The air is buzzing with creative energy when bassist Max Benoit leads me into the Kings of Spade hideout, where a collection of Honolulu’s best soul performers are getting ready for Friday’s Amy Winehouse Tribute Concert. Brassy notes slink across the apartment as I introduce myself to Kasi Nunes, the band’s mohawked leading lady. Without skipping a beat, Kasi offers us a drink, and we’re welcomed into the fold for an afternoon.
I’m at the hideout to conduct my first interview for a series of stories I’ll be writing on bands, musicians and the music scene here in Hawaii, showing a more personal side of the artists. Today, I’m trying to learn more about the Kings of Spade — where they draw their inspiration, where they’re going, and what they’re about.
Like most bands, Kings of Spade’s origins stretch further back than its start, and are rooted in its founding members.
Kasi was born and raised in Waianae, where she grew up listening to her mom’s soul music collection. She says she was drawn to the the genre because she identified with the “sad, longing feeling” of the songs. To this day she still loves sad songs and music from the ’60s. The influence is readily apparent when listening to Kings of Spade, who evoke a modernized, grungy and energetic-yet-sultry soulfulness in their music.
As the interview continues, I find it difficult to keep Kasi tied down to answer questions, but not in a bad way; it’s obvious she’s focused on her music. Her current level of commitment belies her original aspirations, though. Before Kings of Spade, she had no idea she wanted to be in a band.
She graduated from college with a degree in film editing and landed a job working on commercials. Although she was financially successful, Kasi (a self-admitted documentary fan) found the work unfulfilling and soon moved on to found the Rebel Girl Underground, where she spent time MC-ing and DJ-ing. Before long, she was rapping between sets, feeling more and more that the music needed to change. “I felt the songs needed to be shorter… or longer… or I wanted the music to fade into just the bass or lyrics,” she said. “After a while, the vinyl started to feel limiting.”
Then she met lead guitarist Jesse Savio, which changed everything.
“After my first time playing live with a band, the partying stopped. Nothing could match the feeling of performing with the band. Life became all about the performance,” Kasi said. “Nothing mattered, not money, not position, just playing.”
When Jesse (who’s from Vermont) was about to leave Hawaii to become a guitar tech for a touring group, Kasi asked him to stay and form a band. After a week’s thought, Jesse agreed, and X-Factor — the band’s original name — was born.
Today, the band is comprised of Kasi on vocals, Jesse on guitar, Max on bass and Matt Kato on drums, in addition to DJ Packo, Ross Jackson and other artists who perform with the band at live shows.
When asked how Kings of Spade got its unique sound, Matt says, “At first, the band was mostly for jamming together and having fun, but after a while, a sound just came out.”
After about three years of playing together, Kings of Spade tried their luck in Los Angeles, seeking to record their first album. Collectively, though, the band seemed to find the experience as exhausting and foreign as it was exhilarating.
“In LA, you have to grow up fast,” Matt said. “You’re just hustling the whole time. Always work, work, work, play, play, play… The worst thing about LA is that it can make you jaded.”
After two years of touring and recording, they were homesick and it was time to go home. “It was time to come back to Hawaii and remember what it felt like to make the music,” Matt said. “The soul of the band lives in Hawaii.”
After two years recharging their batteries, Kings of Spade is getting ready for another run in LA to record their next album, but they know they’ll be back.
“No amount of money, no amount of clout, nothing can compare to our palm trees and warm weather and being able to surf in clean water for ten hours straight,” Kasi said.
Nothing like being home.
Kings of Spade are headlining the Amy Winehouse Tribute Concert at NextDoor on Friday, Aug. 26 at 9 p.m. They’ll be performing with some of the best soul artists in Hawaii, including The Bentos, Yoza, Kitty Chow, Makke, Candy Diaz, Taimane Gardner, Big Mox, Devon and Ara Laylo. Tickets: $10, available at the UH Campus Center and NextDoor.
Video by Gabriel Yanagihara
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