Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Duff Interview: Kendo from RiceRokit

Just who the heck is this Kendo guy that keeps popping up on the Duff Guide, you may be asking yourself. Well, he is the mad brain genius behind RiceRokit, a Southern California ska act that has created what this blogger thinks may be one of the best ska albums of 2008 (read the official Duff Guide to Ska review of RiceRokit's "Hang Loose" here). The Duff Guide to Ska thanks him for taking a break in his intake of horror and sci-fi movies (and other pop culture vehicles) to spend a few moments replying to some random questions bouncing around our head.

The Duff Guide to Ska: Before I first listened to "Hang Loose," I expected a bunch of sunshiny ska songs all about finding the perfect wave and chasing beach bunnies in the surf. But what I discovered is a kind of a dark album with a depth that is unusual for the ska scene. What was going on in your life when you wrote these songs (or what inspired them)?

Kendo: Sincere thanks for the kind words.

While it's true I was very lucky to be able to grow up seeking that elusive Pipeline barrel, and making-out with some nubile, salty ladies--once seriously discovering music, I grew extremely restless in the Hawaiian 'paradise' (or "Krypton," as we call it--seems like there's actually more GRAVITY there, and somehow many physical tasks seem to require much more effort--it's probably the HEAT--you either resist it, or succumb to it. Sadly, none of us ever actually turn out to be Superman...).

So even then, I was writing songs (with my industrial/heavy metal/punk rock band, 'minor blow') about darker things like thwarted love, conspiracies, revolution, and nuclear apocalypse (it was the 80's after all), and after dropping out of high school and dabbling early in some studies at the UH, my band and I done 'runnoft' to Hollywood--still teenagers, and now amidst a new kind of darkness--the music-scene/'war-zone' of Los Angeles.

Years of battling in the underground, indie-music clubs of LA, as well as a lengthy stint (and some hair-raising adventures) performing around third-world Asia, definitely colored the sound and perspective a bit, beyond the reefs and sunshine of the early days.

And so when I finally stumbled into playing ska and reggae with Dubcat, I was coming to it from very much a ROCK point-of-view--something that blended fairly well with the punk-influenced sound of the LBDA guys, and a style that even seemed to lend a pretty nice garage-y touch to Half Pint's set, when we'd occasionally back him up as well.

Obviously, the Sublime fellas (some of whom of course formed Dubcat) were famous for their dark imagery and sort-of sinister Long Beach reputation--however, I do try to consciously make a point to purposely AVOID that specific brand of subject matter, not only to just keep it real and endeavor to be myself, but also with the sincere intention of approaching subjects as much as possible (though they themselves may be dark and sometimes disturbing) from a place of POSITIVITY.

Hence the lyrical focus on elements of social and political commentary, as well as the satirical nature of RiceRokit's imagery, marketing and promotion. Vive la REVOLUTION!!!

DGTS: I've read that you created "Hang Loose" as a concept album. Can you elaborate on this--why you chose to put together an album this way, and how the songs relate to each other--what's the overarching story?

Kendo: Rumors and hearsay!!! Although maybe we should market this like Crispin Glover's infamous "The Big Problem ≠ The Solution. The Solution = Let It Be," and have people leave phone messages regarding what they think it all means...?

Wait a minute--now you've got me thinking there's some sort of relation to the songs--after all, as our good Doc Jung alludes with his "acausal connecting principle": aren't many things incoincidentally connected? Sing it, Sting--SYNCHRONICITY!!!

Seriously though--if there's anything linking the tunes, it's probably in their tendency to try to paint very 'visual' pictures and imagery, lyrically and musically--from a blue-haired lady with "little frog tattoos" on her toes, to that creepy, "wicked" carnival scenery, to the nocturnal, lunar cycle of the Wolfman, to riding a Big Wheel down the carpeted corridors of the Overlook Hotel, ya know?

Of course there is something to be said for the ability of those farther removed, to observe more of the big picture than the creator of the piece, who may be too close to the work--"Pretty Things," "Dance with You," "Betrayal," and "Dinner," are each and all about different, specific, female friends of the past. So there very well may be a type of pattern emerging.

Either that, or I just have a soft spot for the ladies...who doesn't?

DGTS: I love all the pop culture references ("The Shining," "Something Wicked This Way Comes," "Saturday Night Fever," werewolves, etc.) in many of your songs. Growing up, did you spend all your free time devouring movies? And which ones became your all-time favorites?

