Raiatea transports fans to the ’60s
This post has been corrected. Please see below.
Raiatea Helm holds the keys to a time machine of sorts with her new album, "Sea of Love."
While she performs with an all-star team of modern Hawaii musicians, the "new traditionalist of Hawaiian music" also takes listeners on a journey back some 50 years, with 11 tracks made popular during the period following Hawaii's transition into the 50th state in 1959. It's the music that her parents and her uncle, George Jarrett Helm, grew up with in the cocktail lounges of Waikiki and she describes as the "Hawaiian Club" sound.
The old-school vibe continues with the recording process for the album, which took place not in a traditional recording studio, but within the confines of Mamiya Theatre in Kaimuki. Unlike the vast majority of albums recorded today, Helm decided to gather a group of studio musicians and record "Sea of Love" in a live setting.
Fresh off a return trip to Japan last month, Helm called to talk story about her new album and the inspirations behind it. "Sea of Love" is available now on iTunes; an Oahu release party and multi-island tour is also in the works.
QUESTION: Does "Sea of Love" expose a different side of Raiatea Helm to fans?
ANSWER: I feel that this is a new life, a new path. I've always wanted to go back to my roots. I've wanted to do something where my inspiration started, and that is mainly the period of 1960's club music, where you have steel guitar, marimba, percussion. It's really fun, light music.
When I was first introduced to Leinaala Heine through my dad, I really fell in love with that sound. I know I've performed a lot of traditional Hawaiian ballads, but the stuff on this project is … really happy music.
Q: Who came up with the idea of recording the new album in such an old-school manner?
A: It was my idea. I've always wanted to do something like this, but it takes a lot of planning. You're trying to organize a seven-piece band and doing a multi-track recording, it takes a lot.
A year and a half ago, I started with a song entitled "Namolokama." And that was a track that Leina'ala Haili recorded, and it had this really funky beat. And I wanted to bring that back, I wanted to do that kind of sound. It took a year and a half to plan.
First I got in touch with Harry B. Soria, and he was one of the main resources for this project on finding these old songs, and most of them were sung by men. But they had that same drive, that same feeling I was looking for. So I had a list of more than 50 songs and narrowed it down to 11 tracks.
Then I would meet with the arranger, Kit Ebersbach, and the lead guitarist, Jeff Peterson, and go through the arrangements and see if that was the song I really wanted. So it was a long, tedious process.
Q: When did you actually get down to recording the album?
A: We recorded (in August). We had a timeline on this and worked with the right people, so it was really exciting, but we were also very anxious because we never knew what to expect. It's the first multi-track recording I've ever done.
Q: Did you always know you wanted to record inside Mamiya Theatre?
A: We had a couple places in mind, but Mamiya was the best option. It has that old feel, that warmth, so it worked out right. The chemistry was perfect.
Q: Was it a one-and-done process? Or did you need a lot of time to get each track recorded?
A: We would perform each song a few times. But having all these professional musicians — and half of the people who performed on the CD, I never played with before — but having that connection with them of recording these old songs, everyone was related in some way and everything kind of naturally came out.
And that's what I wanted to capture, the performance. You have a lot of technical things in a recording, but to get that performance, that's how the artists recorded. It's also why I wanted to work with Milan Betrosa, because that's the kind of engineer he is. You have to work with the right type of engineer to get the real sound of a live performance, and that's the magic that Milan brought to the project.
Jason Genegabus is Entertainment Editor/Online at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and has covered the local nightlife, music, bar and entertainment scenes since 2001. Contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: Leina'ala Haili originally recorded the track "Namolokama." A different artist was incorrectly listed in an earlier version of this post.