We're certain you've seen Kawehi in action by now; she's no stranger to internet success (all three of her Kickstarter projects well-exceeded their monetary goals), but it took an impromptu cover of Nirvana's 'Heart Shaped Box' to make her work go viral. Even Mrs. Courtney Love Cobain was touting Kawehi's synth-heavy, electronic rendition of the song about Love's vagina.
It's understandable why the internet has a crush on this talented 'one-woman band': in addition to her talent, Kawehi is spunky, ends sentences with 'yo', and despite massive internet success which led to throngs of managers and venues contacting her, remains grounded:
"Even if no one listens, even if no one buys this EP – I'd still be here in this garage, making music. 'Cause that's the kind of shit you do when you love something."
But what's known about this elusive internet superstar whose bio simply states: "what you don't know won't kill you"? We spoke with Kawehi and discussed her humble past, current online success and her promising future.
OC Weekly (Jena Ardell): Your name means "The decoration; the song" in Hawaiian. Is it safe to assume musical ability or music appreciation runs in your family or is this a serendipitous coincidence?
Kawehi: It's kind of a crazy coincidence. My dad loves to sing, but he's not really a good singer (laughs). Don't tell him! And my mom she always sang when I was a kid, but that wasn't something that I enjoyed to do. They've been fully supportive and it's kind of a coincidence. It's weird.
Can you please explain how you were 'discovered in a Jamba Juice' in Hawaii?
Well, I wasn't actually discovered in there, but I was working at Jamba Juice–this is like a long, long time ago–and I did an audition for a band and I made it and they flew us out to Los Angeles. I was fresh out of high school. I'm not with the band anymore. It was a really long time ago and it wasn't something I wanted to do anymore, so I just kind of did my own thing.
And now you live in Kansas. What did you dislike about L.A. that made you want to move to Kansas?
Mostly it was so expensive. I really wanted to quit my job and put everything into music and it's kind of impossible to do that in Los Angeles and be able to afford your mortgage and not lose your house; so that was the main thing that captapulted us to move somewhere we could afford and create full-time.
Are you self taught? Have you had any formal training?
Like every other little Asian kid out there, I took piano lessons. But all the loop stuff and everything is just kind of something I developed over the years [on my own].
How long does it take you to piece together a song like 'Closer' or 'Heart Shaped Box'?
'Heart-shaped Box' was really quick because I had just gotten a new piece of gear and I was practicing before I went down to Austin and it just kind of came to me that way. Stuff like 'Closer'–things where I really get into different sounds–that could take me a little while, for sure. That one probably took me a week of just messing around with different sounds and stuff that I thought fit and sounded cool. It just depends on what the song is and how quickly the idea comes and whatever imagination I have.
Have you been approached by any big acts interested in having you open for them?
No, I've just been approached by tons of different people. I was really stoked that Courtney Love liked [the 'Heart-Shaped Box' cover] and mentioned it and shared it. I was really excited that she didn't hate it because that would have really sucked.
We don't think that anyone hated it and we imagine Trent Reznor would be wanting to book you…
That's what everyone says. I mean, I'm really just nobody and it's really cool that this caught fire.
Who are some musicians who you would like to collaborate with?
Well, I'm a huge NIN fan and I'm a huge fan of Bjork. I love her; she's fantastic. Imogen Heap. I love all electronic and "out-there" kind of music.
We found a Christmas song you and your husband made together. Are there any more songs that you've collaborated on?
He and I work together on everything. He shoots all of my videos and he produces all of my original music. The reason why the videos look and sound so great is because he does them. He's my partner in everything. He came up with the whole arrangement [of Papa Noel] and played all the sounds.
And you play guitar and piano and…
The uke and pretty much anything that makes noise. I try to blow your ear holes off.
Are you worried about being pigeonholed as a cover artist?
Nah. I mean, it's definitely been great exposure and all. Ultimately, as long as I don't have to charge toilet paper at Target, I'm super happy. I'm not looking for any huge success; I just want to be making music for the rest of my life and whatever will help do that would be really great.
A lot of people are dubbing you a 'one-woman band' are you a one-woman management team as well?
Yea. Up until late, I've been talking to a lot of different booking agents and management and all of that. I'm just kind of weighing my options. Up until now, I've been just an independent, do-it-yourself deal. I do plan on really staying independent. I just plan on doing that for as long as I can, really.
What is the most awkward interview question you've been asked so far?
Honestly, it's all been the same. I haven't had any weird questions. It would have been fun. A lot of people ask about my dogs–that's the number one question because they're in, like, every single video. But that's as crazy as it gets.
They should be your mascot.
They're the stars, for sure.
What are you working on now and when can fans expect more?
I'm actually in the studio and working on my new EP called 'Robot Heart'. So right now I'm dedicating all of my effort into finishing that. I did a Kickstarter project to fund it and I have a lot of rewards that are exclusive that I have to put together. The EP will be released to the public in June, but Kickstarter people get it ahead of time.
And then after that, I have a lot of international gigs throughout June and through the fall and maybe some festivals coming up. A lot of things in the works, for sure.
Every interview we've watched or photo we've seen, you always seem like you are fully enjoying yourself. You just radiate life. What motivates you to stay so… exuberant?
I'm just happy to be out there making music. This is what I love to do; there's no Plan B, so every day I get [to make music], I'm just so stoked. And I'm just that kind of person anyway. I put together collages of pictures of me jumping because I actually in the air] all the time (laughs). It's just kind of my personality. I'm just happy to be here and I'm really grateful.
Even before this happened, I feel like I'm living the dream. Every day that I don't have to work a regular 9-5 job and make music [instead], I have to pinch myself because I'm so stoked to be doing that. I've never wanted to be a big pop star or a big anything. My goal is to just keeping music and I'm there already, so I'm happy.
You can listen to Kawehi's music and keep up-to-date on her tour schedule at www.kawehi.com