Nonstop Honolulu recently caught up with Chris Isaak, who returns to the islands to perform at Blaisdell Concert Hall on Wednesday evening. The rock ‘n’ roll singer and musician, known for his gregarious and rick-rollicking sense of humor, chatted about everything from his latest album, “Beyond the Sun,” to his love for Hawaiian music, Molokai and shave ice.
You’ve been to Hawaii many times over the years. You shared a Big Island beach with topless supermodel Helena Christensen while shooting the iconic video for your iconic song, “Wicked Game,” so I’m not going to bother asking whether you have fond memories of Hawaii. Instead I’ll ask, what you’re most looking forward to about coming back?
You snuck in “topless supermodel” early in your interview! I remember when we shot that video, they kept throwing buckets of sea water on us between takes. If you look closely, you can see that Helena has goosebumps on her arms, and it wasn’t from kissing me. I kept holding her close. She was freezing to death out there. But I’m pretty sure she always had something on or covering her… Hmmm, maybe I better go back and look again. You seem to have given this a lot of study… I could be wrong! I always look forward to swimming without a wet suit. I’m from San Francisco, and the ocean there is so cold you wear everything you own when you’re in the water. I [also] love shaved ice! When I was a kid they had a special “snow cone” day at school, but my folks never gave us the dime to buy ‘em. I’m making up for lost time, extra syrup, please.
Any chance Helena will show up for a “Wicked Game” reprise at your November 30 show?
Yes, Ed, and she will probably be topless and whispering, “Ed, come with me. We can live on love and your poetry… You won’t have to lower yourself to interview that crummy Chris Isaak, and you can finish your novel when we aren’t making love.” Wake up, Ed. It’s me, Crummy Chris. You’re dreaming again!
I have been to Molokai a bunch of times and loved it. I even wrote a few songs there. I just like an easy pace. I usually stop on my way in from the airport and buy a bag of Cup o Noodles, some fruit and some Spam, and then head to the hotel and the beach. I spend most of my day in the water. I eat when I come in and play guitar at night. I pass out early and do the same thing every day! Great place and very nice folks there.
Your newest album, “Beyond the Sun,” revives a cornucopia of classic rock, including several songs by Elvis, who had his own special connection to Hawaii. Is the history of these songs, such as Blue Hawaii’s “Falling in Love with You,” on your mind as you’re going into this concert?
I think when I’m in concert, I’m looking at the people and connect with them. I have a band that has been together 26 years, and we have a ball putting on a show! We move, we talk with the audience… I have a set within our regular show where we do a bunch off our new album. When we kick into Johnny Cash’s, “Ring of Fire,” people love it. The movie “Blue Hawaii” is one of my favorites. I love Hawaiian music, and I wish they would have had Elvis do a few older classics in the film. Of course, he could have sung the phone book and sold me a copy!
Hawaii aside, you share another special connection with Elvis — Sam Phillips’ appreciation for your work. Sam helped shape what we know now as classic rock, but at the time, he was a visionary producer. In many ways, your album seems as much a tribute to him as it is that era of music. Is that happenstance or did you mean it that way?
I meant it that way. I loved Sam Phillips for giving us rock ‘n’ roll. He recorded Elvis, Jerry lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, BB King… the man is a flat-out genius! I had a meeting set up with him, but sadly he passed away before It happened. But he sent that music out like a message in a bottle, and he really changed everything for me. I went from being a light heavyweight with a flat top fighting in Japan to a rock and roller. Sam Phillips really rates big with me. Plus I love that he was funny, outrageous, and just didn’t give a damn about conventional ideas. He was a REAL rebel!
I LOVE Hawaiian music! Those high parts are so fun to sing, and how could you not love slack key? I’m ready to sing a Hawaiian tune anytime — just turn me loose!
What would you like to tell fans going to your Hawaii concert? If the first three rows should expect to get drenched, now’s the time to let them know.
I tell people if you want to hear refined sophisticated music, buy a ticket to the symphony. But if you want to hear rock ‘n’ roll and some pretty romantic ballads, then come see us! I have a great band, and we put on a show. They dress in flashy suits; we move; we talk with the crowd; we start on time; and if anybody is drenched, it’s gonna be US! We WORK up on that stage, and we love doing it! So if you have problems in your life, maybe your parole officer has turned you in and the bounty hunter is on your tail, people are lining up to testify against you, come see us. I guarantee that you will forget it all and smile for a couple of hours! Then they will take you to jail and feed you a dry sandwich. Thanks! See you at the show.
Tickets for Chris Isaak’s concert at Blaisdell are available at Ticketmaster.
Chris Isaak — “Beyond the Sun”
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