"Like a wave coming after
in the water cold, dark and deep"
The Blue Hawaiians, the tribal kings of exotica noir,
aren't riding the waves, they're making waves. "We're not
some happy-go-lucky surf party band," says Mark Fontana, the
group's singer, bassist and main songwriter. "There's a beauty
to what we do but also a darkness. We're always mixing styles.
When people try to describe us, they end up saying, 'The Blue Hawaiians
are...kinda weird. We take that as a compliment."
It's not surprising then that legend has it Quentin Tarantino
used to hang out at the infamous L.A. tiki palace The Lava Lounge
on Sunday nights when The Blue Hawaiians started playing there
in 1994, influencing his choice of surf oddities for the soundtrack
to his next film. "There was this small cool vibe," Fontana
remembers. "At first there were 15 to 20 people, then every
Sunday night the crowds got bigger and bigger. Seven months later,
Pulp Fiction came out. Suddenly the place was packed and there
was a two-hour wait to get in."
The Blue Hawaiian's - Los Angeles Magazine 1996 - Mark Sproull, maxwellvision, Mark Fontana, Bron Tieman
Instead of songs about the endless summer, their songs are about
endless temptation. "We've all been there," says Fontana, "tempted
by fame, fortune or sex. Temptation can be good or bad. It just
depends on what you do with it." Instead of reprising old
vinyl, The Blue Hawaiians take the familiar sounds of pop culture,
from spaghetti western to spy, lounge to surf, and make them into
something new to suit their own peculiar tastes.
"We've never played straight rock 'n' roll or been mainstream," says
Fontana, pointing to their indie albums Live At The Lava Lounge
(1995), Christmas On Big Island (1995) and Sway (1998). "There
have always been musical twists. We don't fit nicely into a niche.
We plotted our course whether people went with us or not. We were
never part of a scene. From the beginning, we were our own scene."
Called by some critics "the best tiki/lounge band on earth," their
music ventures beyond happy hour and into the moody and dramatic,
with a touch of mysterioso. By combining two unlikely elements,
a Hawaiian steel guitar and a Hammond B3 organ, otherwise cheery
music becomes eerie, melancholy, and, okay...kinda weird. Their
occasional renditions of surf classics in performance are spooky
wipeouts rather than faithful sun-and-fun homages.
Their scene was launched when The Blue Hawaiians formed in March
1994 after Michelle Marini, owner of the just-opened Lava Lounge,
asked Los Angeles-based Fontana to assemble a new band for her
club. So he called on Mark Sproull (a classically-trained guitarist
who's also a Laguna Beach lifeguard) and maxwellvision (a drummer
and artist from Hermosa Beach who combines both talents by composing
ambient music for
contemporary art galleries). The three had played together over
several years in bands from Drew Weaver's Vibrabeams to Johnny
Monster and the Nightmares to cult legends the El Caminos.
Also recruited was steel guitarist Bron Tieman, with whom Maxwell
and Fontana were in The Beautiful Losers. Tieman (who toured with
Everlast) has since been replaced by Gary Brandin, a country music
player from Pasadena, California, who is now pushing the boundaries
of conventional steel guitar sounds. Completing the lineup, on
the Hammond B3, was Michael Murphy and later replaced by their
newest member, Colorado native Eric Godal.
At the start, The Blue Hawaiians gathered just enough material
for two short sets, and came up with a faux history. It was a year
before neo-hipsters realized that they were not Wayne Newton's
moonlighting Vegas backup band. Then attired in sharkskin suits
over Hawaiian shirts-the group canned the aloha shirts once they
came back in style--today their fashion ethic is to dress with
the "class" of the golden age of Las Vegas.
An underground sensation, The Blue Hawaiians have played Hollywood's
Palladium and The Derby, the Sunset Strip's House of Blues, Roxy,
and The Viper Room, and Santa Barbara's notorious club The Wild
Cat. The band has been heard on the TV series "Friends";
the compilations Pulp Surfin' and Shots In The Dark; the documentaries "History
Of Rock & Roll" (BBC) and "In Search Of Da Cat" (PBS),
based on the life of surf legend Mickey Dora, and several motion
pictures, including Black Sheep (starring Chris Farley and David
Spade) and There's No Fish Food In Heaven (starring Tea Leoni).
They also scored a CLIO-winning GUESS? Jeans commercial featuring
Juliette Lewis, Harry Dean Stanton, Peter Horton and Traci Lords.
Most recently, they have provided music for the hit cartoon series "Sponge
Bob Sqaurepants" on Nickelodeon.
Their fans tend to be music lovers whose tastes are as eclectic
as the band's. "But I think the reason people really like
our music," Fontana suggests, "is because it's soulful.
We're not poseurs; there's a musical depth without all the gimmicks--racks
of gear and effects--just Fender guitars plugged into Fender amps."
But that's not the weirdest thing about The Blue Hawaiians, Fontana
whispers. "All of us actually do surf."
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PICTURED RIGHT: The Blue Hawaiians on the set of "Chairman of the Board) 1997
FONTANA (bass player and vocalist) hails from Southern California.
