You just recently released your 4th album - 'Aloha Spirit' - to great reviews. Tell us about the album. What were you trying to do differently than previous albums and was the process any different?
For this album I wanted to encompass a variety of styles while still revealing my basic musical ID. It was fun working with Demetri Marmash at Artemis Audio in Kailua, HI. We experimented a lot with old amps and microphones to try to get a vintage sound on some of the tracks. We recorded a lot of songs overdubbing all the tracks one by one. I listened to them for a while. I kept feeling like something wasn't quite right. I ended up rerecording a lot of them all over again just playing everything live with my guitar, a kick drum and a tambourine. I kept a lot of the live versions because I felt they had better energy. However overdubbing did have its place on the album. I had an idea for the intro to "Peaceful Place" to make it sound like the rain drops fell into a beat. So me and Steven "Lock" Lynch filled up my bathtub and put up a bunch of mics and spent a day recording water splashes and drops with a variety of different buckets and rags. We mixed that with real rain, coqui frogs, and owl samples. Came out killer. It was a lot of fun.
On this album, unlike your last, you feature a number of artists including Leon Mobley who plays percussion for Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals, Chris Chorney who has recorded with Kanye and Jay Z, the great jazz trumpet player Mike Lewis, and others. What was it like to collaborate with this all-star group of musicians?
It's always such a pleasure to work with such talented accomplished musicians. Working with Leon Mobley is like a dream come true for me. I've been such a huge fan of his for so long and am just so blown away to be able to perform and record with him now. For "Sparrow" and "Believe" I got to work with Chris Chorney and Steven "Lock" Lynch at Analog Rock Machine Studios in Downtown Honolulu. We recorded to a big analog reel-to-reel tape machine they had. Chris Chorney did a wonderful job playing Cello on those two songs. For "Sparrow" we recorded the three piece live (me on guitar, Mark Lindberg on Drums, Chorney on Cello). After listening to that for a while my Manager Al Smith mentioned the track might sound great with a muted trumpet. I called up Mike Lewis and he came in and brought the song to life. We also had Ken Lykes come in and lay down piano. That really completed the song nicely. I was really happy with the way it came out. It also reminded me how fun it is to play with a band again. I was also super stoked to be featuring Garrett 'Ane' Pessin on harmonica on the upbeat anthem, 'Island Days.'
'Aloha Spirit' features both upbeat, catchy radio-friendly songs ('Aloha Spirit', 'Island Days', 'SMH') as well as more complex and challenging music ('Sparrow', 'Glass Castle'). How did this mix come about and were you writing both simultaneously?
I feel the album did end up having a good balance of those elements. However it wasn't premeditated or planned. I still just write what comes. Even the songs that seem to be geared for the masses are just songs that I happened upon. It's only after a song is finished that I realize its purpose. I usually finish songs one by one in one or two sittings. If a song is not finding its way after that I tend to let it go. I like to get the song written and start playing it live immediately. That's where I get all the bugs out. Playing the songs live is also the last test to see if it's something I want to keep playing. There are so many songs I've written, then played a bunch of times live, then just never played again because it didn't feel right or wasn't landing the way it was meant to. I think being able to try things out and let them go is a great way to sharpen your song writing skills.
On this album you play a number of different instruments including a lap steel, a banjo, a drum pedal kit, and more. Tell us about your rig.
On the album you will hear an Iseman Guitars Tavana Signature koa Weissenborn, a Pono GA 30 D.C. Acoustic Guitar, and a Pono ETC PC Ukelele. The banjo is a Gold Tone Irish Tenor. And for the percussion I play on a self built pedal board with 6 KT-10 Roland Drum Triggers hooked up to a TD-30 Roland Drum Module.
It sure is amazing watching you play guitar, sing, and play the drums with your feet all at the same time! What are your plans for the future, and where would you like to see your music go from here?
I have some short term goals and some long term goals. In the short term I would like to get to play abroad a lot more. I am aiming at getting to festivals on the east and west coast of the Mainland. I will be touring in the Summer of 2018 with the Wanderlust Festival in 5 cities in Canada and the U.S.. We will be booking shows between those dates and around those cities. It will be the first official Tavana Tour. We are also in the process of trying to book shows in Japan for that summer as well. More in the long term I would like to help revamp the local music scene in Honolulu. I can see Honolulu being a top tier live music destination in the near future. We have so many talented people here and I envision an explosion of creativity and innovation. I want to do what I can to make that a reality. My show at Crossroads Hawaiian Brian's has been a great place to begin that effort. Every week I showcase artists from Honolulu and elsewhere. It's been a place for talented people from any and every genre to come and collaborate and feel free to try out new things. It's really been bringing a lot of people together that would not normally have done so otherwise.
Where can people come to see you live and are there any upcoming shows that you are currently super stoked about?
I'll be featuring the super-talented Aiden James on Tuesday, October 17th at Crossroads Hawaiian Brian's, opening for Sam Hunt at the Blaisdell Center Arena on Wednesday, October 18th, featuring Jon Yamasato on Tuesday, November 7th at Crossroads, and opening for Valerie June at The Republik on Monday, November 20th. And you can always check my website for upcoming show dates at www.tavana808.com.
Check out songs from 'Aloha Spirit' below. You can pick up a copy of the CD here. The album is also available for download at iTunes and Spotify. Mahalo!