Editor’s Note: In our last issue, indie-rock band Painted Highways bumped heads with post-punk, electro rockers GRLFRNDS. This time, Painted Highways steps in front the mic, dishing on selling out, the local music scene and GRLFRNDS frontman Alex Kaiser’s hair.
GRLFRNDS first encountered Painted Highways during “The Opening,” a battle of the bands to open for national headliners, Modest Mouse, who played in Hawai‘i September 2009. Something about the Painted Highways sound reminded me of my brief travels around the Pacific Northwest. Their name evoked road trips I took with my parents across the continent as a child, but more than anything Painted Highways seemed to tow the line and personify the sound that Modest Mouse, Dinosaur Jr., Kings Of Leon and so many other great artists have established as the current American indie rock phenomenon. GRLFRNDS got together with our friends Mike, Mark and Kai (absent was their drummer Jack, who deserves his own article for being one of the pillars of the Hawai‘i scene for as long as I can recall) to talk about their band Painted Highways.
GRLFRNDS: When are we gonna play more shows in Yougurtland and Burger King?
Mark: When hell freezes over.
Mike: When Jack releases us from our contract, that tyrant.
GRLFRNDS: Was it tough selling out?
Mike: No, it was easy, cheap.
GRLFRNDS: On the real though I’ve had conversations with you, Mike, about labels and deals and stuff. Is this band gonna sell out, or are you gonna make the record yourselves?
Mike: Well, we’re gonna make the first record ourselves. If we got a good enough record deal we’d sell out. It’d have to be to our benefit. Something that makes mark happy.
GRLFRNDS: Mark, what’s gonna get you to sell out?
GRLFRNDS: Are you going to have help from Mountain Apple company? Are you going to be on a Mountain Apple imprint?
Mike: No. They’ll probably help us record, though. Probably not like contracts or money involved, just the buddy system.
GRLFRNDS: Why is that? Where is the line in the sand that separates Painted Highways from the Mountain Apple Company?
Mike: Uhh… I dunno…I’ve never entertained getting signed to where I work. So, maybe it’d be a conflict of interests or it might be too close to home. Or maybe we’re not Hawaiian music and that’s kinda their bread and butter. Errr, our bread and butter.
GRLFRNDS: When are you gonna do more Hawaiian music?
Mike: When Willie K. gets back to us.
GRLFRNDS: I guess that’s the question for all Hawai’i bands: How come Hawaiian bands do just fine and other bands, we’re just fighting over scraps?
Mark: If you just look at the simple macroeconomics 202 of your supply versus demand. Jawaiian versus crying lions.
GRLFRNDS: Fucking reggae. That’s all you need to say.
Mike: The line in the sand is reggae.
Mark: There is an evolving… greatening market here and certain elements shall therefore thus present themselves. Tthere’s just different pedagogical pragmatics involved in such, undergoing, a multitude of events, thus therefore creating, and lying there… exactly.
GRLFRNDS: Exactly. I can’t wait to spell check that. But you made a good point at the start, at least. That there is a market, and for our bands like ours, that the market is growing… I heard you played Cinco de Mayo – you had some groupie action. You wanna tell me about that? Kai, I’m looking at you…
Kai: I have no idea what you’re talking about.
Mike: Mark touched a boob and that was about it. Just girls making eyes at us cause girls don’t realize we’re 30 and over.
Kai: A guy bought me a beer.
Mike: There were male groupies and we sucked their bottles.
GRLFRNDS: I think when it comes down to it more guys have bought me beers than girls. Girls don’t buy you beers. Guys are like, “good show”. I hope it’s not a gay thing… but i might be a flirt.
Mark and Mike: You definitely are.
Mark: Alex, your hair has so much volume. Damn.
Kai: What are you using Pantene?
GRLFRNDS: My hair has done a lot of things in the past year. It’s been to a lot of Painted Highways shows. Can you see my hair from the audience when you play?
Mike: Of course. We can smell your hair from the audience. Pantene travels far.
Mark: I can smell that V05 hot oil.
GRLFRNDS: Is my hair a good barometer? Can you tell whether or not you’re playing a good show from my hair?
Mike: Usually it depends on how it’s whipped. If it’s whipped to the right, we need to step it up. If it’s whipped to the left, we’re OK. If it’s all over the place, then we’ve done our job. We played well based on Alex Kaiser’s hair.