Kendo: Thanks, braddah!!! Yeah as a kid, I was definitely a movie-nut--and running off to Hollywood didn't help to cure me of that addiction, either. Still spend all my time keeping up with flicks--foreign and domestic (huge into Hong Kong cinema, and Japanese chanbara and anime as well). There's truly an unhealthy amount of movie-related trivia crammed into my cranium--actors' and directors' names, production details, score composers--it's very, very sad.

I do derive a whole lot of influence and inspiration from film, though. I believe a good flick can really cause a tremendous amount of people to THINK...and most importantly, like all great art--make them FEEL. That's how it works for me, anyways...I do deeply enjoy the medium!!!

My top 3 all-time favorites: "Blade Runner" (Ridley Scott), "Seven Samurai" (Akira Kurosawa), and "Princess Mononoke" (Hayao Miyazaki).

DGTS: "Hang Loose" has been released in Japan. How did this come about, and is RiceRokit going to be able to tour there? (For that matter, will you ever play NYC?)

Kendo: MySpace, MySpace, MySpace. I cannot say enough GOOD THINGS about that fricken site, mang!!! Brilliant, that--no longer does one have to lug about promo kits, demos, etc...ET VOILA--it's all on that bloody page!!! A Godsend, really.

Not only did I come upon Megalith Records' wonderful "3 Floors of Ska" show on there (which eventually led to our signing with the fantastic label), but our good man Bruce Pavey of Global Cooling in Japan also initially contacted us on the site as well--he had been referred to us by the guys at Long Beach Records, which we really appreciate, too.

Yeah, MySpace--very grateful for it. Thanks, Tom!!!

As far as touring goes--there has definitely been talk of such stuff, since the very beginning (and more of it recently, in relation to our upcoming European distribution of 'Pidgin English'). However, both our record deals (and CD pressings) are practically BRAND NEW, and I do imagine there will be a need to recoup a bit of the costs before we head out--anyways, that's what the SUITS keep telling us (except in Bucket's case, it's a really dapper, fitted, 60's-cut suit with a cool, skinny tie). !D

Regarding playing in Gotham--the original '3 Floors' show is out of the Knitting Factory over there, and I could foresee us making it out for that, with all the stars aligning correctly...

Regardless, I've got the travel bug pretty bad, what with my history of Asian hijinks, and some of the fun Dubcat plane trips with Half Pint. Even went on a month-long journey throughout Europe last year to do some serious reconnaissance for upcoming touring in that vicinity.

I'm extremely intent on seeing more of this big, beautiful world (including those 7 Wonders you're familiar with), so I've definitely got the feeling we'll make it happen one way or another--with a QUICKNESS.

DGTS: What were you doing before you hooked up with Dubcat (and how did you come to be in that band)?

Kendo: I had just moved back to LA in 2003, after a 9-month stint back in the motherland of Honolulu (spent surfing, contemplating my existence, and replenishing my power$, which had been sufficiently drained by a couple of years cruising for record deals around the Orient).

Upon returning to the city, I promptly grabbed a used board and paddled out at my favorite local spot called "Zero's," just north of Zuma Beach, and of course out in the water as usual was my oldest and best surfing buddy David Fuentes (bassist of LA ska veterans Hepcat--and who 'Hang Loose' is dedicated to). Lucky I ran into him there, as I had lost his number with all the traveling I'd been doing...

David had been trying to teach me the beauty of this "ska" music-thing for years (way back, he even got me out to the home of original Hepcat guitarist Lino Trujillo, to teach me how to REALLY play reggae--basically so David could have me try out for Hepcat--Lino was taking some time off for a bit, back then).

So while I was catching up with me ol' braddah, he told me that he was involved in a project with some of the guys from Sublime and Long Beach Dub Allstars, along with Hepcat founder Deston Berry on keys--they were calling this band, "Dubcat," and they needed a guitarist.

All my gear was still on a barge from Hawaii, so to go try out, I had to borrow an axe and amp from another one of our local Zero's surfer-bros, Corey Little--so I showed up to play reggae music with these guys, using a Gibson SG (Angus Young from AC/DC's signature axe) and a half Marshall stack. They thought I was showing up for the Iron Maiden audition--so rad!!!

DGTS: What can we expect on your next album, "Pidgin English?" Why did you choose this title? Is it another concept album?

Kendo: Since recording 'Hang Loose,' and playing those songs live for a while now, I'd definitely like to think that I've sort-of figured out much more of RiceRokit's sound, with the fun hybridization of the 2-tone elements, the 80's new-wave sensibilities, and of course that "Long Beach sound," still very much a part of it as well.

