To set oneself apart from the masses, it takes originality in performance, composition, and lyricism. Ori Kawa & The Entals’ current ensemble ticks all 3 of these boxes, a quartet who have successfully bridged the divide between Phoenix and Chicago, collating their musical talents into a captivating hybrid of rock, jazz, and funk-infused pop.
Consisting of Ori Kawa (Vocals/Keyboard), Oscar Brown Jr. (Guitar), Todd Hill (Bass), and Myron Cherry (Drums), the band’s eclectic and fluid approach to music draws from the individual sonic palette of each band member, with the result being a diverse, genre-spanning sound that’s common denominator is Kawa’s charismatic, seasoned vocal performances and the stellar instrumental ability of the accompaniment.
Citing influence from artists such as Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, Jamie Lidell, Fat Freddy’s Drop, and Amp Fiddler, Ori Kawa has always been a true believer that we are all born ready to make music. From playing drums at various concerts and festivals during his mid-teens for San Jose Taiko’s junior performance program, finding his feet as a DJ and promoter in his home city of San Jose, and later discovering his unrivalled passion for singing, Kawa’s life has been abundant with music, with this reflecting upon the sophisticated sound that the band has been consistently carving out.
Next up for Ori Kawa & The Entals is the release of their highly-anticipated ‘Draw 4’ EP. Pivoting around beguiling vocal lines and instrumental riffs oozing with experience and class, the electronic-tinged, genre-fluid four-track body of work perfectly encapsulates the band’s deeply diverse approach to creating music. Head to http://www.orikawa.com for all things Ori Kawa & The Entals.
How did you become an artist?
I would have to blame my parents for that! My dad is an artist, pottery was his discipline. My mom is creative as well and fully supported my dad. We would go to art fairs year-round as a family and set up shop. My older brother was a wiz kid on guitar and was busking at the booth by the age of 8. I played flute and shakuhachi, a Japanese woodwind instrument, and eventually joined my brother for duets. As I grew older, I dabbled with bass guitar too. I never felt I excelled in any of these instruments, especially not like how my brother is with guitar.
The start of my current label as a vocalist began in Chicago when I was working for a staple-of-the-scene type of venue, I’m sure you know the kind. This one’s called SmartBar, and it’s located in the basement of another legendary venue, Metro. I was hired to promote events by the club’s music director at the time, James Amato. I moved into an apartment that was upstairs from a bar that happened to be Metro’s next door neighbor. Needless to say, the after party was always there. I later learned that the apartment was previously inhabited by Eddie Vedder, so in retrospect, we were just dancing in the footsteps. The apartment had a stripper pole installed in the living room. I had not known that there are stripper poles that just spin on their own. The one we had was one of these. You just grab hold and the momentum spins you round and round. Just don’t let go or else you might knock over our house plant when you fly off the pole and your feet flail like a cat being thrown in the air by someone trying to see if cats always land on their feet.
Why is this relevant? It’s probably not. But, at the time, I was trying to break into the DJ scene. Daft Punk was the gold standard, so all the DJ’s were on the producer tip; you would get more bookings as a DJ if you produced a hit. Observing this, I thought it was time to try and produce. I made a house beat and wrote a verse. It had a humorous tone and a bit of a Tom Jones feel, starting off with “I’ve got the fire baby, I’ve got the fire in my pants…” My favorite line from the verse was “I’m in my rocket baby, ready to blast through, the hole in your ozone, lady.” I don’t know if the kids these days learn about the depletion of our outer atmosphere anymore, but back then it was a thing. My original thought was to get someone to sing what I had written. As I played the song from my makeshift set up in the living room of the apartment above the bar, I thought, well damn, why don’t I do the vocal myself? I tried it a couple times, and it was fun. I had a moment of realization, and I sang and sang and sang. I ran around the apartment singing. I took a spin on the stripper pole while singing about the fire in my pants and the hole in the ozone. I had just found my instrument!
How do you think this record is different from your past ones?
The instrumentation is much more full and consistent. It’s the first one with all the current band members, Oscar (guitar), Todd (Bass) and Myron (drums). It’s also the first one working with engineer Sefi Carmel in London, who had so much to do with the sonic qualities of the record.
Favorite track on the record and why?
That’s a tough one…but I would say “22 Long Days”. All the songs are composed in the standard pop format with verses, choruses, a bridge, and some kind of instrument solo. 22 Long Days is the most creative with this format because the chorus is non-vocal. That probably makes it the least catchy and commercially viable, and the “sleeper” of the bunch, which is probably also why I lean towards it.
Any funny anecdotes from the time you were recording or writing the album?
When recording “Don’t Let It Last”, our recording engineer, Bryan Pino, referred to the ending as the “Saturday Night Live finish”. When I wrote the lyrics, I was watching a lot of SNL. I realized that the song is heavily influenced by one of the greatest recurring sketches in the history of television entertainment “What Up With That?” Remembering this sent me on a binge. Somebody posted a video of every single one of those sketches in a row. Totally worth the watch if you need a laugh.
What are the dynamics within the band? Who writes the lyrics, who’s in charge of arranging the tunes etc?
I write and arrange. Currently the songs we work on are, for the most part, already hashed out with chords and a basic bass line. The guys then come up with their own parts and send them to me. This really only works for two reasons: They all have their own recording gear and know how to use it; and they totally get what I’m going for and when to take risks to add creative elements. There’s not much back and forth—they nail things the first or second time. I always get excited to see notifications when they’ve updated the collaboration. Once their parts are recorded, I like to edit things myself before sending them to mix. Eventually I’d like us all to start some songs together from scratch, I like that kind of spontaneity with songwriting. But our situation now does not make it an efficient process. So, I have that filed under “goals.”
What’s a record that shaped your creativity?
There’s too many to list! But here’s some albums:
A Tribe Called Quest “Beats, Rhymes & Life”, The Crusaders “Those Southern Knights”, De La Soul “And the Anonymous Nobody”, Mr. Lif “I Phantom”, Fat Freddy’s Drop “Based on a True Story”, Bob James “Three”, Jose Roberto Bertrami “Things Are Different”, Prince “Rainbow People”, The J.B.’s “Funky Good Time: The Anthology”, Mission: “One”
With house music, albums aren’t the typical format, but these artists’ works are very influential to my creative process:
Derrick Carter, Green Velvet, Paul Johnson, Santiago & Bushido
Who is an artist or band you look up to these days?
Anderson .Paak is definitely one. His vocal style is very distinct and his drumming and musicianship is excellent, although his jump shot could use some work. De La Soul is a group I have looked up to for a long time, and I always look forward to whatever they do next. French Kiwi Juice (FKJ) is another producer/performer that is purely extremely talented.
Any future projects?
Yes! For the band, we are working on a string of singles. The next one I can only describe as sexy + nerdy. We’re gonna slow it down to a sultry groove as I deliver awkward pick-up lines and innuendos. I hope I’m underselling it.
I’m also collaborating with a good buddy of mine, DJ/producer extraordinaire Andy P. Going back to my dance music roots with some west coast house flavor.
What does music mean to you?
Music is the universal language. Notes are words, riffs are phrases, songs are stories. I don’t wanna say too much more on this, because, I can’t remember who said it, but it was something like “talking about music is like dancing about architecture.” But, I for one love to dance about architecture, so I want to take this opportunity to thank you for letting me talk about our music. I really appreciate it!!!
How would you describe your sound to someone who has never heard you?
Somebody said it sounds like Primus plus Jamiroquai on acid. I like that, so we’ll go with it!