GRLFRNDS: Should we get more serious? At the beginning, Mark, you played a lot on a big electric piano; you still have the microKORG synthesizer. Your guitar sound is probably one of the most defining things about your band, but how do you guys feel about synths?
Mike: We’ve always wanted a fifth person to do that because it’s hard for Kai to step away from the bass. It’d be smarter, since we both have guitars, for somebody to fucking put the guitar down and play the synths. We have two microKORGs. The only reason we don’t have the piano is because of laziness – that thing weighs 200 pounds. We would write a lot more if we had NORD keyboards or something that’s light. Unfortunately it’s just this huge piano. We’d love to incorporate synths because all of us here could see a lot of synth parts in our songs.
GRLFRNDS: I was very happy when we started playing shows together. We both had the microKORG so I knew we were in good company.
Mark: We actually have 2 microKORGs!
GRLFRNDS: Fuck you guys!
GRLFRNDS: We’ve never figured out a way to really work the NORD into the set. On some songs it sounds really good and other songs we just don’t use it. With synths it’s hard to find the right tone. The microKORG doesn’t have a piano tone. But that big piano you used to fucking lug around did have a nice piano tone and I think that works for your sound, sorta American rock.
Mark: I think you’ll probably see a bit more organic sounds coming out of us soon too. More harmonies, some acoustic guitars, drum circles, Carlos Santana, cowbells, moonshine jugs, a lot of tomfoolery and ballyhoo.
GRLFRNDS: Ballyhoo, Bally Total Fitness, bro. Living in Hawai‘i, where there isn’t really an indie rock scene, how does that affect what your band will sound like?
Mark: There’s a lot of different pedagogical pragmatics involved in the writing process, but I don’t personally do it for hot dogs or squirrels or anything. I mainly just write stuff from the heart. Feel it. Feel that freedom. But I think it’s a small market that enjoys that kind of music. Most people just want something to dance to and we’re not really that. Hopefully there’s a greater growing audience of people who go outside of the bubble and start widening their music spectrum and feel freed.
Mike: The market is bigger than Hawai‘i. I don’t know if Modest Mouse or Joy Division got together and said let’s make music this town will like. Or if they were like, “Let’s make music we want to make and hopefully, somebody will like it.” That’s how we’ve approached it. As we’ve gotten to know each other and played longer, our songs have melded to become the Painted Highways’ sound instead of Mark’s song or Kai’s song or Mike’s song. I just spoke about myself in the third person.
GRLFRNDS: “Painted Highways” is a beautiful visual idea in and of itself. I gotta commend you guys on that. I’d like to find out what are some of your contemporary and classical influences? Because I hear a very classic American-indie-rock sound, whatever that is.
Mark: Current influences on us? That’s tough…
GRLFRNDS: Nobody is making good stuff anymore.
Mark: Diana ross put a good album out recently.
GRLFRNDS: So what’s a classical influence?
Mark: Bruce Springsteen, Skip James, Freedom, so much stuff that blows your hair back. Current influences of course are Radiohead, TV on the Radio.
Mike: TV on the Radiohead? That’d be a sick mash up.
Mark: Arcade Fire, I been a big fan. Arcade Fire. Bruce Springsteen just makes me wanna blast and smash your hand through a pain of glass and down your pants.
GRLFRNDS: When you sing, you have a very guttural howl that makes me want to break glass. Mike you have a very pretty voice, is that something you plan? To have the different dynamic because you have two singers?
Mark: No, but we definitely want to start combining that. Also if you hear Kai sing, he sounds just like Sonny Bono.
GRLFRNDS: That’s before my time. I don’t even know what he sounds like.
Mike: Like a shitty Bob Dylan.
GRLFRNDS: …Maybe like hitting a pine tree at 50 mph.
Mike: Dude, too soon.
GRLFRNDS: Are you for real gonna do like three, four-part harmonies?
Mike: I dunno. Are we down?
Kai: Yeah I’m down.
Mike: It’s not that we play a ton of gigs, but we focus too much on rehearsing our songs for gigs.
Mark: And we drink too much
Mike: That happens, but now we’re actually trying to figure out the details of the songs. Instead of playing shows and not worry how we sound because nobody is really paying any attention.
GRLFRNDS: Well if the shows are any benchmark, the album is going to sound awesome. I know you’re very ambitious about it. You are one of my favorite local bands, if not my favorite local band. Definitely my favorite dudes. Do we have any last words?