Raphaelle “Ra” Standell-Preston and Alex “Agor” Kerby of Canadian music duo Blue Hawaii first met Devon Welsh [formally of Magical Cloudz, now solo] in their native Montreal in 2009. Within the city’s 1180 St.Antoine West, a “piss on the floors, blood on the walls’ practice room, Ra heard Welsh’s music filter down the corridors and followed its tune to his door.
From that point, the three musicians became solid friends, encouraging each other down creative routes and sharing music as they progressed from nascent artists finding their feet in Montreal’s underground scene to established multi-faceted musicians. Ten years later, Blue Hawaii have recently released their third studio record, Open Reduction Internal Fixation, as Welsh drops his second solo work, True Love.
Connecting across a phonecall between Berlin (Kerby), Montreal (Standell-Preston) and Wisconsin (Welsh), the three musicians catch-up, discussing their interconnected paths and the deep-rooted relationship between music and friendship.
Devon Welsh: Hey all.
Raphaelle Standell-Preston: Hey, Devon. this is amazing, I’m using a real phone that’s like plugged into the wall. I haven’t used one for years [laughs].
DW: Where are you?
RSP: I’m at a record label but I guess I can’t talk about it because I haven’t signed things yet [laughs].
DW: But you’re in Montreal?
RSP: I’m in Montreal, those are the hints [laughs].
DW: OK cool, cool.
Alex Kerby: They’ve got a real phone? They must be a real deal [laughs].
DW: The phone should seal the deal [laughs].
RSP: It definitely does [laughs]. Are you in the forest, Devon?
DW: Yeah, so I’m in Wisconsin living in the woods.
RSP: Wow, Thoreau-style.
DW: Yeah, it’s really nice, it’s been very positive for me.
AK: Have you found that your writing progress has become less plugged-in?
DW: No, no, it’s all the same.
AK: So you’re not like on the front porch with your acoustic?
DW: No, no [laughs], not yet.
AK: I remember that Ra and I went to the countryside in Quebec somewhere to really get away from it all and then we set up the monitors, turned it up to eleven and started blasting it out so loud. We came all the way out there to reconnect with nature, and then we scared it away [laughs].
DW: You need a strong internet connection when you’re out in the middle of nowhere, that’s for sure. So I’ve known both of you for at least ten years and a lot of things change in that time. We’ve all played music in lots of different ways and as I think about what my relationship with music was ten years ago compared to today, I find it to be really interesting. I wanted to ask you how your relationship with music has changed from 2009 to 2019?
AK: One of the major things that comes to mind is the difference between doing music when you first discover it as something you’re purely pursuing for the sake of making music, rather than something that later turns into more of a career, and the ways in which it changes when you’re doing it to support your life. I wasn’t really planning on doing music to start with, so meeting Ra and starting our band, everything was tied together into one thing. For me personally, music has always been intrinsically tied to my relationship with Ra, so a lot of things that have changed in the music have been reflected in the changes we’ve had with each other. It’s really cool because it takes it out of being a corporate thing. We’ve always remained more of an underground project, which has its ups and downs, but I guess that allows me to stay connected to the reasons why I like music and bringing people together. I’m grateful to remaining the size we are, and there’s always opportunities and press and shows in all different continents, but we’ve never blown up to a level where we’ve lost touch with where we’ve come from. It seems so crazy to have done it for ten years, the trick is to keep it fresh.
RSP: Yeah, I definitely couldn’t have imagined doing this for ten years, whereas right now I feel like absolutely I’ll be doing this for ten more years. Since we all first met each other, I’ve realised how important music is to me. I used to do it without thinking because it was just what I was naturally inclined to, but I think from doing it for so long and so seriously, I’m now aware of how much I respect it, how much I need it and how I want to treat it. I think that’s what’s changed for me, from being nineteen and making music to being 29 making music, just feeling like I have more conviction and purpose. For me, coming at music from a good place is making sure you have honest expression and that you’re lifting up the people around you. That’s the evolution for me, it’s made me more conscious about these aspects of making music.
AK: Absolutely. I mean, along with just becoming more conscious about everything in life. From nineteen to twenty-nine, you take on so much more perspective. In 2009, my relationship with music was so bound up with trying to figure out who I was and establishing my identity. So much was aspirational, like, “Who do I want to be?” and “How do I want to be seen?” And like meeting the two of you, it was the first example of people who were taking music-making seriously, or at least it felt that way to me at the time. You took the whole process very seriously and I looked up to that. Making music was sort of a way of like, “I want to be amongst these people that I look up to and admire.”
