Star Scene: Lisa Kekaula

The BELLRAYS

Photo by Mary Boukouvalas
Photo by Mary Boukouvalas

Lisa Kekaula’s scene would be one where “Charles Mingus would hang out with George Clinton and maybe with Exene and John Doe, so you get the idea that these people could talk about music and play music and have some fun, and rip it up”.

As for designing a festival bill, Kekaula’s line-up rocks. She includes: “Lou Rawls, Etta James, a little blues heavy so far, the original formation of MC5, be kind of cool having Lou Rawls fronting that. And of course, Stevie Wonder and Sly and the Family Stone. That would be cool”. Kekaula unassumingly says she wouldn’t be on the bill. “Not me,” she states, “I might just watch”.

Photo by Mary Boukouvalas
Photo by Mary Boukouvalas

Admiration and respect for her heroes at times even leaves Kekaula in awe. Recently she recorded with one of her idols, James Williamson from The Stooges.

Her appreciation mirrors her modest approach to her own fame. Even with all these years of success, the band is still thankful to, and for, all their fans. Kekaula humbly states, “Thanks for supporting us. We count on all of our fans – each and every one. It’s really nice that there’s a place to talk about music. But the one thing that I wish was more prevalent and that’s people out there looking for good music; people out there looking for a good show. I think everyone is so smart phoned and techno-ed out these days that they just keep expecting more and more people to give them everything that they should be out there looking for themselves.

I think that’s one of the pitfalls of the music industry in the past twenty years, things became more pushed to making things easier and now they’re so easy that nobody wants to do anything.

Nobody knows what they like, they don’t really know how far away from what music drives them than music being driven into them. They don’t know the difference between that”.

Photo by Mary Boukouvalas
Photo by Mary Boukouvalas

Kekaula remembers the days when immersion in diverse music was what it was all about. “My memories of music were so much of the radio. It was very varied. It was popular because someone out there liked it. It didn’t matter if every teenage tween liked it. It did not have to be narrowed down to sale demographics which I don’t approve of anyway. It doesn’t make for good radio. It’s like having all your dinner party guests the same age, with the same experiences, and the same conversation to talk about. It would be so boring. Back then, you just didn’t know what was coming next. That’s what radio was like”.

“In my house, we were heavy Motown. I remember the anticipation of any Stevie Wonder record coming out. I remember when Songs in the Key of Life came out when I was a kid. I remember we went to the record store to pick it up and then the next few days we just listened to that record and that is what you did, you digested it, you really threw yourself into it”.

Kekaula continues thoughtfully, “I couldn’t tell you the last time I did something like that. Well yeah I could. I remember when Nevermind came out, I did that same thing. I remember where I was; I remember the room I was in, I remember everything. So rare. Everyone wanted to be that kind of a songwriter, not necessarily sound like that, but have songs that were so self-explanatory, to me there was an ease in the way you heard that”.

Though The Bellrays do have straightforwardness and power in the way their music can be heard, record companies had the overriding power of influencing the masses. Kekaula states, “That being said, I think grunge was what got in the way of anyone ever hearing what we were doing. Because we weren’t from Seattle. And that wasn’t Nirvana’s fault. That is the way everyone would be pushing things those days and that’s when it became what I called zip-code rock. And not just rock. Music. You had to be from that zip-code where that something special was happening in order for anyone to even look at you. Record labels in the northwest at that time wouldn’t listen to you. I remember they said: ‘Honey, we have enough good music up here, we don’t need to look outside’. I remember thinking: ‘You are talking about today, there’s will always be a tomorrow’. Maybe they didn’t like what we were doing and that’s fine. I used to think it was really incredible that this is what they were thinking. I think for our career as musicians, we’ve always been we were marred by these trends.

When we first started, with punk rock, we were finding our edge and everything and I remember them saying, ‘Oh you’re a girl group, we’re not really into that; we’re into screaming chick punk rock not girls that can actually sing’.

I remember them telling me that and I’m like “What kind of fucken punk rock is that? If you’re going to be discriminatory, do you even know what punk rock is? You know even Miles Davis is punk rock; it’s supposed to be something that is not the norm, and you’re saying because I am not the norm, you are not going to listen to me?”

