[/center] From near-unknowns on the music scene to regular appearances on The Secret Life Of Us, Waikiki have, in all aspects, "made it". Juanita Stein, vocalist and guitarist of the band is happy to talk about everything, from songwriting to the "new wave of rock".
After debuting with the EP 'Presents...' in 2000, it was a long time between drinks for Waikiki.
Their debut album 'I'm Already Home' has produced some gems already, but they are now releasing the fourth and final single from the album, Complicated. Ben Lee, who contributed to the second single Here Comes September, also gave Stein a hand in writing this track. Their relationship formed during their school years, where Lee went to school with Stein's brothers, and he has been a strong supporter since. "He's a really strong supporter of local music anyway, he's very encouraging."
Stein described the process of writing Complicated as "being taken for a ride". "I thought about when we were writing the song and it's a funny kind of thing that happens when you write a song with someone, because you never really set out to write about something in particular and then it just kind of twists and turns and it kind of starts to take on a life of its own."
Waikiki unfortunately do not often make it to Adelaide. Their last show here, in fact, was the Adelaide Cup, which turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. " It was a bit odd," Stein sighs. "It was more unnecessary I guess, you know, we'd just flown down, set up and went to all this trouble, and then we canned after two songs [because] it was raining so hard."
Despite this, Stein was especially impressed with the Adelaide crowd at other shows, including Big Day Out. "Adelaide crowds are always really impressive. It's a funny thing, you never expect it, but we always get a really good reception in Adelaide of all places." Stein also commented on the difference between all-ages and over 18s shows, "All ages are generally a lot more enthusiastic. Over 18s tend to sit back and appreciate the music more, whereas I think, you know, the all ages are just excited to be there."
Waikiki tend to hold back on playing their older tracks at live shows, much to the disappointment of their older fans. "I think we just got over it. I think it's like with any art, especially musicians, your tastes change and you want more and more and you want different styles and sounds. We've just written so many new songs at the moment, it'd kind of feel like we're almost taking a step back or something. We probably should [play old songs] - there's not a show goes by where we don't get someone requesting Frail [from the 'Waikiki Presents...' EP], but I just can't be ****ed."
One of the ventures that Waikiki are most known for is their involvement on 'The Secret Life Of Us'. Having appeared on all three 'Secret Life...' soundtracks, Stein appreciates how the show has helped them as a band. "It helps, it gets you out to a wider audience. It'd be nice to not need the help of stuff like that, but you do, and you can't pretend that you can just sit at home in your garage and wait for the world to come to you, because it doesn't..." When I suggest that maybe from a fan's point of view that this could be interpreted as "selling out", Stein defended their actions. "I do read our website, we've had various comments like that, and it's lik 'God, if you guys only knew how hard it was - we're not making any money, and this is impossible and you know, you just gotta do what you have to do'. You have to compromise a little bit."
Waikiki's brand of pop isn't exactly flavour of the month and I asked Stein what she thinks of the "new rock" movement that has swept the world. "It's funny you ask because I have another brother who's a budding journalist and he's just written this big feature on the garage scene, and he asked me to write some stuff for it. I thought about it, and I thought even though it'll all fall within a couple of months, it'll be finished - anyone with a kinked style haircut and a haircut will be labelled 'old' and 'passé' - I kind of think that trends need to happen, you know ? It makes music exciting and I don't want to be part of the trend because trends come and go, but I think they're exciting to watch. There are always a few genuine acts that come out of scenes and I really do think there have been some great bands to come out of this one. I don't know how much longer it's going to last, but the good ones will stick around and then there'll be a new phase." With 'Complicated' being the last single from 'I'm Already Home', I was curious about the changes that the next album will bring. "I think the second album is going to be a lot less restricted and a lot more open and a lot more who we are, and a bit darker and a bit more experimental - but still within the confines of a pop song."
Waikiki play Enigma Bar on Wed 9 July with Edison and Grandville, and are also touring with Ben Lee for the 'Made In Heaven' tour at Heaven on Sun 7 Sept. Complicated is out now through Liberation.
They played their first gig in Landsdowne, Sydney, in 1999, and have since performed in the Pepsi Live show in Sydney, supported the notorious Machine Gun Fellatio, and just one month earlier to the day, were the star attraction at the opening of Melbourne's new Virgin Megastore. Waikiki, consisting of striking brother and sister duo Juanita (vocalist) and Joel (guitarist) Stein, with drummer Glenn (found after responding to a music newspaper ad) and (bassist/ guitarist) Jimmy, have just completed their new album and are loving every minute of the experience. Colin Murphy chatted to the band prior to their UniBar performance last week.
