Kaleb Hikele is tough to nail down. A classicially-trained pianist, multifaceted musician, and a burgeoning producer, Kaleb is moving in all directions, at all times, constantly exploring his musical interests and finding new ways to express himself. He has been part of many projects, some under his own name, and other configurations with his friends performing folk, blues-rock, and other earthier sounds. I’ve been watching him from afar for a couple of years. I’ll admit that when I first stumbled upon him, I wasn’t sure what to think. The constant exploration of all these different things, frankly, meant he wasn’t 100% nailing it on any of them. He was getting really close, but not quite “there”.
However, this is quickly changing as he (still a very young man in his early 20s) has returned to his roots, so to speak, with piano and vocal music, performing as The Sun Harmonic. Have a listen to a few of his tracks while reading along my brief interview with a guy who, and I really mean this, is poised to do great things.
Your big project is actually going to be a double album (due next year). Why then release half of it now? What’s your strategy here?
I’ll answer this question with a story… The idea for the project started in the winter of 2010, after I released a folk LP, Season, with a conceptual direction. This album was created in one season (summer) and written for one instrument (the acoustic guitar). It was composed and recorded with these rules and I made the decision to address each of the four seasons, with one instrument respectively, at some point in my life.
That first winter I started to write frequently with the piano as my target. I actually wrote a lot of those songs in my head at the time because I didn’t have a proper piano setup in my house. I sold my digital keyboard and somewhat humorously bought a 60’s Mason & Risch acoustic piano. It barely fit through the front door and it went in corner of the the living room of the townhouse. Jumping ahead, every time the winter came back around I wrote another handful of songs for the project. In 2014 I stopped myself at 22 songs and booked time in the studio to sit on the bench of a grand piano with a microphone.
This past winter I was so absorbed in the creation of the album, I really wanted to share it with people but only as a snapshot. So I chose 8 songs, made slight modifications to them and released it all as After We Fly a month later. It was a quick decision. Winter will come back again and “Winter” the double album will be released when it revisits in full circle, just like it has over the years with this songwriting project. It is a mindset just as much as it’s an album cycle. The snow reminds me, every year…
You’ve been involved in a lot of acts as player and producer…how has your approach to those crafts changed in the last few years?
By taking one step forward at a time! In hindsight, I was eager to better myself as a multi-instrumental player and as a studio engineer when the home studio began, I was amateur at best. I now have years of learning under my belt but decades of work ahead of me. I knew my playing was improving when I could watch my fingers move without really being in full control, which is what some would call “flow”. It’s what you strive for as a musician, to stop playing every note with intent and start listening to yourself play. Dabbling in other genres helped me greatly with these growing stages as well. Blues and jazz are the gateway. But, I still strive to play better, as you always should.
On the engineering side, I made small advances with every record that surfaced from the basement studio. Each album, either my own or my friends projects, strengthened my idea of arranging, mixing, and my freedom to experiment. Spontaneity is more welcomed in my approach now, learning to be open minded and willing to press ‘Undo’ if it doesn’t work.
I have friends to thank for my advances, as well as my overwhelming passion to create new music day to day. If you go one song at a time, years later you look back and laugh at your discography that’s built up behind the scenes.
I sense that you are getting better at the production side, the work on these latest songs seems more nuanced. How does the production side influence the writing/performing side?
Instead of the production side influencing the writing, I think it’s largely the other way around. All of the writing and performing was done before I even thought of production. The piano and vocal was recorded live first, then came the studio techniques that were rooted in analog and acoustic sounds similar to the writing.
It’s fairly obvious in this album that I am a classical music fan, the production borrowed a lot of cues from the performance and arrangement of orchestral music. I agree, this album is full of nuance! And thank you, I take that as a compliment. To be honest, it came from patience and careful steps in the studio. I tried to be creative and inventive with every piece I recorded, instead of just trying to get it done. I slowed down, enjoyed my time and took a breath, or went for a walk every time I was worn down.
I’m happier with these songs a heck of a lot more than my previous albums, because I made sure each part of the process was satisfying. It all amounted to the sound of nuance that you hear because it was cared for. Every long night in the studio was for the love of the process, instead of the end goal.
I’m sad most of the recording is over, it was enjoyable. But it came to a point where it was finished, or, at least 8 of the songs were.
What are you wanting to accomplish with this project?
I’ve never recorded a ‘piano album’ before, I even used that as a working title for the album for the first 4 years. I wanted to try something completely different, so I suppose I did accomplished this.
Even more, I want people of the future to remember these songs, or the Winter album as a whole, when they think of the piano as an instrument , much like you would picture Satchmo when you think of the trumpet. I have immersed myself in the instrument and in my mind I became attached to the identity of a “piano man” (besides, my longest relationship in music is with the piano, 20 years now).
I do love the guitar as a songwriting tool and will continue to write and record with it almost immediately after the winter ends, but this season and this instrument have become an unconditional preoccupation and I only hope to create piano music that is memorable. These Winter songs could be recurring and cyclical to a music fan, like they have been for myself, so that every time they see the snow fall again they think to press Play on “Winter”.
I also want the listener to, like I have, wear a pair of headphones and go for a walk in a snowstorm, or something romantic like that. Although, it will be most relevant in a hemisphere that allows this, I suppose. This is a very Canadian album in that respect. Would it make sense to listen to these songs on the beach in Florida?
Are your other bands/projects over? Or is this project part of the whole mix of Kaleb Hikele?
Bands come and go and I don’t want to comment on specific projects and their existence. You never know what will happen. For example, at times I thought of The Sun Harmonic as already resting in peace, a thing of the past before I realized it. I worked on new records with other musicians where I summoned just as much passion for the music. Today I feel very different, but I bet this is bound to change.
I can truthfully say this project is the most ‘Kaleb Hikele’ album I’ve ever made. The piano was my first instrument, introduced to me at the age of 5. After many years of lessons, recitals and my own composition, the piano became lost to me when I found the angst fuelled rock music that marked my high school days. I traded in Beethoven for Ramones riffs and mosh pits.
Years passed before I finally came back around to a love for the instrument and the classical music I was raised with. I started listening to 18th and 19th Century composers again, I learned a few of their pieces myself and recorded some modern piano covers to pass the time. This jumpstarted my own composition and songwriting, pointing towards the compilation of Winter songs that I’m starting to share with the world.
I would like to thank you for listening! We will meet again next Winter…
The Sun Harmonic website
The Sun Harmonic on Facebook
The Sun Harmonic on Twitter
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