A self taught musician, Fontana says he was influenced by such
classic rock & rollers as Elvis Presley, Bobby Darin and Roy
Orbison. According to Fontana, The Blue Hawaiians “sprung
from the ashes” of several bands -- The El Caminos, Johnny
Monster & The Nightmares, The Beautiful Losers, Drew Weaver’s
Vibrabeams, and The Panamints. In 1994, he formed the group to
play at friend Michelle Marini’s newly opened Lava Lounge. “The
guys were chosen because of their innate understanding of the surf/exotica
sound, and their decided lack of posing.” he says.
MARK SPROULL (lead guitarist) performed with Fontana in the El
Caminos and Johnny Monster & The Nightmares. Born in Santa
Monica and raised in Laguna Beach, Sproull’s musical roots
stem from listening to his father play classical piano and watching
his brother play electric guitar. He has studied both classical
piano and jazz guitar and currently likens his sound to “many
different styles -- surf, jazz, rock.” He includes among
his influences Beethovan, Chopin, Charlie Parker, Wes Montgomery,
Larry Carlton, Robben Ford, and The Rolling Stones, to name a few.
maxwellvision (drums) born and raised in Hermosa Beach, California.
Maxwell grew up in a surfing environment. His musical training
came from the family record player (“the alter of our home.”)
Though his roots are in American music, Maxwell says “trance
rhythms have always intrigued me, the way they move my spirit.” An
active member in the L.A. arts scene, Maxwell composes ambient
music for contemporary galleries in addition to being a fine artist
GARY BRANDIN (Hawaiian steel guitar) Born in Pasadena, Brandin
admits he always wanted to be a skin diver like Mike Nelson from “Seahunt;” however,
his mother made him take accordion lessons, which he “hated.” Musicians
like Buddy Emmons and Jerry Byrd ultimately inspired Brandin to
pursue a career in music. After years of playing mostly country
bars, “trying to make lousy music sound good,” Brandin
hooked up with Fontana and joined the band, lending his unique
style as an integral part of The Blue Hawaiian’s sound.
MICHAEL MURPHY (keyboardist/Hammond B3) discovered his true passion
for music when he performed “Jingle Bells” at a Kindergarten
Christmas production. Born in Sterling, Illinois, Murphy studied
classical piano for 13 years. He cites the classical masters, along
with Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin, as his early inspiration.
He went on to perform with such noteworthy groups as Chuck E. Weiss & The
Goddamn Liars, and Billy Vera and the Beaters.
ERIK GODAL began playing music at
an early age with classical training at the Aspen School of Music
listening to his father, a jazz pianist, Erik was inspired to venture
into other styles of music - which focused on over-driving Hammond
B3 organs, synthesizers and any keyboard with high amounts of voltage.
His experience in composing, writing, engineering and producing
helped him launch a series of bands over the years, including BLIND
FISH on Polygram Records and NOVACAINE on Mercury Records. Returning
to his roots of classical and symphonic music, Erik has focused
on scoring music for films and television. Recently he has partnered
with Mark Fontana to score the feature film GACY and the upcoming
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AT THE LAVA LOUNGE
- The Wipe Out - 3:00 (Kenneth Johnson)
Sleep - 4:48 (Spickard and Carman) (J. Reynolds & D.
- Surfin’ Tragedy - 3:27 (R.J.
Hafner and A.J. Hilder)
- A Cheat - 5:45 (Naomi Ford and Lee
- Latinia - 3:27 (Thomas Nunes and
- Apache - 3:11 (Jerry Lordon)
- Red Top - 2:18 (Lionel Hampton
and Ben Kynard)
- Jockey Full of Bourbon - 3:23 (Tom
- Baja - 3:37
- Caravan - 5:47 (Duke Ellington, Juan
Tizol, Irving Mills)
- Theme for Young Lovers - 2:40 (Bruce
- Jet Black - 2:30 (Jet Harris)
- Soul Surfer - 2:41 (John Sudetta)
- Jack the Ripper - 4:22
- Slave Girl - 2:58 (Farina, Farina,
- The Jester - 2:47 (Jim Messina and
- Dick Tracy - 4:46 (Bogle, Taylor,
Recorded 4/16/95 at
The Lava Lounge
Performed & Arranged by The Blue Hawaiians
Mark Fontana - Bass & Vocals
Mark Sproull - Guitar
Bron Tieman - Guitar, Lap Steel
maxwellvision - Drums
The Blue Hawaiians and Michael Kramer
Executive Producer: David Pascal
Engineered and Mixed by Michael Kramer
Assistant Live Engineer: Jeff Sherman
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- Last Days of Summer (Maxwell, Gough)
- Searchin’ for Da Cat (Fontana, Gough)
- Banzai Pipeline (Mancini)
- Casino (Tieman, Mansour)
- Deadman’s (Fontana, Gough)
- Quiet Surf (Podolor)
- Martini Five-O (Stevens)
- Swingin’ Hula Girl (Fontana, Welzig)
- Drop the Hammer, Max! (Fontana)
- Sharkskin Saddle (Sproull)
- Charade (mercer, Mancini)
- Tortolla (Fontana, Gough)
- Drunk Man Noodle (Fontana, Maxwell, Gough)
- Da Cat (Reprise) (Fontana, Gough)
Element 86 (Fontana, Maxwell)
Produced by Michael Kramer and The Blue Hawaiians
Executive Producer: David Pascal
Recorded at 7th Level Studios, Glendale, California
Engineered and Mixed by Michael Kramer and Paul Ray
Mastered by Dave Collins at A&M Studios, Hollywood, CA
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