One-woman-band Kawehi was attending the 2016 Super Bowl game when she discovered an Intel TV ad including featuring her music had screened during a commercial break. “I didn’t see it because I was actually at the game,” she explains. “All of a sudden people are blowing my phone up, was that you? I love doing mashups and they (Intel) asked me to do a mashup of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony and their theme music they call the bong. They filmed me doing it and I was part of the commercial. But they didn’t tell me they were going to air it at the Super Bowl.”
Kawehi has been blowing up ever since she posted a video of her cover of Nirvana’s song “Heart-Shaped Box,” which has so far racked up close to one million views. Born on Oahu and now based in Kansas, this extremely talented musician has earned fans like Courtney Love who raved about her Nirvana cover, commenting “this is genius,” on Twitter, and Diddy who raved about her version of Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel” (with more than four million views).
So what was it like hearing Courtney Love was impressed? “It’s crazy, it felt great,” she says. “I did a Garbage cover and they reached out to me. It feels really incredible to hear the creators enjoyed it, and not, this sucks. I always have this fear they’re going to be why, why would you do it? I always come up with a different angle because it would be pretty stupid to do them the same way.
Kawehi creates her unusual covers and recordings of original songs using looping, where sections of sounds are seamlessly repeated throughout a song. Using looping technology, and playing keyboards, electric guitar, ukulele, and percussion, Kawehi is able to craft richly textured, rhythmically intricate songs.
Watching her videos shot at her home, it’s kind of mind blowing to see how she builds songs live, creating layer upon layer of sound. “It keeps me on my toes,” she reports. “I’ve learned so much playing different instruments and come up with different sounds. It is hours and hours, days and weeks, tons and tons of practice.”
So it’s one thing to create in the comfort of her home with her pet dog at her feet, but what’s it like in font of an audience?
“It’s terrifying,” she says. “It’s scary as hell. When you’re by yourself everything is up to you, it’s all on you. Sometimes I’ve started a song and started a loop and minute and a half in I realize it’s terribly off. I hope you guys liked that, because it’s going to start again, and the second time around it’s going to be better. It’s great that the crowd gets to see something created in front of them. I would just be at home creating all these different songs and sounds, so it’s great to share it with them.”
Independent of the music industry, she has pursued her career as a contemporary DIY artist entirely through the internet. With a significant YouTube presence, she’s been able successfully fund all her recordings through crowd-funding. Her latest crowd-funded EP project, “Interaktiv,” was made possible by 930 backers.
Her most collaborative recording to date, fans gave input on song subjects, titles, artwork etc. “We all chimed in about the message of the songs and it turned out really interesting,” she says. “We all had the same mindset and views so it made it easier. It was really great to let them have a say in it. This is my seventh project I’ve completed through Kickstarter funding.”
Moving to L.A. at age 19, she performed in bands and as a solo artist before discovering looping. “I was doing everything and not getting any better. I toyed with the idea for years, but it’s really difficult. Once I went down that rabbit hole there was no coming back.”
Is it easier now? “Yes and no. It’s more difficult you go down that path because the possibilities are endless. I figure out one thing and then you have to figure out another. It’s just a web of things you can learn.”
Having previously delivered unique covers of Radiohead’s “Fake Plastic Trees,” Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer” (it’s quite brilliant), Britney Spears’ “Criminal” (it’s amazing), and Garbage’s “I’m Only Happy When it Rains,” what’s next for her?
“I have a lot more coming,” she says.