How Big Island Musicians Are Handling Isolation During The Pandemic – Part Two


From full speed to fast stop, the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly impacted both the music industry and our local music scene. While there’s nothing like the atmosphere and energy at a live music show, many Big Island musicians have turned to live streaming and recording new material during the global crisis.

Part Two of this series continues with a cross-section of talented Big Island musicians who talk about their experiences while in this isolation period.

Michael Suprenant is a producer, composer, engineer, drummer, and runs Mana Music Studio, a full-service recording studio in Kea’au on the island’s east side. His wife, Sarah Bethany, is a world-class vocalist and musician based in Hawaii, performing shows and recording vocal, piano, and keyboard tracks around the world.

How are you spending your creative time during this pandemic?
[Suprenant] Due to unexpected demand for childcare, i.e., my 4-year-old Benjamin, I have been spending most of my time trying to catch up on mixing, mastering, and production work. However, I have been able to carve out some creative time to work on my wife’s album, which is one of my favorite things to do. I have also been putting some time into developing the scope and brand for my business thanks to my partner.

Michael Suprenant (Steve Roby)

Do you have any plans to release any new material, and will there be any COVID-related songs?
Yes, new music is being released by artists with whom I am working for sure. Some of which are directly COVID-related, and some are indirectly COVID-related. It is difficult in this climate to see how something could be released without any COVID influence whatsoever. Our daily lives have become so unfamiliar as we navigate these new conditions; it has to be impacting the music in some way.

How are you connecting digitally with your audience?
Recording and streaming live performances have become a daily conversation now. Before it was rarely talked about. One thing we are doing at the studio is that we are just about ready to launch the Mana Music Sessions YouTube channel. It will feature live studio performances with great video and audio production. It seems like there is a demand to help artists put their live performances out there for their fans and this is one way we are supporting that effort.

What’s the first thing you want to do when the live music returns to the venues?
Our dear friend and primary musical partner, Matt Spencer (along with his beautiful family) has moved to the mainland. So, Sarah and I are not sure exactly what our live performance strategy will become. We discuss it all the time. For sure, it will be a very different experience with the loss of such a musical giant like Matt. We are certainly looking forward to the next Big Island Jazz and Blues Festival at the Mauna Kea this year. It has been rescheduled for early December. We’ll see if it happens!!

Chase Kauhane and his brother Carl are no strangers to our local music scene. They grew up playing music together and in 2010 formed the trio Life In Pursuit. In 2014, their Nickel & Dimin’ It album was nominated for Best Alternative Album for the annual Na Hoku (Hanohano) Awards. Their new group is called Olelo, which offers original music that covers their faith and life experiences.

Do you have any plans to release any new material, and will there be any COVID-related songs?
[Chase] We have a song called “Take The Leap” that we plan to release by the end of July. Although the song was written and recorded pre-COVID-19, it’s a song that is about stepping out in faith and facing your fears and we’re very excited to share a little bit of hope for our family and friends. The song was written by myself and my brother Carl Kauhane, and songwriters Nittanee Paris and Cameron Stymeis.

 Chase Kauhane (kkphotograpghs)

How are you connecting digitally with your audience?
Live streams! And we’ve been intentional to not only share our music, but also to take this time to check in on our fans and our community during this quarantine season. Music is so powerful by itself, but it’s even more powerful with context!

What’s the first thing you want to do when the live music returns to the venues?
I want to take my wife out on a date and enjoy an evening of real live music, give a hug to whoever will hug me, and leave the largest tip I can for the staff and the musicians!

From Hilo to Hawi, you’re more than likely to catch the popular music duo known as Long Tall Deb and Colin John. Colin John spent his youth in Memphis, Tennessee, where he played trumpet, electric bass, and then switched to guitar while soaking up classic Chicago blues and Memphis soul. In 2009, Colin reconnected with his friend, Deb Landolt [aka Long Tall Deb], a powerhouse soul and roots singer from El Paso, Texas. Colin and Deb have been performing worldwide to enthusiastic audiences in the USA, Canada, France, England, India, and Nepal.

How are you spending your creative time during this pandemic?
[John] I’ve been digging deep into my Hawaiian lap steel playing and transferring songs on them not normally associated with the instrument; everything from Willie Nelson to the Beatles and original material too.

I’ve been doing regular live streams with my friend L.T. Smooth on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. as well as unplanned streams by myself and Dagan Bernstein.

I am also doing remote streams with my partner Long Tall Deb even though we’re 5,000 miles apart. At first, we tried using Zoom, but the lag was too much to get the music synced properly. So, we ended up doing songs by me playing the instrumental parts and sending them to Deb via Dropbox or SMS. She would then sing her part, put the whole shebang into MovieMaker, and edit the piece together. So, it appears that we are doing a Zoom type performance but that is what is working for us now.

Colin John (Steve Roby)

Do you have any plans to release any new material, and will there be any COVID-related songs?
Always working on new material! I’m looking at doing an all-instrumental album of classic pop and soul numbers played on the electric sitar, called, “Pop! Goes The Baby Sitar”, inspired by the inventor of the instrument, Vinnie Bell. Deb and I are also collaborating remotely. As for COVID-oriented, I wouldn’t rule it out.

How are you connecting digitally with your audience?
Through the regular live streams, mostly through Facebook. That seems to be where most of my friends and fan demographics are hanging out these days. It’s like having a captive audience since not many presently have a whole lot going on. I am happy that music makes people happy and uplifts them during these dark and uncertain times, so people tell me. I hope to be bringing something of value that makes people comfortable.

What’s the first thing you want to do when the live music returns to the venues?
I would suggest being cautious and proceeding slowly; every day seems to offer a glimmer of hope, but I think it would be unwise to jump back to “normal” (whatever that may have meant, pre-pandemic).

I think it’s human nature to want to experience what we have become accustomed to but I would also hope that people would have taken this downtime to evaluate what is really important in life, and conversely what is not.

Obviously, music is a healer, so we don’t want to blow it by opening everything up at once.
I see venues doing more house concert type shows, with fewer musicians onstage and fewer seats. Is that a viable and sustainable business model? It’s hard to say. I think a combo of smaller shows, particularly outdoors and continued streaming will be the way forward for us all, both artists and music fans and concertgoers.

Steve Roby is a music photojournalist, an L.A. Times bestselling author, and a Big Island filmmaker. He’s been featured in the NY Times, Rolling Stone, and Billboard Magazine. Roby is also the Managing Editor of Big Island Music Magazine.

Featured image: Tim Mossholder.


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