It's a common complaint, sometimes the only complaint, of Hawaii residents that the Islands are seriously lacking a vibrant music scene.
But this is a very good thing for talented musicians sprouting up. There's less chaff to weed out and for those who do they find immediate support from the Hawaiian music fans. Honolulu-based reggae act The Green now all about it.
"Anything that comes out of Hawaii, anything homegrown, is represented that much more by Hawaii people," says Zion Thompson, The Green's vocalist and guitarist. "We have the backing of the whole state. There's only so many things coming out of Hawaii so we're proud of everything."
Last year, the band won Best Reggae Album at the Na Hoku Hanohano Awards — Hawaii's version of the Grammys — for their 2010 self-titled debut. Not that their success is limited to a few islands in the Pacific — in 2010, their album ended the year number nine on Billboard's Year End Reggae Chart of that year, alongside Bob Marley, Matisyahu and Rebelution.
Last year, their sophomore release, Ways & Means, sat at number one on the same Billboard chart. Thompson says that while the support is huge on their home islands, it can work against them in the larger context — the isolation of the islands can severely cripple a band's popularity. Reggae isn't exactly dominating the charts in 2012 so double that for a reggae act.
"Reggae has always been kind of pushed aside by the musical community. People are into pop music and stuff like that, but at the same time I feel there's a lot more awareness of reggae lately," he says. "We are a reggae band but our influences, what we project and add to our own music at our live shows especially, is a lot more than reggae. We love everything."
On Ways & Means they throw in their influences wherever they can — a touch of rock here, a whole lotta soul there — but at their core, they're tried and true reggae. While The Green has only been together formally for about three years, most of the band's nine touring members have been playing together in various outfits for years. They've been touring non-stop for the last two years, and Thompson says they're "sponging up" everything they see and writing some new music in the process.
"The tour aspect has been making our music progress and evolve in different ways that it wouldn't be if we were staying home in Hawaii, you know?" he says. "As a band, we've been maturing a lot on the road and that's naturally been going into our music."
Last year, they were picked up by the Easy Star label, best known for producing dub and reggae versions of classic rock albums Dark Side of the Moon, Ok Computer and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Clubs Band. It's also been important in disseminating reggae music and little known acts across North America and Europe to markets that might not otherwise have been interested.
It's been an ideal marriage for The Green.
"We've always listened to Easy Star records, since that first album came out back in the day. That was one of the ones that, for me, I started playing music because of," he says.
The Green embarks on its first Canadian tour this month, including a stop in Whistler on Monday, Feb. 27 at the Longhorn at 9 p.m.