great way to engage with your fans and connect with them, and make them feel like they’re part of the equation of the entire thing. I would’ve never thought that I’d get here without them, and I say it every time with every project, you guys are really why I’m putting out all this music. Starting November/December, I’ll be working on my next EP called “Evolution” and in January 2015, the whole tour cycle will start again.
Will you come back?
I’m sure I will! I mean, A) I would love to and, B) I’m sure I will 😉
And we’ll hold you to that, Kawehi. Thank you so much for chatting with us! And thanks to our friends from Hard Rock Cafe Kuala Lumpur for making this exclusive interview happen for us.
Don’t forget to subscribe to her YouTube channel for all that Kawehi goodness!