Kevin Jones preps for final Hawaii shows before moving to Portland
Nearly 20 years after first leaving Honolulu to chase his musical dreams in Las Vegas, local radio personality and rock recording artist Kevin Jones is packing up his stuff and saying goodbye to his hometown once again.
This time around he’s heading for Portland, Ore. with his wife, who will pursue her education while Jones explores the city’s blossoming music community. After more than a decade of service at the state’s largest radio station group, the 44-year-old departs Hawaii this month with a handful of job prospects but no firm idea of what the future holds — and he couldn’t be more excited.
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I spoke with Jones after learning he had two last shows to play, one with his band The Desert Sea at Hawaiian Brian’s today and the other with his cover band, Wrekt, at the Hard Rock Cafe on Wednesday. We talked about his need to walk away from a job others would give almost anything to have, the effects of living in Hawaii on his music career and the state of the local music scene.
QUESTION: You had a great job managing a music hall while also being on the radio and playing shows as a working musician. Why walk away from all of that?
ANSWER: I met this really, really wonderful woman a few years ago and she brought back a sense of adventure I haven’t felt in a while. We’ve done a lot of traveling over the years, and one of the places we visited was Portland. So when it came to applying to graduate schools, Oregon Health and Science University was at the top of her list and that’s the one she got accepted to. We’re really excited.
I really felt like I plateaued here a few years ago. After a while, it just kind of felt like there was no higher for me to go. I was working for the largest and most successful radio company in Hawaii. But I’ve always been about striving for more, and this was a really good opportunity to do that.
Q: How has living in Hawaii affected your own music career?
A: I’ve had to sacrifice a lot of creativity. The bands that I’ve had, we’ve ended up learning hundreds and hundreds of other people’s songs, but when it comes to actually creating our own music, I’ve certainly put that second to fostering other people’s original music. Trying to balance being in radio and doing these local shows with trying to be a creative musician, it definitely sapped my creativity somewhat. I’m a little disappointed that I haven’t had as much creative output as I’d like.
What makes me happiest is being a musically creative soul. So I’m looking forward to getting back to that.
Q: What’s the best thing about Hawaii’s music scene?
A: The brightest and best thing I can say is the sheer diversity of it all. There’s a lot here. When we talk about genres and people doing it, there’s just so, so much.
Q: What’s the worst thing about Hawaii’s music scene?
A: The hard thing is getting the word out and getting the public interested in music above and beyond island music and reggae music. There’s hip-hop. There’s bluegrass and jazz. There’s alternative. It’s heartbreaking to watch these incredible bands play and nobody comes to see them. Or these fantastic hip-hop shows and the room is empty.
And then with the artists, there’s a certain amount of complacency. I think one of the strengths of the island and reggae groups is they know how to market themselves. You can’t just sit back and play your guitar and expect people to come and see you.
That’s why I think these island music artists have it down. They hustle. Take a guy like Kuana Torres Kahele. Kuana is on tour all the time and he’s putting records out all the time. And if you look beyond the music, he knows how to market himself. He knows how to integrate his lei-making and all these other things he does into a package he can present to the world. You have to present yourself as a marketable, bankable package.
Q: What does the future hold for local rock in Hawaii?
A: I see the scene contracting again. It goes up and down and up and down. This is like the second, or maybe even the third time I’ve seen it wane. It kinda peaked in the mid-80s and then it went down. Then it peaked again in 1996 or 1997. Most recently, it peaked around 2012 or 2013. I’m seeing venues close and people leaving. And the terrible thing is, there are more bands than ever.
I don’t want to say I’m admitting defeat, but you can only band your head against the wall so many times. Whether it’s the artists or the public, there hasn’t been that magic song or magic artist that has come out. You can say Bruno or Jack, but beyond that I’m just waiting for Kings of Spade or Erin Smith or Third Space or Dustin Pacleb or Amanda Frazier, one of those really gifted acts to make that magic song and somehow it sticks out and gets some traction. But I haven’t seen it yet.
I don’t know what the future holds. I’m a little worried for the scene right now.
Jason Genegabus has covered the local entertainment, nightlife, music and bar scenes since 2001. Contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.