“In the end, you just start seeing that more and more people are trying to get to this place where they do not have to think; I get to say that this is punk rock and this equals that and that makes it easy but it doesn’t necessarily make it the best thing that you can do. They were taken advantage of. This idea that we will milk everything for what it is worth. People are always going to buy music, we won’t ever have to worry about that. We can just basically re-package Nirvana, or whatever the new group is, over and over again. And we’ll just keep doing that over and over again and no one will know any different, and low and behold they realise people don’t always have to buy music, they can stop anytime they want to. Oh my god, they have stopped. When you start looking at anything based solely on money and how much money you’re gonna make off of something, you are going to run into problems. Especially when you are talking about creative intrigue, there’s no way you’re going to always feed that. There’s just no way you can do that and stay true to yourself”.

Record companies have the final say but The BellRays have persevered and been victorious. Whilst American jazz, funk and blues guitarist, James Blood Ulmer wrote: ‘Jazz is the teacher, Funk is the preacher’, The BellRays felt differently. Blues was their teacher and punk was their preacher, and The BellRays were great scholars, and good instructors themselves. Kekaula’s advice for new bands is to simply “Look straight ahead, don’t turn around and look at what someone else is doing, don’t turn around and wait for someone to tell you to sound more like this, tell them to go fuck themselves. If you know what you should sound like, you should always do that first”.

Kekaula, respectfully, feels the same goes with fans. She states, “We have a very eclectic sound in general so we’ve already shaken off the ones who are easily swayed. They are not looking at us to be innovative, but free form thinking. I always think, and this is so Napoleon dynamite, but as long as you follow your heart, you’re gonna be fine. I’ve never tried to make records that sound a certain way for anyone but myself. So as long as I keep that at the core of my being I think I’m good and mostly I am playing for Bob, or whoever else is on stage with me, those are the people I’m really playing for everyday so as long as we feel good, I feel that everyone else is going to be in good hands”.

Kekaula describes The BellRays’ sound as: “Fried chicken with some Peach cobbler, a bottle of hot sauce poured on top, followed by a very fine Bordeaux”.

The Bellrays have won the zip-code wars, and have been busy writing, recording and touring. Kekaula states: “On Black Lightning, one of the songs that was born easy enough but it took us a while to figure out how to get it was Hell on Earth. A lot of it had to do with the way the drums were going and trying to explain the way we wanted the drums to go. And eventually we got it to go the way that we wanted but it was like be born already, or die, whichever way you go. It lived up to its name”.

Since the release of Black Lightning in 2010, Kekaula says, “We have been writing for what seems like forever. We’ve been trying to get this new record out and every time we think we are almost done we come up with another idea, or we go on another tour. I know the themes are there but right now I’m in the eye of the storm and it’s really hard to see. Some bands when they go in to write an album, they have a theme in mind. We are really more very organic we go with whatever, and it’s probably what makes it harder, we’re like weather diviners and we’re like let’s see what’s going to go through me, and we go from there and let each song be born that way, which is kind of rough. Lisa and the Lips is part of the weather diviner and we start doing something. One of our friends had come up with the idea we should do this band based on the soul a soul b and since it was going to be in Spain. So he called it Lisa and the Last International Playboys, we kind of changed the meaning a little bit”.

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Photo by Mary Boukouvalas

Now with their latest Australian tour, Kekaula herself is unsure how she continually performs with such high energy and powerful vocals. She states: “A lot has to do with adrenaline”. Australia can expect the same this time round. And shoes. The ones Kekaula is adorning on this tour are her favourite. Kekaula doesn’t divulge: “These shoes are fricken awesome. They are my favourite. I won’t tell you, I’ll let you tell me if they live up to their honour of being my best shoes. I’m always looking for shoes but the shoes have to talk to me, and I’ll say, ‘I’m going to buy you shoes, you’re coming home with me’”.

Photo by Mary Boukouvalas
Photo by Mary Boukouvalas

 

Kekaula is excited about bringing The BellRays down under again and loves that Australians appreciate a variety of music, especially in Melbourne. “Melbourne is special though, it’s a rock n roll city man, it really is; it’s a great music area. I dig what goes on over there, I’m always glad when we get to play over there. It’s awesome”.

 

Catch Kekaula with The BellRays’ on their Australian Tour.

Supported by Dallas Frasca

BELLRAYS

Saturday 8th August 2015
Small Ballroom – Newcastle NSW

Sunday 9th August 2015
Newtown Social – Sydney NSW

Wednesday 12th August 2015
Barwon Club – Geelong VIC

Thursday 13th August 2015
Karova Lounge – Ballarat VIC

Friday 14th August 2015
Governor Hindmarsh – Adelaide SA

Saturday 15th August 2015
Ding Dong Lounge – Melbourne VIC

 

 

About Mary Boukouvalas 828 Articles
Mary is a music photographer and reviewer.

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