Up until now, Blue Hawaii has consisted of two members: Alex "Agor" Cowan and Raphael "Ra/Raph" Standell-Preston. The pair first met at Agor and his brother's now shut-down Montreal loft and venue, Lab Synthèse, a locale that provided space for emerging musicians such as Grimes, Majical Cloudz and Tops. Raph and Agor immediately started dating, which led to a multi-year relationship of living together, world traveling, cheating on each other and eventually romantically breaking up simultaneously with the release of their 2013 album "Untogether." The album art was originally going to just have a picture of New Zealand swimmers, but ended up consisting of faded versions of the two hugging each other. The ending of their personal relationship surrounding the release became the focus.
And then they went on a multi-year tour together.
Agor's just released "Agor Edits" comes out of this tour, where the two ended up improvising their pre-existing songs to fit the various cultures they would encounter around the globe. This will be the last release from Blue Hawaii for a while, as Raph will focus on her other project, BRAIDS, for that band's album in 2015. By the end of the year, Blue Hawaii may be more of an amorphous project with solo DJ songs from Agor and female vocalists other than Raph. The pair was once described as "the two islands of Blue Hawaii" by Interview Magazine, but despite all that has happened and is happening, these two islands are actually closer than they seem.
In an interview with HuffPost Entertainment, Agor described the specialness of Arbutus -- the label that rose out Lab Synthèse -- which hinged partly on how it was "very much based on a close, tight-nit geographical situation." At the end of our discussion, it was brought up that in a previous back-and-forth interview Blue Hawaii had with another musician, Doldrums, Agor seemed to go off script. "Do you think that it's important for people to stick together or does it make most sense to chase after things in your best interest as a person?" he asked. Agor was willing to answer this question himself and said:
I think if you're trying to be successful at the same time as balance a kind of community, it's just important to know your goals before you set out on your path. Just lay out clearly what it is that you're prepared to do and not prepared to do. I think if you want to be successful at all costs, then that's fine, and you should just kind of make that clear with the people that you're working with ... Personally I live more of a life really intertwined with the people around me. I think both are totally valid ways of living and if you plan on doing one or the other, it's just important to let everyone know, so no ones surprised.
Agor and Raph have gone around the world entering other people's spheres, where they've shaped their own music to fit the various ears. They've played for people and more people and more people, all of whom have had different tastes in different rooms. In a previous interview with AdHoc, Agor talked about one hangout at a friend's in Germany where at their family dinner with German grandmas, house and techno played and "no one batted an eye, it was really normal there." The two have become experts in entering uncertain spaces.
Perhaps it'd seem as if there was no exit to the pain of a breakup if you ended up touring with that person around the world. But sometimes, home is other people too. Settle down in a Blue Hawaii and see where you end up.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
The name "Blue Hawaii" evokes an idyllic, but perhaps unattainable home. Agor has yet to find one himself.
Earlier this year in an interview with PopGun, Agor mentioned that "lately [he's] really been wanting to find a home." He hasn't had much luck finding a location yet.
Agor: (Laughs) Yeah, definitely, like, destined to roll around the Earth for a while longer I think. I'm kind of blessed and cursed with so many opportunities that it becomes difficult to stay put. I have a European passport and a U.S. work visa and I'm a Canadian citizen so I can pretty much live anywhere. And I've found that the opposite has kind of happened where I just don't live anywhere because I can live anywhere. Just like with touring and all this stuff, it's very easy for me to not really settle down. I haven't really found a spot. I'm going up to L.A. and want to spend some time in the States, but I have not found a home.
Blue Hawaii started on a Montreal record label that Agor founded with his brother after their loft venue was shut down. The label was based on that community.
Agor: I was going to university in Montreal and my brother came from England and we just started this loft together. We had shows and that's kind of where everyone met, like Grimes and Sean [Nicholas Savage] and Majical Cloudz and Tonstartssbandht. All these bands that at some point released under Arbutus. We all kind of started by playing shows at this loft. And when it got shut down by the cops I think Seb just wanted a way to keep the music alive (laughs), so he did that by starting a record label. That's when I started the band with Raph and it's all kind of history from there.
Since some of the artists from this loft scene have gone on to become huge music stars, it could be assumed that some jealousy may exist within the group. But Agor thinks it's just "awesome how people that make different styles of music can be really good friends and get along."
A: I think the relationship kind of comes from the fact that we're all just friends. And less so based on that our musical styles are that similar. And that's what made it different from other labels I think. Take a label like Captured Tracks or Young Turks or something and those ones have a very clear vision of the style of music that they release. I think for Arbutus it was more based on the fact of geography and that we knew each other, which is really cool. Then the only disadvantage to that is when the bands start to outgrow the record label and start to move away, you kind of lose what it is that gave the record label its identity in the first place -- which is basically having everyone together there as friends.
Their 2013 album, "Untogether," was named after Raph and Agor's breakup, which coincided with the album's release. But "Untogether" ended up bring the two closer.
"It's just this sort of opposite little trick that happened."
