It was a cold winter’s night in Montreal, and the snow was falling heavily. Alexander Kerby was working at a club, when a young woman in a giant red coat, Raphaelle Standelle, came in all by herself and immediately drew his attention. They talked and met up to jam the very next day – More than a decade later, the electronic music duo Blue Hawaii has released 4 singles, 3 albums, and only last year their 3rd EP, Under 1 House.
‘Our first jam session was really fun and successful. We got along right from the start, both musically and as friends’, Alex remembers, chatting with our editor-in-chief Martin. Raphaelle and Alex became a couple and started making music together. ‘I’ve always listened to house, techno, and dance music, and working with Raph brought these things together.’ Alex fell in love with techno and house while listening to it in the car or on lonely walks. ‘I simply enjoyed the meditative aspect about it, and it was not until I started going out that I understood why it was structured the way it is.’ Afterwards, he tied together the experience of dancing and listening to electronic music.
The musical scene in Montreal was the perfect environment for a newly founded band like Blue Hawaii. It was, as Alex describes it, ‘very community oriented. You went to see someone’s show, and they came to your show. At the time, it seemed totally natural to hang out with these people, and I’ve only realised now that it’s something special.’
In 2010, the duo released an EP, and their first album, Untogether, followed 3 years later. Around that time, Raphaelle and Alex split up. After their romantic breakup, we didn’t hear much from Blue Hawaii for a while, and Alex moved to Los Angeles. ‘We had spent a couple of years apart, when, one winter, Raph came out to L.A. A long enough time had passed, and we were able to build up that trust again.’ She came over to his house, and they made music together – that’s how they started making a new record, Tenderness. Their next album came out in 2019, when Alex was suffering from a severe foot injury. He had special surgery, Open Reduction Internal Fixation, which became the name of the album. ‘All the experiences and difficulties we’ve had have made us stronger and defined who we are’, says Alex.
From indie, to pop, to house, to modern R&B – while each one of their albums sounds different, Blue Hawaii have still kept their signature sound. ‘As much as we wanted to have an overarching plan, we were always limited, in a good sense, by the other commitments we had. So, we could never do this thing fully, 100 percent of the time.’ The long breaks between their releases have affected the sound of the project. As Alex puts it, ‘You change as individuals, and the sound develops as well but it all sounds like Blue Hawaii at the end of the day, which makes it so special.’
Last year, the band recorded their latest EP, Under 1 House, while being in lockdown 6 thousand kilometres apart, with Raph living in Montreal and Alex in Berlin. How did they do it? ‘We jammed and created songs while we were touring Open Reduction Internal Fixation. Right before lockdown, we did some recording but there was still a lot of work to be done.’ Normally, they would’ve met but instead they sent stuff back and forth every couple of days.
To Alex, working separately was annoying at times because many minor things would have been much faster if the band had been together. However, the music actually benefitted from the process because they had the advantage of perspective from two people in two separate places. ‘You don’t get sucked into this feeling of everyone being in the room, with the volume turned up and everyone is like, “Yeah, this is sick. Really good job!”. Listening to it later, you realise, “Oh, it doesn’t slap as much as we thought it did”.’ Sending music back and forth gave the band time to reflect on it, and overall, Alex really liked working that way. ‘It did take longer, but I’m very happy with how it turned out.’
Releasing new music during this special time felt good to Blue Hawaii. With so much going on in the world in 2020, the news about their album indeed felt less important. ‘But even though it’s a smaller release, we didn’t make vinyl, and we couldn’t tour it, it’s still important to us, and I like the sound of it a lot. I know that it will have its place.’ Alex is also positive about the future of Blue Hawaii: ‘Although the lockdown provides new challenges, we’ve already started working on new music because until we can tour again, it’s all we can do.’