- Words Notion Staff
Providing vibes for over a decade now, dance floor veterans Blue Hawaii chat to Notion about the Montreal party scene, their track “L.O.V.E”, and the prospect of going on tour. Plus, listen to their exclusive mix.
Raphaelle “Ra” Standell-Preston and Agor “DJ Kirby” Cowan first crossed paths on the underground Montreal party scene at a time when social media as we know it didn’t yet exist. Blossoming from minimalistic bedroom producers to the groove-laden duo Blue Hawaii we know and love today, the pair continue their mission of striking dancefloor gold. With three EPs and three albums under their belts, Blue Hawaii announces their return with their upcoming EP My Best Friend’s House.
After reuniting from a year’s separation, the duo initially planned on finishing up a moodier, downtempo full-length release. Putting that project on hold to provide a wave of much-needed post-lockdown feel-good energy, the pair decided to work on an uplifting follow up to their six-track tour-de-force Under 1 House. In just one week, My Bestfriend’s House was born, exploring themes of love, empathy and togetherness packed with compelling drum rhythms, welcoming melodies and tonnes of warmth.
With a batch of Blue Hawaii tour dates announced for 2022, there is a lot to celebrate. Dive into our chat with the Montreal duo and listen to their exclusive mix below.
You met in Montreal as part of the underground party scene, how did your musical partnership and distinct style come about?
That’s kind of you to say ‘distinct style’ ~ Ag and I definitely had no idea what we were doing, we were just drawn to get to know one another and make some sounds. Our musical partnership came about through freeness and curiosity at a time when there was a lot of space, both emotionally and physically. Big empty buildings make for big moments.
Reflecting on your journey, could you tell us about how you’ve both grown or how your sound has changed since then? Is there anything you’d change looking back?
hehe that’s a big question! It’s been a decade of growth and commitment to one another. I guess over the course of our time as friends we’ve learnt about how to ‘make music’. Like I said we had no idea what we were doing when we first started, which is its own beauty, there’s an element of innocence to being ‘unsure’. We’ve kept this rather young approach to what we continue to make, having a lot of curiosity and celebration lead the way. We sometimes laugh about how we’re considered professional musicians now, especially when I forget where G is on the piano. Hahahaha. We consciously check our ego’s at the door, sometimes they creep in and we try to put it in its place; acting like a big phat cat, in my opinion, makes for awkward art. I wouldn’t change anything looking back. I am so happy to have Agor in my life after all these years and to have made the albums we’ve made. Maybe I would have toured a little more with Ag because it’s so fun. But we will get to do that again! Oh, I think one thing that is important and that I would have done differently is to have informed myself more about the ‘music industry. Like what are ‘neighbouring rights’ and how do ‘songwriting splits work,’ what’s fair payment, etc etc. I was pretty blind about that for the majority of my career and it has bit me in the butt a few times! Knowledge is power. Get to know the industry you’re in and all the ways the system can screw you – this goes for all creatives! Artists can and should be bosses. Don’t let people do it for you!
Did lockdown have an impact on the style and energy of the music you wanted to create?
Well, 4 months before the lockdown happened, we started writing ‘Under 1 House’ I think. We finished it during the lockdown, sending mixes back and forth from MTL to Germany via pigeon. Having that record to focus on was a huge saving grace. I think that we put extra joy into it because we missed dancing so much. This was the same case with its cousin record ‘My Bestfriend’s House’. There’s a conscious attempt of making music that is celebratory, uplifting and lighthearted. We want people to feel at ease for even a brief moment. So I would say, yes, the lockdown has given us a pretty clear goal of ‘we want this to feel like an elixir of lightness for ur soul’.
We understand you still managed to make music together from different continents while Agor was in Berlin, and Ra you were in Montreal. How did you overcome that challenge and is your musical process different now you’ve been reunited?
It was a lot of patience with sitting on facetime together and learning how to crack jokes and have snacks and make a day out of something that should take 3 hours but took 11 or 16. Ag was a super champ as I’m not a pro with the computer. I’m ok with it but Ag is like a racehorse with it. It’s incredible to witness. So he would run the sessions and since we weren’t in the same room together, I learnt the language of being VERY direct with my creative intuitions and explaining them to Ag. I also learnt to let go and just trust as we wouldn’t be able to get together for days with conflicting time zones and schedules. Ag did all the remixes (DJ Kirby) and spent a huge amount of time with the songs on his own, pushing them around and bringing them to a really special place, mix and production-wise and then we would finish them together. It’s hard for me to not fret over every detail of the music we put out, I’m a bit of an excessive worrier, but one you want to spend time with haha, and I had to learn to let go and be really trusting. I just took my hands off the reigns and was like ‘ok Ag u friggen go do it, get your creativity on’. I leaned into not being able to have Ag right there beside me, and the best way of doing that was leaning into championing Ag from afar.Our musical process is a little different now that we see each other, we are definitely friggen so happy. to see each other when we do get in the same room, and we don’t take it for granted. Every time Ag has left back to Berlin we cry. It’s been a little scary not knowing when we are going to see each other next and if he’s going to be able to get into the country. We didn’t see each other for a whole year because of the hotel quarantine as we couldn’t afford that. Maybe a year doesn’t seem that long, but it feels like an eternity when it’s your best friend.
We heard a story about the making of your new EP, ‘My Bestfriend’s House’, that started with a rainstorm in Montreal and ended with a Yamaha DX7 synthesizer. What happened?