Agor: (Regarding the album art) Yeah that was decided very much with regards to the title. I think initially the cover was going to be some swimmers in New Zealand and I was like, "OK, that's an OK cover, but this means a lot more." Just the idea of holding somebody, but not really getting at what is going on at their core and their essence and kind of missing something really essential. Unless they're kind of hugging right through that and wanting to hold on to the past, but it being illusory. A lot of demons come out in that cover art for sure.
The breakup and the album happened together.
A: Like at exactly the same time as the release. Which is also why it's called "Untogether." Because we were living together and making the album and dating, but not really being together. I also think it's just kind of this ironic thing that happened, like we released [the album] and by releasing it and touring it, we actually managed to get a lot closer together. It's just this sort of opposite little trick that happened.
Eventually, the end of Raph and Agor's relationship also marked the beginning of the band becoming more professional.
"Not dating definitely helps us treat the music more seriously I think."
The band was basically just a side project in their minds until the release of "Untogether" in 2013.
Agor: I think that until maybe a year and a half ago, until we really broke up, we never really took the band that seriously anyway though. It was just kind of something we were doing. I was working in this art gallery and living in Montreal and we were kind of just making music on the side. It wasn't something I was like doing for my life. And then, ironically, when we broke up is kind of when I started to take it more seriously. We do tour now and we're a lot more like a professional band now that we're not actually dating. So I think that it kind of helps it in some ways, because, I don't know, we have this thing that keeps us together that's in some ways just different than a relationship. I think we have many, many kinds of relationships with each other and the music is just one of them, but not dating definitely helps us treat the music more seriously I think.
Blue Hawaii's sound reshaped while on tour as the band improvised their electronic setup to different cultures.
Agor: I think the reason why our music maybe changed from more of a minimal or more relaxed kind of sound on a recording to being a fairly energetic, more like a rave, party kind of situation live, was because we were touring so much in those developing music markets. We needed to find a way to really connect with everyone, kind of like viscerally. And by having the music be danceable, I guess it was kind of immediate in a way that it didn't require people to understand the lyrics and even really know our music that well before getting into it ... It was just really cool because people would go crazy for that stuff in like Mexico and Russia, parts of Asia, and then bringing it back to America and some parts of Western Europe it's just interesting to see the differences in people's reactions and how the energy changes depending on the market.
Blue Hawaii's style of improvisation is almost like the early days of jazz halls where musicians would keep playing and extend sections to fit the mood of the dancers.
A: I think that it's always just important to create the music that you are currently really feeling. I think beyond trying to make music that will work in different cultural settings, we just made music that was working for us and one of the main reasons why we developed the sound we did live was just coming out of improvisation. We went on tour with this band, Purity Ring, last year and we didn't have a full set, we just had like three songs that I made doing really short loops off the album and would add techno drums on top from like techno songs and then we just kind of jammed out the rest of the set ... We just kept on jamming and kept on jamming and Raph eventually wrote words and it all just kind of developed live. A reaction to needing to have material and kind of not having it. And just kind of being this strange electronic, almost jam band, which doesn't exist ... Improvising and kind of not knowing exactly where the night is going to take us and in that way reacting to the different cultures.
In 2015, Blue Hawaii may actually transition into more of a solo project with the same name.
Agor: Raph is going to be spending 2015 with Braids and I'm going to take things in a certain direction where the project can be understood more as production and a DJ sort of project as well as what Raph and I do together. I think, ideally, I get to a point where I'm releasing more of these mix-tape style things that aren't even only Raph singing on them. Like I work with other vocalists to kind of maintain that dreamy sound that is Blue Hawaii, but expand it to include more vocalists and also some instrumental stuff and basically just turn the project into more my own thing. Just to kind of give room for Raph. I guess she's going to be playing the year with Braids and then when we get back together to be able to record, probably in late 2015 or something like that, there'll be a platform that will have grown so Blue Hawaii won't just be where it left off. It'll be somewhere new.
I've thought about it being a multi-disciplinary project, not just like Raph and I together, but also Raph singing [solo] and also instrumental stuff. Kind of like, I don't know, The xx and Jamie xx. I really respect the way they've been able to do that.
The band may be staying together in some capacity in the future.
A: I think that we'll still be writing songs at that point ... When Raph comes back and we get back together and we write songs, I think at that point we'll decide if they're going to be Blue Hawaii or they'll be something like Raph's solo stuff that I'm producing, maybe. We'll kind of assess it when it gets to that point.
Despite their past and what comes of the future, Raph and Agor found they at least hadn't lost each other after all their touring around the world.
"It's kind of like having a home in each other wherever we'd be."
Agor: It's definitely an odd thing to knowingly go into a situation where we spend tons of time, like in close quarters with each other, after having dated. But I think even though we're not dating, it's just so, I can't even express or stress how nice it is, to be near somebody that you do trust and hold dear in a situation or in a world where things are constantly changing. I think part of it is just, we know we like each other and trust each other and that means warmth. And it's kind of like having a home in each other wherever we'd be, we still, we just became such good friends that it was like, yeah I'm bringing a little piece of home, especially to all these crazy places that we got to go to.
Top Image: Arbutus. Unless otherwise noted, all other images Facebook of Blue Hawaii