Last night I headed out to the House of Blues to check out HAWAI (pronounced huh-why) play the first Orange County School Night in the Parish Room. Third in the line up, the OC locals played a style-driven, crisp indie pop set, complete with on-fleek hipster wardrobe, beachy guitar mixed with droning synth, and threadbare lyrical melodies.
I walked in the venues smaller hall with a group of twelve white 50-somethings who had been drinking beers next door. They had come up to the ticket desk claiming “we heard there was local talent playing and we’re here to hang!” I followed the endearing concert-goers in and watched them dissolve into the crowd of nauseatingly hip 20-somethings who had come to see their friend’s band play. Lots of black and white Chucks and Adidas Superstars.
HAWAI played third after Angela Garcia and Birthday (who’s lead singer looks like a young Ethan Hawke), with Half the Animal closing with their EP release set.
Starting with their popular song “In My Head,” HAWAI jumped right in with their stylish vibes forward. Clothed in all white to match the band’s impeccable blog aesthetic, lead singer Jake Pappas led the boys in blanketing the crowd with mood-inducing syrupy guitar and a classic rally-cry hook. I saw many an audience member singing along and bobbing their heads to the music amplified over the Parish Room’s industry-level sound system.
Was it good? I mean if you like indie pop they were covering all the bases with over-eager bounciness. The group finished the set with their new release “I’m Not Dead,” which I have to admit got stuck in my head after researching them before the show.
An interesting thing I noticed about this particular group was the flash of wedding rings on three out of five of their fingers. Young handsome SoCal rockers with wives and kids!? Familiar with the type, my first instinct was they must be hipster Christians.
Thoroughly intrigued, I found a chance to get backstage and ask them. Cooly leaned up against the hallway wall, I caught up with singer Jake Pappas, drummer Jesse Dorman, and bass player Jared Slaybaugh. I eased in, asking them how it was to play at home.
“It’s super bittersweet playing to a home crowd,” Pappas said. “When you look out and see familiar faces, you feel like you’re on stage doing a play in front of your family.”
We talked about where they were all from – a couple from Dana Point, one from Mission Viejo and another from San Clemente. I poked fun at their South County roots and Pappas made a comment that playing Orange County is nice because you don’t have to worry about traffic (lol maybe if you take the tollways South County pretty boy).
I asked about faith and family and though they didn’t seem to want to talk about their ambiguously Christian religious convictions, they had some interesting things to say about being married while trying to make it in music.
“When you’re single and playing music, it’s so much more free-spirited,” Pappas said. “When you have a family, it’s really tricky, but it kinda makes us work a little harder…it’s like a lil’ flame.”
They also told me there’s a total of three kids in the band fam – Pappas has two and Slaybaugh has one.
“Life is incredibly more deep than it was before,” said Slaybaugh. “Life didn’t feel nearly as full as it does right now. There’s challenges, but our wives and our families are 1000 percent in support. There’s nothing but love.”
With new music coming out from this group of ruggedly handsome South County indie rockers this summer, the band is looking to gain popularity and explore themes of life and death, shedding of old ways, and breaking the pattern. As we finished up, the boys discussed their goals for the future.
“We are brothers. It’s about us getting on stage and connecting and playing music that we feel,” Slaybaugh said.
“We want to be bigger than the state of Hawaii.” Pappas said. “Like when people
google “Hawaii” it says ‘did you mean “HAWAI.'”
“Or maybe Indonesia,” Dorman added, taking a drag from his vape pen.
If you’re looking to see these hipster rockers shoot for the stars live or buy one of their cute cropped tanks that says, “Hawai is a band not a state,” I hear they play a lot at the Wayfarer in Costa Mesa.