Podcast - Ep. 13: Kawehi Interview
“So Bro,” which was released days after this episode of our podcast was recorded, is the latest single from one woman band extraordinaire Kawehi.
“I overheard a drunken conversation between two guys who were making fun of a group of bros across the bar and I thought, ‘These two guys are so bro and they don’t even know it!’ So I decided to write a non-serious song about bros who take bro-ing seriously,” she told PopWrapped.com.
It’s the first original song released to streaming platforms in four years from an artist who first gained national recognition for her unique approach to covers.
In 2014, the mutli-instrumentalist posted her version of Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box” to the video-sharing site Vimeo. The song would become a staff pick there, which would lead to coverage by Esquire, which got the attention of Courtney Love.
"This is genius," she tweeted along with the link to Esquire’s story.
The video received more than two million views on Vimeo. The same is true of her upload of the song on her YouTube channel, a page that has amassed a combined 21 million views. Roughly a quarter of those hits can be attributed to her cover of “The Way You Make Me Feel” by Michael Jackson, and one of those listeners was a music mogul.
“Diddy shared it,” Kawehi told Sound Words STL. “He's like, ‘This is dope,’ and I'm like ‘Well, cool, Diddy thinks it's dope; I guess it's dope.’”
The respect from two of modern music’s biggest names was earned as a result of Kawehi’s powerful, captivating voice and her signature style that utilizes looping. But it took time before she found who she was as an artist.
“I used to do just the singer/songwriter, you know, girl with a guitar [thing], kind of like a million other chicks out there, and I did a show in New York and I got killed,” she said. “And I was like, ‘This sucks, I'm terrible; I need to do something else.’”
Her inspiration for what her next step would be came when she saw singer/songwriter Jon Brion use tape loops during a performance at the Largo at the Coronet, in Los Angeles.
“My mind just, like, exploded. I was like, ‘I need to learn this.’”
“So I picked up my first looping pedal, and I went into the garage, and I just kind of banged on it for 24/7,” she said. “And my husband comes in and he's like, ‘I've got to tell you something, like, you're really terrible at this,’ and I was like, ‘Screw you! I'm not gonna be terrible at this.’"
By 2012, she had a new way of making music – one her subscribers (and future subscribers) didn’t take long to notice.
In addition to the artists covered in the two aforementioned viral videos, acts such as Björk, Alanis Morrissette and Radiohead have gotten the Kawehi treatment.
“I was born in the ‘80s, but my angsty years were in the ‘90s, so I think a lot of my music selection comes from that era.” (Newer pop artists such as BTS have also been covered.)
Breaking from the angst but staying in the same decade, Kawehi’s other 2021 single is a tribute to Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s 1990 recording of the song “Hawai’i ’78.”
“Iz's version was just such a staple in music during that time in Hawai’i, and I grew up listening to it,” she said. “[During] the pandemic, I missed home so much, and I really just needed that connection.”
Currently based in Lawrence, Kan., Kawehi was born in Hawai’i where she attended Kaiapuni (Hawaiian immersion school).
“So I think going back at the beginning of this tour and starting it in Hawai’i, I just really wanted to be Hawaiian for a little bit, remember where I was from, and I'm really glad I did.”
Credit: Alden Fukushima