Haha. I don’t really feel like telling it in full detail right now. But I’ll try. I’m in a mood where I totally shouldn’t go to a party because I would be quite boring and just stay hovering around the snack table. It started with a DX7 and ended with a rainstorm. Or like the middle was a rainstorm.Basically the idea for ‘My Bestfriend’s House’ came about because our pal (who we worked with on a record in Sept 2020 that we’re currently sitting on) Edwin de Goeij (who co-wrote ‘My Bestfriend’s House’ the song and ‘Danced into my Life’ with us) found a DX7 synthesizer, on the street and told us about it, and we were like alright, let’s make a ‘sort of house’ record! We were all in deep deep lockdown and looking for fun things to do. Edwin is a great keyboardist so it was a joy to write some ditties together. We sent stuff back and forth between the three of us over the course of the 2021 lockdown. A lot of it changed and none of it got used for the final EP. But it was fun nonetheless and something to do when the whole world had stopped. In August 2021, Ag came to MTL from Berlin and he and I headed to a cabin before collaborating with Edwin. We usually head to a cabin to work on stuff and set up a little portable studio in the living room and just cut ourselves off from everything. Blue Hawaii is a very portable little project!
Well…. let’s just say upon arrival EVERYTHING that could go wrong with a place went wrong. The host greeted us with a, ‘hey I cleaned the place but the toilet is dirty… oh and so is the fridge.’ Also, his house was on the property which is not ideal when ur blasting 4 on the floor, which I told him we were going to do. There were no locks on the doors. The place was a total mess. The back window was smashed in…. I gave this man a semi-kind but firm piece of my mind about needing to hire a cleaner and to have locks on the door and to fix the window. He started getting really mopey with me, and then came over to fix the window and was just going off about how everyone was a narcissist in his life and that his mom had just given him a lot of lamb meat that was in his freezer. Which creeped me out. Ag was setting up the studio and I’m trying to not talk to this guy but talk to this guy. Then he leaves and we realize we are very thirsty. We turn the water on and it runs a dark dark brown with things in the water. So we have to go back and continue working on this aspect of the cabin with the owner. While ag is going back and forth to this guy’s cabin, he spots in his basement window a Jason mask and an axe leaned up against the window. Ag comes in quite panicked and is like ‘Ra, we need to leave now. And I’m like what what. And he’s like Ra I saw a Jason mask and an axe in his basement window. And then I’m like omg the meat in the freezer and there are no locks on the door and he’s on the property and this air bnb has never been reviewed and the address was wrong and I had to call him to find out where to go’….. and Ag and I are just two adults totally acting like 12-year-olds freaking each other out and are convinced we are going to be made into freezer meat. We are completely entranced. Nothing can change our minds. And we tear down the studio and start loading out the gear in the dark at 11 pm, we don’t turn on any lights. And as we get all the gear onto the lawn beside the car A HUGE rainstorm breaks from the sky. We start running into the house to get garbage bags, oh it’s a disaster. We get everything in the car in the dark and we are soaking wet. We take our shirts off (I bring this part up because there was an awful stench in my car a month later and it was ag’s wet shirt in a ball) and so anyways we drive away so fast AND THEN a car is following us very closely! we are convinced it is the man. We drive faster. The car behind us increases in speed. we are so scared. It is raining so hard. We lose the car. We are free on the highway. We are a little traumatized. We do not work on music for a couple of days. Edwin very kindly offers his studio for us to work from because we could not find one to work at as my studio is booked. Ag and I are not the best energy to be around but we all end up writing some great music together.
This is the rain and the DX-7 story. I feel so silly looking back at it now! But who knows…..
Blue Hawaii have been active for a decade, what have been some highlights or pinch-me moments so far?
Hmmmmm I think the fact that we are still best friends is amazing. Most people can’t go through what Ag and I have gone through and still be intact. We are a great team.
Is there anything you’re still particularly hoping to cross off your bucket list?
I want to play a huge party again. It would be nice to play a rave for 3000 people. This would be an amazing feeling. I want to feel a huge sub beneath the stage and I want to see people dance and lose themselves in joy.
So, tell us about your mix for Notion, what vibe were you going for and where do you imagine people will be when they give it a listen?
Well, this mix includes my two favourite musicians as of late who also happen to be friends of mine (it’s very nice when that happens!) Thom Gill and Edwin de Goeij. I had just quit vaping and though I was a little grumpy, the music on this mix made me feel tranquil and excited for the future. Hmmm what else… Sometimes saying what it is not, gives way to what it is. It is not a hyper-party mix. So it is more low-key and relaxed. I made sure that one would be able to do many different things while listening to this mix. You can dance a little, but you can also work or cook food or do nothing and just listen.
If you could only listen to one record for the rest of 2022, what would you both choose?
RA – Fourth World Vol 1 Possible Musics – Jon Hassel, Brian EnoAG – I texted Ag about this and he said “Oldies playing softly from another room”. This is not an album but is in fact a YouTube phenomenon that Ag showed me while visiting MTL, of old songs from the ’40s and ’50s that sound like they’re being played from another room and sometimes there is rain noise over top.
Speaking of 2022, what can we look forward to from Blue Hawaii?
‘My Bestfriend’s House’ EP is out FEB 18th and we are hopefully touring in June and Sept. I realllllly hope we can play a show!