Having just attended the midnight screening of Star Wars Episode II the night before this gig, the band were a little tired, but plenty of fun nonetheless. Waikiki played a number of songs from their original EP "Presents...", featuring "Frail" and "Mistake In Time", as well as the title track and "Mad and Beautiful" from the "New Technology" single. Describing their ideal gig, lead vocalist Juanita offered that it would have to be at the Wollongong UniBar, with Noise Addict as support. Although admitting to seeing plenty of live music for nothing, Waikiki occasionally pay to see live music, noting Jazz Trio and Betchadupa among those live acts they thoroughly enjoy.
Other favourite music comes from bands like Spiritualised, Air, The Doves, The Dandy Warhols, Soulwax, Teenage Fanclub, Paperwood, and Pavement, and the band cites influences such as Bob Dylan, The Beatles, and Dave Matthews.
So what next? Large ambitions feature in Waikiki's grand plans - they want to conquer Japan, Sweden, France, and obviously the premier music capital of Tunisia (j/k).
World conquest aside, when not performing as Waikiki, the guys enjoy hanging out together at parties and gigs. Some of the more trivial events in the band members' lives lately include Jimmy's decision to quit smoking in early May, Glenn's sister's hair being dyed and Joel happened to restring his guitar on the day of the gig. It's not all glamour, but it's not all bad.
Waikiki's new album is available now at all music stores.
Who cares about the little details? When it comes to the details of our favourite records, there are those of us who skim over liner notes without really paying too much attention and then there are others that pour over every last detail, putting together the complex web of musicians, producers, record labels, managers and hangers ons that surround our favourite records. All this information can fuel a music geek's imagination for a lifetime. It does, however, become increasingly clear that all this information passes most musicians by as they seem a lot more interested in actually creating music than reading about it.
When I asked Joel Stein, guitarist with Sydney outfit Waikiki, about recording with Ric Ocasek (the man that produced one of the definitive guitar pop albums of the 90s in Weezer's self titled blue album) he pleaded blissful ignorance. "I didn't know who he was" admits Joel but was quick to add that Ric seemed to enjoy working with the naive young Aussies. A lot more time could be spent on the production duties rather than being quizzed about the drinking tales of Guided by Voices (Ric also produced GBV's Do the Collapse album). Oh, Ric also played in a band called the Cars.
The somewhat sweet naivety of Waikiki is evident in their new single, New Technology, a bright and bouncy pop number with crunchy guitars beneath Juanita Stein's blissfully sweet vocals. The track marks a move on from the band's debut EP, Presents, that produced the JJJ friendly Frail and scored Waikiki a host of international support spots. When asked how the success of that debut single was received within the band, Joel replied "I was surprised, nothings planned so it was all a surprise".
So what inspired New Technology? Where Waikiki a little threatened by the influx of high tech gadgetry in modern music? "The song is mainly about humans vs. technology, not about technology taking over the world" Joel explains, "it's just our rocky poppy side and we love that kind of stuff". However, when asked if the track is indicative of the forthcoming album, Joel admits "in a way yes (but) the b-sides reflect more of the album". The b-sides he refers to, Is he fair, Mad and Beautiful, More (featuring the strings of Fourplay) and the instrumental Stoney's mountain of gold are all more subdued numbers (less perhaps More that gets a little raucous at times).
You could be forgiven for thinking Waikiki's blend of folk and rock could cause the occasional stressful moment as the band decide whether to take the rocky road or the easy acoustic route when recording but that couldn't be further from the truth. "Most of the songs are written by Juanita and we take them into the rehearsal room and what happens happens". Having said that, Joel does explain some songs will always be destined to stay minimal, "sometimes acoustic songs sound best raw and you can interrupt the feel of the song and distract from the melody".
Waikiki seem content to reflect a wide range of influences but still find themselves falling into the mid 90s guitar pop basket, something they’re happy about but certainly not obsessed with, "we just love good music full stop". Joel laughed at the possibility of commercial radio squeezing Waikiki into the middle ground between the grrrl rock of LASH and hippie pop of GEORGE, "our album is going to finally set people straight in who we are and what we're doing". Joel struggled to identify musical contemporaries in Australia and pointed out the difficulty young pop bands have earning credibility in a country seemingly dedicated to hard rockin’ bloke bands. It’s a good point because since the demise of the Clouds, many female fronted Australian bands have failed to achieve the same credibility as overseas artists. Where is the Australian version of PJ Harvey? Whether or not Waikiki can generate that sort of credibility is yet to be seen and it may require a serious shift in current attitudes before pop rock bands like Waikiki are embraced in the way Art of Fighting, Magic Dirt, Bluebottle Kiss, and Gaslight Radio have been in recent times.
So as a relatively young band in the hands of a relatively major label (Liberation is part of the Mushroom/Festival Group), do Waikiki worry about getting caught between record company hype and their credibility as artists? "We just love what we're doing...we just get up and write our songs" says Joel, giving the impression Waikiki are happy to leave such matters in the hands of managers and record companies. Probably a wise move that may go a long way to preserving their rock and roll innocence for a little while longer.
