INTERVIEW: American loop-machine Kawehi
In an industry where cookie-cutter pop and industry stigma seemingly reigns supreme, it's no small feat to be able to claim sold-out tours and over 11 million views on your YouTube channel - but for US singer-songwriter Kawehi, this reality plus a truckload of talent has seen this dynamic DIY-er soar from YouTube sensation to bonafide artist in a few short years.
Honolulu-born but Kansas-based, Kawehi (pronounced 'Kuh-vey-hee') charged into the spotlight with her technological genius and looping sorcery, recording and layering her dense sounds in real-time, (in the same vein for those familiar with the sonic stylings of Kiwi goddess Kimbra and Aussie powerhouse Tash Sultana).
Kawehi as a one-woman band is a wonder woman of epic musical proportions, but there's not an ounce of bullshit to go along with it - she's smart, she's forthright and she's unapologetically chasing her passion; plus she's not shy about her love for scotch, NBA and dogs (literally my perfect trifecta - Kawehi, if you're looking for a new best friend, I volunteer as tribute).
And lucky for us, this amazing lady is officially gracing Aussie shores for the first time ever with an east-coast tour kicking off tomorrow. But before the festivities begin, Kawehi took a few moments to chat and share an insight into that divine loopy brain of hers...
TIANA: Hi Kawehi, thanks so much for chatting today.
KAWEHI: Thank you for having me!
TIANA: I've actually been a fan for a bit now, I stumbled upon some of your earlier covers a while back, and it's so fun that you're in Australia finally!
KAWEHI: Oh, wow great! That's awesome. It's so beautiful, we're coming from Kansas which is like 30 degrees so I'm ok with this nice warm weather.
TIANA: And what makes it more exciting that you're in the country is that this is your debut Australian tour, you're hitting up Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide...what are you most looking forward to about playing here for the first time?
KAWEHI: Just meeting the people and experiencing it, that's always my favourite part, just meeting everyone in person. We do everything DIY, we do it just the two of us so we really wouldn't be here without people showing up to shows and people's support.
TIANA: Have you had much interaction in the past with your Aussie fans prior to coming here?
KAWEHI: No nobody from Australia at all - it's so far away! But I'm so happy to be here.
TIANA: It's definitely not a local trip, that's for sure!
KAWEHI: (laughs) Yeah, it was a little long! It's the longest flight I've ever taken but lots of movies, lots of red wine....it went over well!
TIANA: So while you're here you're gifting us with three shows, but will you get much of a chance to do some sightseeing while you're here?
KAWEHI: We'll have some time to explore and have some pizza, which we're doing right now (laughs). I have priorities, you know?! I need to have me some pizza. But, I definitely want to check out the sights and see what you guys love so much about this country.
TIANA: While it might be your first time in Australia, touring definitely isn't out of the ordinary for you, you've performed sold out shows back home in the States, and got a few headline tours under your belt...have you had a particular live standout moment so far along the way?
KAWEHI: The last time we did the US we got a van and we took our dogs, they're a huge part of my life. I miss them, I think that's the one thing I miss the most when I go overseas that I don't get to see them. But it was great to just drive around from city to city and have the dogs with us and explore. I think that was definitely a highlight. I also have a lot of people return that I've seen throughout the years, as well as a lot of new people and it's always just a new experience, and really the highlight is just to meet all y'all. It's really such a great experience.
TIANA: Going back a few years, one of your mainstream big breaks was that famous Nirvana cover, you did 'Heart-Shaped Box' and the whole world went crazy for your looping skills, which are insane by the way...
KAWEHI: (laughs) Oh, thank you! It's a work in progress.
TIANA: What do you think it was about that song that connected with so many people? It was such a viral hit!
KAWEHI: I think it was just a combination of everything, you know, in our day there's a lot of pre-packaged pop and I think that people are excited to see something genuine. That's the one thing with all the videos, or live shows it's all set in one shot and people get to see the mess-ups or the parts that I really enjoy and I think watching something being built in person is not something that everyone experiences nowadays. And I think on top of everything that Nirvana is the shit (laughs).
TIANA: Heart-Shaped Box is actually my ringtone. So I absolutely will agree with you on that!
