Driving down Kamehameha Highway along Oahu’s foamy coastline while salty-skinned, strummed notes from The Green’s sweet reggae guitar echo from the radio: “She was the best ‘cause she always came running, she always came running to me.”
Slow paced, swirling keyboard beats match the rolling tide hitting the rock’s edge beside the road. It suddenly feels like a shady day under the pine trees at Bellows Beach as the construction of a campfire and tents begins on beachside real estate. Candy-coated lyrics to radio hits like “Chocolates and Roses,” would seemingly wrap up the night, alongside a campfire quietly roasting twigs and marshmallows.
The air, ocean, surf, and precious land are all represented by The Green’s modern- reggae style. The six band members that comprise The Green began harmonizing full-time with their guitars and keys here on Oahu in 2009. Since then, they’ve released hit songs and radio favorites such as “Love I”, “Good Vibe Killah” and “Hold Me Tight” and have laid claim to a handful of accolades, such as selling over 20,000 copies of their 2013 album Hawai‘i ’13, their debut album being named iTunes Best Reggae Album of the Year (2010), and being named as the 2014 and 2015 Honolulu Pulse Award for Best Local Band.
Caleb Keoulani (vocals), JP Kennedy, and Zion Thompson (both guitar and vocals), Ikaika Antone (keys-vocals), Brad Watanabe (bass-keys), and Jordan Espinoza (drums) have known each other since “early days”, as bandmember Thompson explains it in this exclusive interview. They are a mix of friends and family that feel the responsibility to teach positivity and love through their music. Speaking with Thompson, it’s evident that he holds fond memories of the journey just as much as the destination, as he recalls kicking it at beach parks as a kid, listening and playing music and dreaming. Now jamming on stage at those same venues and even internationally, Thompson and The Green never veer far from Oahu’s roots.
How has your music evolved in the past few years, Zion?
I think our music has evolved a lot because of touring super hard on the road for the last five to six years. I think that we’ve picked up so many things from all over the country and being on the road. So many inspirational artists we’d hear bits and pieces of. All of that helps to shape the music. Guaranteed, our music has evolved a bit but it’s coming back to its roots.
Where are some of the places The Green has spread aloha?
We’ve been very lucky to have travelled all over the US, New Zealand–which was
hands down one of the coolest places, Guam, Tahiti. One time out in Okinawa we got to play at Kadena Air Force Base for a sumo wrestling match. Some of the coolest times have been on the road. From a van, to a little bit bigger van, to a bus. Just looking out the van window it’s crazy just how much is out there. Sometimes we’d go places and the road would just look the same for miles. Just rows of corn and cows all over the place but those were the best times. When you’re on the road and don’t have wifi, there’s time to actually talk to each other.
How did all of you mesh into one band?
Everyone played in different bands. We were all in the music scene separately and would see each other on and off the stage. Caleb and JP Kennedy are cousins so they’ve known each other for a while obviously. They played for a band… If you’ve ever heard of ‘Next Generation,’ they’re big on the radio here in Hawaii. Everyone had their own projects and around the same time the opportunity kind of opened up to join up together.
What is it like having multiple songwriters?
Everyone brings songs to the table. We make albums by songs that make sense together and go together and all of us write so there are lots to choose from. Some songs we sit on for a while, others get finished. For the most part we bounce off each other pretty well.
What do you see becoming of the music scene in Hawaii?
I definitely see the production value getting better. There are artists out there that are finally getting recognized. Like Lion Fiyah for example, that guy’s been around forever. There’s a lot of talent out there. Hawaii is a place people look to as a leader for a certain type of music. Gaining the recognition outside Hawaii and spreading aloha – that’s what The Green is all about. We’re a product of the Hawaii music scene. And we want to show people that there’s so much more out there. We have the voices, the tools, and opportunity. I find it our responsibility to spread aloha with our music.
So is it best to play at home?
I think Red Rock was one of the most amazing places we’ve ever played. Well, there and Tahiti, which guaranteed was in everyone’s top three coolest places they’ve been but yeah there’s no place like home. Everyone just has so much stoke for each other. Kids and their parents reminds me of the beach park growing up and playing music. There’s nephews running around like ‘Aye, Uncle!’ and I’m like woah, they’re as big as me! It’s special and makes us proud to play here at home.
What is the thing you miss most about Hawaii when you’re away?
Definitely family–yeah I’d say family is the hardest part. The ocean, the people and the food. Hawaii is a beautiful place. Just being away makes us all appreciate it that much more. We’re lucky we get to live here now while recording this new album.
What are The Green’s plans for 2016?
We liked working with Hurley Studios in California for our last album but this next album we are recording here at home. It’s pretty cool that some of our closest friends just happen to be pros– Leslie Ludiazo and Christian Mochizuki for example are two of our really great friends. Our goal is to finish this new album before going back on tour this summer.
Name of the new album?
We’ve been calling it ‘The Garden’ so that’s what we might stick with.
Okay, last question – who has number one shave ice on island?
Shave ice? Well I got to be true to my roots in Kailua and choose Islands. The snow cap with the ice cream at the bottom. That’s the best.