Heels & Picks: Mohawks and the Fourth of July
BY ERIN SMITH / Special to the Star-Advertiser
I originally met Kasi Nunes on the Fourth of July. This was a few years back when one of my bands, The Throwdowns, performed at Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe alongside the Kings of Spade and Black Square.
(I know. Good lineup, right?)
‘MOTOWN VALETINE’S III’
Kings of Spade CD Release Party
Backstage, tents shielded us from the midday sun and the turquoise water of Kaneohe Bay took my breath away. It looked so different from the water on Maui; little did I know in a few years I would be living in Kailua myself.
Kids carried shave ice in one hand, American flag in the other, and the Hawaiian breeze tickled at the next generation of Americans. This was Independence Day in the 50th state. Fireworks, indeed.
Both Kasi and I fronted bands that day; we were the only women in our respective lineups, and our styles couldn’t be more different. When Kings of Spade performed, Kasi took to the stage rocking her red mohawk, black jeans and a big blues voice. When The Throwdowns got on stage, I wore a one-shouldered mini dress and sleek ponytail to go with my dusty-pop voice.
I had also gotten up at 5 a.m. that morning to get my hair done before flying from Maui to Oahu, but that’s another story. (What was I thinking?)
It’s fitting I met Kasi on the Fourth of July. Americana, tales of the road, stories steeped in the tradition of great blues stories of old — that kind of stuff exists within the barroom-meets-pop vibe of the Kings of Spade. The multiple tours they’ve embarked upon and the learned songwriting of the genre itself lends the roadhouse vibe to their material.
We mostly talk fashion here at “Heels & Picks,” so as the Kings of Spade get ready to launch their new album this week with a concert at The Republik on Friday, I checked in with Kasi to talk boots, suspenders, Chinatown shopping gems, and of course, her signature red Mohawk.
ERIN SMITH: If we’re going to talk fashion, we have got to start with the hair. How long have you been rocking your signature red Mohawk?
KASI NUNES: At least four years.
ES: What inspired it, and of course, which products do you use to make it stand up?
KN: Wish I could say I was inspired, but instead I was about to do my usual buzz cut and clipped the sides before hitting the top. It just popped in my head to try spiking it up instead of shaving it off.
I ride motorcycles, so I tried every gel out there to keep that sucker standing up straight. The strongest hold is GOT 2 B GLUED hair glue. You can get it from Walgreens and Longs.
ES: It’s becoming iconic, your mohawk. It’s on the cover of the new album. Can you tell us a bit about the artwork? Scott Johnson, of Dogtowne Design on Maui, did the graphics. He did both of The Throwdowns albums as well.
KN: I love him! He’s family to the boys and me. I was a big fan of his Paula Fuga jelly jar cover and also … The Throwdowns’ action jump cover.
I wasn’t even fair to him. I was like, “Yo Scott, we just scored some dates on the east coast and we want them to have our new tracks. Can you design our new album in a week?”
I showed him David Bowie’s Tattoo album cover and some other tri-color albums as a reference point and he was like, “Love that cover. I got you.” We dig it.
ES: You and I are very different in our signature styles. I’m girlie and you are more tough and classic rock ‘n roll. But we do overlap, so let’s talk about spiked jackets. I’ve seen photos of you wearing one on stage and I love spiked jackets. Where did you pick yours up?
KN: I ain’t saying. (laughs) I hate when I tell someone where I got some special threads and I see them wearing the exact same outfit. I almost never shop and my friends love to tease me for wearing the same outfits day in and day out, but at least I’m the only one that looks like that.
ES: What’s your favorite black leather jacket look?
KN: 60’s biker greaser. Unfortunately my face can’t pull off the greaser comb-back.
ES: What’s the best place to buy clothes in Chinatown?
KN: Blank Canvas. You can design your own threads. If I was feminine like you, Roberta Oaks.
ES: What’s your absolute favorite outfit for stage?
KN: Jeans and a tank with no shoes. I can’t sing with shoes on. My bass player, Tim, and my drummer, Matty, we don’t wear shoes on stage. Ever.
ES: What article of clothing is a must-have for tour?
KN: Two things: a thick, soft scarf I can wrap my whole head in if it’s cold, if people are smoking cigarettes around me, or if I wanna tune out the boys on the tour bus.
A red bandana that hangs out of my back pocket. There are a thousand uses. Wear it bandit-style on an airplane to keep air germs from getting into your nose and mouth, cover your eyes to sleep during the day trips, wipe sweat off your face on stage, clean off a gross microphone, etc.
Be careful though, one time on tour I ended up staying at a cheap motel on the bad side of Crenshaw (in Los Angeles) and a crew of (gang members) wearing all red everything flashed their gang hand signs at me as they passed by. … No more rocking the red bandana in that city.
ES: Are there any punk icons or musicians who have influenced you?
KN: No. I grew up on ’60s and ’70s soul and rock ‘n roll. When our band entered a band battle a while back, suspenders (were) the one and only article of clothing each band member was willing to wear to match each other. Our band color is red, (so) that’s why red suspenders.
Chris (the sound guy) from NextDoor found an almost new pair of lace-up combat boots in a storage closet and gave them to me because they were too big for him. That’s when I started wearing lace-ups. I already had the mohawk for a couple years.
It randomly came together, looking “punk aesthetic” to other people, but it’s just my hair, my boots, and my suspenders to me. When our band could finally afford custom motorcycle rocker patches I stopped wearing the suspenders because it blocked the logo.
ES: The Kings of Spade logo brings to mind classic blues imagery – dusty roads, dark bars, love gone bad. What pulls you towards that imagery and style of writing?
KN: All my soul came from Aretha Franklin and Janis Joplin records that my parents owned. Our band can drastically morph genres but we are always rooted in blues, so I wanted to have a vintage, eroded over time feel to it.
I always liked the lettering for the New York Times, so I chose that Old English-style font. The new album has a lot of a pulsing thump through it, so we are about to update the logo and merchandise to match the new music.
ES: Within the first refrain on “This Child”, the opening track on your new album, it has a bit of a Jet, Black Keys feel to it. Do you feel like the pop culture “oven timer” is working in your favor?
KN: Who knows? No matter what’s trending, our band only does us. We go in a room and try to make music that sounds good to US. That’s all we know how to do. None of us are interested in sounding like anything else out there, so there is no one to follow.
With that said, I get really stoked when I hear killer blues bands like Black Keys, Alabama Shakes and Rival Sons poking through on pop radio.
IT SEEMS Kasi and I only get together on holidays. On Friday, catch Kings of Spade along with a fantastic Motown-themed Valentine’s Day concert at The Republik. Those in love, as well as those who just love music, will enjoy guest performances by local singers Devon Williams, Candy Diaz, Big Mox, Jason Laeha, Erika Elona, Kevin Jones and yours truly. We’ll be backed by a nine-piece super band as we belt out our favorite Motown jams.
Me? I’ll be tackling Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.” See you there!
Erin Smith is a singer and guitarist who performs as a solo artist and with Maui-based Na Hoku Hanohano Award-nominated band The Throwdowns. Born in Canada, she moved to Hawaii in 2004 and now resides in Kailua. Contact her via e-mail or follow her on Twitter.