Waikiki's New Technology single is just the taste of the new album due for release before the end of the year. The band are currently on tour with Dan Brodie and the Broken Arrows.
I had the fortunate opportunity for my band at the time to be billed with Waikiki a couple of years ago here in Adelaide and since that fateful night, I’ve become a real fan of their sometimes haunting pop sounds, and strong melodies courtesy of Joel and Juanita Stein. From their first single ‘New Technology’ and then debut album ‘Already Home’ Waikiki’s precise angle on infectious song-writing has struck a chord with the nation. Sean Kemp spoke to Joel from Waikiki about early beginnings, songs and their up and coming tour with Ben Lee.
So, that night that you played in Adelaide, everyone was telling me "Sean, you haven't heard 'New Technology yet?'. And I'm sorry but I must of gone through a Triple J Slump. How did it feel to finally have a song on the radio?
It felt wonderfull, like people were begining to notice the new kid at skool!
So you were toiling away at it for a while before it all started to happen for Waikiki?
Well I wasn't (Joel), I just used to sit in my room and play guitar until one day Juanita popped her head in my room and asked if I wanted to be in a band with her, and that was that.
Joel, when did you and Juanita start writing songs together?, and what were your influences?
We started writing about 3-4 years ago, what would usually happened in the past is that Juanita would come in with a great song and I'd write riffs or add as much as I could hear at the time. Now I'm starting to write alot of songs by myself and with Juanita which didn't really happen on our debut EP. I'm excited because this adds a whole new dimension to Waikiki. My influences are things that stir my emotions, things like politics, social puppetry, love, the world.
The Album 'Already Home' was produced by Rick from The Cars, that must have been a great experience seeing that he has also produced big acts such as No Doubt and Weezer!
Well Rick only produced one song which was "New Technology" and a fine job he did considering at the time we had no idea who he was, we thought he was just some dude from the states, we only found out afterward how big he really was!!!
Any good back-stage stories to tell about the Big day Out tour? I saw you early in the day and I think that was a perfect time to go on stage, even before the local stages started to really happen?, but this was not your first Big Day Out, do tell...
Actually for me (Joel) the first BDO I ever went to was the first one we played at which was a buzz, but the best thing about the BDO is that everyone get's treated equally. So you could be eating lunch with the Foo Fighters and PJ Harvey. It's a great thing to see don't think I have any stories accept the usual sex drugs and rock'n'roll etc
I've found that songs off Already Home to be a very diverse blend of tunes. From Juanita's relaxed vocal style, to Joel's high range, and for me, the drums and bass do remind of a young Jimmy Chamberlain and D'Arcy. Will this sound be apparent in the next release? Will you divert back to acoustic guitars or is the sound going to have more grunt. Something heavier?
Acoustic guitars will never leave because almost every song that's written starts on an acoustic or a piano. But I can say this much our music has progressed and will keep moving, people often ask me what we sound like now and I reply with "Dark Atmospheric Pop".
So, your up-coming tour with Ben Lee, You've been mates for a while and I've heard his backing vocals on Here Comes September. I guess it will be good to be on tour with a bloke would will not only give you the opportunity to play to thousands of Australians but also do a few shooters with you in the band room after the gig! (Always 'after' kids)
The only thing I can say about this tour other than it's going to be great is that every time I work with Ben I have a great time and learn quiet a bit!!
Hey good luck with everything I do look forward to your future recordings and no doubt eventual oversea's success!
I still flutter when I hear some of Juanita's vocals from the early 2000s. It's what drew me to her in the first place....
But anyway, here's the text:
Sometimes it’s all you can do to not sing along.
“Original band looking for drummer. Our influences are Mazzy Star, Radiohead and the Beatles.” Sounded simple enough. But for Sydney band Waikiki – Juanita Stein (vocals, bass), Joel Stein (guitar), Glenn Moule (drums) and Jimmy Brandon (guitar) – the 11 tracks that make up their debut longplayer I’m Already Home are a snapshot in time, space and melody that defy any easy categorisation. A collection of songs that’ll ease you gently into a daydream – or throw you off your couch. Lilting lullabies that float like musical clouds, and pop rock radio hits you can’t get out of your head. Diverse, multi-layered and revealing, listening to I’m Already Home is like the first taste of summer sun – warm, inviting, occasionally ready to burn.