KAWEHI: (laughs) That's awesome! (laughs)
TIANA: But that cover wasn't actually your first musical adventure, prior to that video you already had a bit of a following...you'd been writing music and you'd been part of a few bands as well. What was it that made you decide to essentially start over and go out on your own, was it a gradual decision?
KAWEHI: I've done every route, I've done the singer-songwriter route, I've done the band route and, you know, I love being in a band, I love the energy but it's hard to get five knuckleheads together in a room and have the same vision and have the same drive. So I just ended up being the band. It's exciting and it's great but it also sucks at some point, if I mess up the bass part I can't be like "hey Bass Guy, you messed it up!" (laughs)
TIANA: Instead you'd have to yell at yourself in the mirror!
KAWEHI: (laughs) Yeah, it's like "you SUCK" and I'm like "I know" (laughs). But, I get to learn and I'll never be bored and I'll always learn something new this way and I think that's what I love so much about it.
TIANA: And you've made a heap of music over the years, and this Australian tour actually comes off the back of your recent EP release 'Boneyard Vol. 1' - how have you felt the reaction has been for this newer material? Has it been a positive experience?
KAWEHI: Yeah, definitely. I'm sure every artist says this, but I really do have the best fans. I almost think of some of my fans as a community of people...we all share the same love for music and realness. People are always incredibly supportive, and I honestly wouldn't be here without them. It's been fantastic, really.
TIANA: On that note of realness...what's intriguing about your songs is that on the surface they're really catchy, but there's so much more underneath. There's a lot of personal and universal elements you touch on, is it a cathartic process to write this lyrically heartfelt music?
KAWEHI: Oh yeah, definitey. It's cathartic, you know...if I don't have the balls to say something to someone in person face-to-face, I can write it instead. Music in general, for me, is something that I just wholeheartedly experience through and through. Songwriting is where my heart is, and always will be. I love performing live because I get to meet people, but I still get nervous everytime and that really sucks. But songwriting is definitely my passion.
TIANA: One track that stood out in particular from the new EP was 'Troll', I was watching that music video and I love that you've turned the ugly side of the internet to good! It's the classiest diss-track I think I've come across!
KAWEHI: (laughs) I'm a big fan of giving all the haters the finger, so...that was as fun for me as it was for you (laughs).
TIANA: Does a little bit of you just smirk when you play that one?
KAWEHI: Oh yeah, I think people are so amazed that people actually have the gall to say those kind of things. For me - it's fuel! And it's comedy. But a lot of the time people are like "I can't believe people actually say those kind of things!"...but all you can do is take it and use it!
TIANA: Use it as fuel for the fire! And it's that weird notion these days that you aren't truly a success unless you've got some haters - so clearly you've reached that next level!
KAWEHI: (laughs) I'm just happy, I just wanna do this for the rest of my life and I'm so excited that I just get to do this for the rest of my life.
TIANA: You're closing out 2017 on a high, and you've had some massive success already this year....but are there any exciting, big plans on the horizon for 2018?
KAWEHI: Yeah, we work on new stuff all the time and we have a short film coming out with a visual album as well, that's on the horizon. But really just every year and every day I just want to make shit - and do it for a living. And have a roof over our heads, I think that's the life, we're living the dream really.
TIANA: And to finish things up...your music is so dense and layered, and catchy as hell...but is there any music outside of that heavy electronic pop style that you listen to that people might be surprised about?
KAWEHI: I love classical. I mean, I'm Asian so my parents were like "piano or violin!". So I was like "....I guess I'll take piano!". I think too I'm just an overall general fan of music and I think there's something good in every genre that I can find and enjoy. I'll listen to anything, really!
TIANA: Well, it seems like there's nothing you can't play, so I think that's a very valid answer. Wishing you all the absolute best for the next week and a bit of your Aussie tour, and we hope it's not the last time we'll see you out here!
KAWEHI: Thank you so much! Great speaking to you.
Kawehi is currently in Oz for the very first time, performing three shows. For ticket info check out the below, for all other Kawehi info head HERE
KAWEHI AUSTRALIAN TOUR DATES
Friday 24 NOVEMBER - MELBOURNE
THE SPOTTED MALLARD
314 sydney Rd, Brunswick.
Wednesday 29 NOVEMBER - ADELAIDE
THE GRACE EMILY
232 Waymouth St, Adelaide
Thursday 30 NOVEMBER - SYDNEY
42 King St, Newtown
BY TIANA SPETER