Interview | Girls In Hawaii
by Tom Johnson
Any band that spends a decent amount of time together will, at some point, have to deal with internal struggles and personal hardships. However, dealing with the premature death of a band member is something that no band ever really considers. After releasing a couple of records over a half a decade ago, the marvelous Girls In Hawaii had to come to terms with such a tragedy when drummer Denis Wielemans was sadly killed in a car accident in 2010. Understandably the band took some time away from music before making tentative steps to get together again and carry on with the album they’d already started creating.
The result is Everest, the bands third full-length, which is set for release on September 16th via Naive Records, and follows on from the Misses EP which was released earlier this Summer as the albums pre-cursor.
Delivering rich and refined pop music, the EP was a wonderful first step on a journey that for all of its initial struggle looks set to be one of the most affecting and exciting of the Autumn. We spoke to the band about the last few years and what we can expect from the forthcoming record…
Hi there Girls In Hawaii, how is the Summer treating you?
It’s starting really good ! We’re just back from a mini-tour in China. We were there for the first time and it was the most amazing experience.In about a week we’ll be at the Montreux Jazz Festival, sharing the stage with Catpower, an artist that we really love. Then in august we’ll be playing at home. We have a great spot at Pukkelpop, one of the major summer festivals in Belgium. It’s our big come-back gig ! Wow, looks great so far!
How did the recent UK shows go and how are you enjoying playing live at the moment?
Well we played in Brighton for TGE and it was a lot of fun though our schedule was really tight with 2 shows and 2 acoustic sessions. There was a good response from the crowd and we are pretty happy with how the whole thing went. We’re in the beginning of building our new live show so we still have lot of work to unleash the full potential of the band but it’s pretty exciting to be back in the gam
You’ve released two records so far. Talk us through them…
Our first record called ” From Here to There” was some kind of a personal diary.
It was a childish record we made in my bedroom with no equipment, no money, cheap keyboards and a 4 track-recorder. We were so young that everything was challenging and a lot of fun to do. We were about 23 years old. I think the way we looked at music was not very much unlike bands like Grandaddy, Ariel Pink, R Stevie Moore or Ween. There’s something similar in the process of putting things together. We wrote really simple and naive pop songs and then we got signed to a Belgian record label called “62TV Records”. A year later we were touring Europe, Iceland and the U.S.
“Plan Your Escape” was our second record and like all second records it was very difficult to make, especially because the first one got quite successful in Belgium, France and Switzerland. We started exploring the complex side of pop music with longer, more intricate songs with different layers and weird structures. In fact, at that point, we were only starting thinking about making music. We improved as a band on stage and things kept on going well for us.
You’ve taken a few years off since your last record, do you want to talk about your time away and how it was spent?
First we went to Iceland for 5 months to write new songs. It was an incredible journey. We stayed in the north Fjord in a closed hotel. It was the perfect place to lay the foundations of a new record : great people, great music, the loneliness of the Fjord and the northern light shining every night.
Then a terrible accident happened. We lost a loved one, our drummer, brother and friend, in a car accident. So we were forced to take a break and get away from music. I turned to other things like working on a play as a playwright and then i got back to drawing.
Antoine, the other lead singer took a break in the countryside and worked in a farm, away from the world, playing guitar.
Then after a 2-year hiatus we all got back together to play music again. We had been collecting songs for a while so we had enough material for a new record. It just felt like it was time to get back to work. So that’s what we just did and here we are now…
The Misses EP is great, the title track in particular – was that a track from the Paris recording sessions?
Actually Misses was recorded in Brussels. We did some sort of a test session to see how we could tackle the studio. It went really well so a few weeks later we were in Paris working on the rest of the album. Then on the EP there’s a great remix by Cupp Cave. The two other songs are demos that we recorded at home and wanted to share with our fans as raw material.
How did you find those sessions? Was there a strict plan before you went in to record?
The sessions in Paris were a great step forward for the band. We were of course a bit lost after what happened to us. We were a band without a drummer and for the most part it felt like starting from scratch again. We had no idea if we could ever do it again. Fortunately Luuk Cox, the guy who produced the record, did an amazing job at guiding us through the whole process of recording the songs. In the past we had always had the tendency to want to control everything, which could sometimes be paralyzing. Thanks to Luuk we learned to get rid of that bad habit. We became more open to ideas, letting the others getting involved and trying new things, going off the beaten track. And it was some sort of a revelation. We had never felt so creative before and it made us stronger as a band
How close are we to a third album and when do you think we’ll hear it?
Well, we just finished the artwork 10 days ago. Tchad Blake mixed the songs 2 months ago and did a great job. Mastering was done in Abbey Road. For the first time in the band’s history (and maybe even in our life) we are ahead of schedule. The album is to be released on 16th September in Europe.
How does it compare to the first two records, do you think?
It’s certainly more mature. At least that’s what our friends tell us about it.
It’s difficult to step back and look at it because it’s still very fresh. We have been involved so hard in it for such a long time… For all we know it sounds way better. As far as production and songwriting are concerned, i think we are one level above our previous records. It was an important album for us as we had a lot of things to sort out
Do you have a personal favourite track from the new material?
I love a song called “Wars”. At first it was a simple folky ballad but in the studio we went on a trip and ended up with a weird atmospheric song with lots of synths and sequencing. It reminds me of some Massive Attack songs.
Do you feel like a new band again after taking a few years out?
Definitely. It feels a lot different now. We have a new line-up, a new drummer and a new keyboard player. Really talented people and most of all good friends. It’s fresh blood. We have learned to let go and now we are feeling confident with the idea of making music together on the long term. The way we look at music is very different now.
Finally what advice would you give to the 2003 version of Girls In Hawaii…
Stop drinking coffees and get back to work.