RSP: Especially in 2009, there was so much going on around us. It was a crazy and alive scene. There was such an excitement to it. But I think you’re totally right, we’re all just trying to find ourselves through music, and presenting different forms of ourselves, like, “I’m going to try this on now.” All three of us have transformed and tried on a lot of different outfits. We had such a special thing going on in Montreal at that time and I’m so thankful to that, it pushed me in so many ways
DW: In 2009, relating to what you said about a scene, the audience for what I was doing was the scene, it was the community. So it was like playing to your peers with the idea of wanting to be pushed and push others. Moving out of that and into a relationship where your sort of imagined audience is actually the audience [laughs], now it’s about relating to people who enjoy your music and get something out of it.
RSP: Thinking back to our roots, I think it’s still so important for young artists to be engaging in their community. I don’t know what it’s like because I’m not a new artist anymore, but I would like to check out the scene more in Montreal, because I feel a bit disconnected from it all now. I hope that there’s still a bunch of cool shit going on still. I really just go to dance clubs now but I know that there’s a lot going on in the band scene and it’d be cool to see what’s going on at the roots of the indie scene.
DW: I was thinking about how I got started playing music when I was quite young in high school and all the main turning points with music over time and the thought occurred to me that friendships I’d had have always been catalysts. Like when I first started playing music, it came out of an existing friendship that I had with my friend Nick, we started making music together and the comfort level that allowed me to start experimenting with music came from the comfort that I had with him. Then when I started the Pop Winds with Kyle [Bennett], that also came out of this friendship that consisted of us sending music to each other. Music has facilitated so many friendships in my life, and friendships have facilitated my music as well.
RSP: In terms of me making music, friendships are definitely the biggest element of it. I recognise in myself that it’s kind of hard for me to get shit done on my own and I don’t love being left alone a lot. Over the years, battling with tons and tons of mental health issues, for me, having people around who love and support me is so key. The people in my bands, they’ve been my anchor through not only music but life.
“In the end, if you can communicate well with someone else in the room, that music can also reach out and communicate with people listening to it and dancing to it.”
DW: I find it funny to make that connection, the two are inextricably linked in the life of being a creative person, a music-maker. Getting into a friendship with someone and them making music is enough motivation for you to make music, and trusting each other to give feedback and share ideas. It’s hard to separate the two when you really examine it.
AK: I’ve done a lot of production and music-making on my own, and I notice a big difference in my workflow when I work alone versus when I work with people, especially friends and those I trust. I can work very fast and efficiently when I’m working with people that I trust, versus when I’m working on a project on my own and I’m like eight hours fixing every little detail and going down every path. In the end, if you can communicate well with someone else in the room, that music can also reach out and communicate with people listening to it and dancing to it. I guess it’s an interesting question for you, Devon, because you do make a lot of music on your own these days, have you found that what you do has changed at all because of that?
RSP: Yeah, especially on the last record.
DW: Yeah, that’s the most I’ve worked on my own in a long time. Just in the sense that I sent it out to Austin Tufts [drummer in Braids] to mix it, but I was never physically with him, and a lot of the stuff on the album I did alone. Working on Dream Songs [Devon’s debut solo record] was interesting because I’d known Austin since 2009 approximately, as well as you two, but I’d never had a close relationship with him. Then through working on an album together I got to know him in a way that was sort of parallel to finishing the album. When we started it was stepping into the waters of getting to know each other…
RSP: Yeah, were you guys playing basketball?
DW: Yeah, it initially started with him reaching out to me like, “Hey, do you wanna go for a run sometime?” because I’d mentioned that I was running. I was like, “No, but I’m playing basketball so you should come and play with me.” That’s how it all started. It’s funny to me that you really can’t separate becoming vulnerable and intimate with a person from the process of making music with them. Whether you like it or not, and hopefully mostly you do, but you’ll reach this level of intimacy when you go into the process of making a record, making decisions and having to fight for what you want and negotiate. So now, my relationship with music-making is more solitary and remote in that the person I am working with will be at a distance physically and it’ll be through the internet.
RSP: I remember meeting you and Kyle at that crazy building downtown, 1180 St.Antoine West, where all the metal bands practice and there’s piss on the floor and blood on the walls [laughs]. It was crazy, sometimes you’d go to the toilet and there’d be shit on the walls. I found out later that it was like a porn studio also. Through all that craziness I remember hearing your music through the elevator, then going to your studio and introducing myself, am I making that up or did that happen?
DW: I wasn’t there but you introduced yourself to Kyle I think.
RSP: I remember trying to find this crazy, beautiful sound. Then meeting you guys in this shithole and working together, sharing music and hanging out. It was so special, you can’t recreate that.
DW: And music really was the primary motivator for those relationships. When you look back now at ten solid years of being invested in music-making, you can really see the way your life has been guided by these friendships and the creative process you go through with them.
RSP: That’s a beautiful note to end on, it’s really special.
Blue Hawaii play at Corsica Studios on 12th December. Their new record, Open Reduction Internal Fixation, is out now.
Devon Welsh is touring the US in November, see full dates here.