Having burst onto the scene over two years ago with their debut EP Presents, Waikiki have gone on to take over the nation’s airwaves with their infectious brand of inspired indie pop that’s been embraced by virtually everyone from Triple J to The Secret Life Of Us. They’ve toured across the country, building themselves a live following worthy of envy in the process, all the while drawing musical inspiration from artists as disparate as Radiohead, Air, Mazzy Star, Beck and a slew of others. In April this year the energetic guitar strains of “New Technology” saw them team up with a New York legend (The Car’s Rik Ocasek) to pump out a slice of perfect pop wizardry. It is, apparently, just what the teenage Juanita Stein had in mind way back in high school all those years ago – forget dreams of Hollywood: rock & roll was calling.
“I was obsessed with River Phoenix at the time,” Juanita laughs, recalling the tragic tale about a rose and the ill-fated actor that was to be her first piece of songwriting. “I remember my friend who was sick called up and told the headmaster that one of our friends had died and that I had to go home! That was the first time I really started putting the way I was feeling into music.”
Years later, and Juanita’s heady harmonies and soulful lyrics (this time written about more than just acting heroes) would see the singer team up with her younger, guitar-noodling brother. Together the pair put out the call to locate the like-minded players they were searching for and asked their buddy to manage them. Not long after, Waikiki’s self-record demo found its way into the right hands. In 2000 the fourpiece had a label to call home – and work to do.
Recorded at Milk Bar Studios in the Sydney suburb of Camperdown in March 2002 with acclaimed local producer Paul McKercher, I’m Already Home sees Waikiki’s flower reach full bloom. From the gentle strains of “Falling” to the outright sizzle of “Lucky” to the country-twinged twang of “I’m Already Home”, the album moves seamlessly from the beautiful to the brazen, surprising you each listen with its depth and sheer catchiness. The diversity of I’m Already Home is easily its biggest strength – if all you’ve heard so far is Waikiki’s pop/rock singles, be prepared for a surprise. A big surprise.
“It’s exciting,” Juanita agrees, “because I think everyone is going to expect an album full of straight-forward pop songs. But there are so many twists and turns and avenues on this record that I’m just looking forward to people having an opportunity to hear a different side to us.”
Just what is it that makes Waikiki’s distinct mix work so damn well? With four strong personalities, can we put it down to astrology, perhaps? “Well, Glenn is definitely the earth, totally grounded, the practical, sensible force in the band,” Juanita laughs. “If Joel and me go off on our little tangents, he’ll be the one to make us chill out a little. Joel is the fire of the group – crazy and experimental. I mean, if he could just sit there and play a triangle for three hours, that would make him happy, just to **** with people’s heads. Jimmy, we throw all the basic chord structures onto him so we can **** around, and luckily he’s cool, very chilled. Adores bands like Spiritualised and Mazzy Starr. So he would be air – the constant, really soft and accepting. So that makes me the water – which I am anyway, I’m a Cancerian. I’m the one who tries to hold the three aspects together. Half of me very grounded – I know what has to be done to make this work. And the other half of me just wants to make noise and be all ****ed up and really, really blow people away.”
Collaborating on two tracks (the single “Here Comes September” and “Complicated”), good buddy and fellow songsmith Ben Lee adds his unique touch to the Waikiki pie on I’m Already Home. Despite having known Lee for several years, when it came down to writing in her Bondi flat Juanita admits the idea of working with a person outside the band was a little daunting. “I was nervous, yeah, even though it was planned,” she remembers. “But we’re good friends, so it wasn’t actually awkward – more a vulnerable thing at first, it was really full on. I mean, you come up with an idea in your head and it seems perfect to you – but it’s not to them, and Ben would be like, ‘Why don’t we try something else?’ And your first instinct is to defy that. But then you learn to let go and to experiment, and it became surprisingly easy and just worked even better. We’ve written heaps of songs together since then and it’s a very, very natural collaboration for me.”
As well as Lee, Juanita admits that working with the Cars’ frontman on the radio fave “New Technology” was nothing short of inspirational. The US-based Ocasek was reportedly keen to work with an Australian group and happened to discover Waikiki via an old friendship with Liberation’s head honcho Michael Gudinski. “It was all a matter of really good timing and good luck,” Juanita explains. “To be honest I didn’t know much about him really, and when our A&R guy approached us about working with him I was like, ‘How old is he?’” she laughs. “I was a bit sceptical! But he was phenomenal. He just walked in and straight away was really, really onto it – he would throw the rest of us out of the studio and just sit in the middle of the room with Joel, grabbing guitars and going over different ideas for ages. I could tell Joel was really in love with him! He was a mentor for that period, and we really respected and just instinctively trusted him – I just knew that whatever he would do would be great.”
When it comes to great debut albums, forget what pop is supposed to sound like. If singing is good for your soul then I’m Already Home is pure salvation. Like last night’s dream you just can’t shake off, or the smell of salt water on your skin, Waikiki’s stamp of timeless songs feel like a fresh, warm breeze.
Jump on board for the Waikiki ride… and be prepared to sing along. Source:courtesy of Liberation Music