So on 'Pidgin,' I think you'll find a much more focused style--I feel like I really had my "formula" figured out for this one, and recording (while definitely intense and time-consuming) moved forward relatively confidently this time around.

The sound does branch-out a bit from the fairly straightforward 'Hang Loose' however, in the added elements of 80's vintage analog keyboard solos and tones. Also used a lot of delay on the drums, to give some of the tunes that Stewart Copeland 'Police' vibe, and even threw in a fun, Electro-Theremin solo in "Bela Lugosi."

Speaking of which--there are 2 cover songs on this one, and before the official pressing next Spring, I may even want to add another one. As strange as it might sound, I think I might be trying to mold RiceRokit into the modern-day UB40 of ska!!!

Regarding the title, 'Pidgin English'--for each CD, I try to come up with a phrase that is not only a Hawaiian reference, but is also made up of English words that will be understood by the majority of all the 'haoles' (mainlanders), hahaha--I'm "hapa-haole" (half-caucasian) myself, so I might understand the necessity to communicate in a language that can be easily understood by the masses.

"Hang Loose," obviously refers to the Hawaiian "shaka" hand sign (with the thumb and pinky extended), and the "Pidgin English" I'm referring to, is the slang-filled, heavily accented version of English that the indigenous people of Hawaii speak--just as Jamaican people have their "patois" language as well.

Uh-oh--the "concept album" suspicion again... Another reason these tracks may seem linked, is that (a lot of folks might not know), the original, underground versions of the RiceRokit CDs have various INTERLUDE tracks, consisting of movie samples, music, and other such nonsense. These tracks were not included on the official Megalith/Global Cooling pressings, as Hollywood's army of lawyers would surely have pounced upon us like the rabid vultures they are (of course NOT including our own entertainment attorney, and great friend!!!).

DGTS: Which ska/reggae bands on the Southern California scene do you think are worth checking out?

Kendo: Down here in San Diego, my favorite local band is SD vets, Skanic--just the most versatile, professional, slick group, with a deep understanding of a wide spectrum of reggae and ska music, I think.

Then a little while back, we had a memorial show for David down here, and this other surfer buddy that would come down from Santa Barbara and surf with us at Zero's--Oreo--played with his band The Upbeat. I had heard about them for years, but that was the first time I'd ever actually saw them, and they totally BLEW ME AWAY. Real pros, and nice aloha shirts, too.

Also Jesse Wagner (who filled in a few times on vocals in Dubcat) and his band The Aggrolites have been blowing up lately, and they most definitely deserve it. As far as I'm concerned, that band is the BAR of professionalism that's been raised--and that (and higher) is the level of performance that I endeavor to persevere to reach and maintain with RiceRokit.

I mean in my opinion, if you're not going to go FULL ON like those guys, then just go home. Otherwise, just try coming out half-assed directly following an Aggrolites set, and see what happens to the crowd. Ba-bye.

Lastly if they can be considered a So. Cal. band (since Mr. Wakeling lives near LA now), The English Beat (or 'The Beat,' in England) are one of my major 2-tone heroes that definitely continue to RAWK the Cali scene with those fantastic songs.

DGTS: Apart from the release of "Pidgin English," what plans do you have for RiceRokit for the next year or so?

Kendo: Since it seems in this era, some of the most efficient and successful methods of marketing and promotion are internet-based, we'll continue with more of the YouTube videos for sure. And now that the recording is complete, we've been fine-tuning the live show as well (concentrating fairly heavily on vocal harmonies), so making some important shows really COUNT is certainly part of the equation.

And touring? When the money starts looking right, and the powers-that-be give the thumbs up--our bags are already packed.


Brendan said...

Hey Steve,

I think you emailed me yesterday, but MSN "upgraded" hotmail so I can't read it. Progress.. it may take me a while to access my emails.


Steve from Moon said...


Uh, I think I e-mailed you to tell you that the other PDF you sent was corrupt, too...but I will post the blurb about the show...



Anonymous said...

Hey guys--can you cut the chatter, please?

I'm trying to decipher the rantings of this madman, Kendo--geez, he sounds like a real a**hole...

Steve from Moon said...

Oh, sorry, we were off topic.

(Sounds of changing channels...)

Kendo and Rice Rokit are da bomb!

Listened to the CD at work Thursday and Friday (and some more on Friday night). Sounds even better than it did before!

Steve from Moon said...

All this scratching is making me itch.