Emerging in the late 1990s, Aloha came into the public eye alongside other midwestern "emo"-tinged outfits like Braid, the Promise Ring and Joan of Arc. But, while most of their contemporaries were busy pounding away with chunky riffs and screamed or shouted vocals, Aloha were exploring the more experimental side of jazz, folk, and prog-rock, creating eerie and mysterious laments that incorporated vibraphone, live piano and free-flowing percussion instead of loud guitars. With four full-length albums and numerous singles and EPs under their belts, Aloha has split from the trends established by their Midwest brethren and has made music on their own terms, all the while procuring a cult following of forward-thinking and adventurous music fans.
Aloha began in 1997 as a collaboration between two Ohio natives, guitarist/vocalist Tony Cavallario and bassist Matthew Gengler in the town of Bowling Green, where the two attended college. After college, Cavallario and Gengler moved to Cleveland, and started playing with multi-instrumentalist/percussionist Eric Koltnow (who provided the band with their signature instrument early-on—the vibraphone) and drummer Cale Parks. Like most bands, a name was in order, and when they settled on Aloha, it seemed a perfect fit. In an interview with Nowontour.com, Cavallario explained, "The name basically comes out of our desire to have a name that sounds pretty and looks pretty and doesn't add any gravity to the music. I feel our music's emotional and kind of intense to begin with. I mean, that's the way we see it. Some people think it's really mellow and soothing, I think it's more intense." That intensity is something that the band started to channel early on. Cavallario said, "A couple of us used to play in a punk band and when we were going to start a new band, we realized we didn't have to play hardcore music, we could play just whatever kind of music we felt like. And Aloha's just kind of what came out."
Instead of following in the footsteps of their hardcore and punk backgrounds, the band began experimenting with percussion at the forefront of the band's sound, instead of vocals or guitars. Cavallario explained it by saying, "Basically, Aloha has a habit of having two drummers in the band at all times. When we first started the band … Eric … was a drummer who became a vibraphonist. He just wanted to play it, you know. Cale's a really good drummer and he plays kind of crazy stuff and the mallet instruments is another way to add a melodic instrument, and also just add another rhythmic element. A lot of Aloha's songs, there's a lot of rhythmic texture going on and I think that's the sound that people react to the most."
To capture the rhythm-oriented soundcapes the band was cooking up in Cleveland, they decided to travel to Ann Arbor, Michigan, and lay down some of their experiments. Once completed, they sent the four-track recording to Illinois label Polyvinyl Records, and hoped for the best. On the strength of the demo alone, Polyvinyl quickly signed the band, and released the five-song EP The Great Communicators, the Interpreters, the Nonbelievers in October of 1999.
Signing to Polyvinyl was a step in the right direction for the band. Instantly, they gained an audience due to the success of other acts on the label like Braid, Kerosene 454, and Rainer Maria. They used this attention to their advantage, quickly hitting the road in support of the EP. Upon return, they set to work on their debut full-length for Polyvinyl, eventually releasing That's Your Fire in May of 2000. Whereas the EP was highly improvisational, That's Your Fire delivered real songs, using the progressive rock of Yes, the folky nature of Palace, and the jazzy stylings of Tortoise as their touchstones.
After the release of That's Your Fire, the band spent two years on the road, with bands like Ted Leo/Pharmacists and Q and Not U, eventually returning to Cleveland to write their follow up. In May of 2002, the band released their second album, Sugar, again on Polyvinyl Records. The band started to veer towards a more pop-oriented, but no less dynamic, songwriting style, finally finding equal ground between Koltnow's majestic vibraphone and Cavallario's emotionally revealing lyrics. In a review on Popmatters.com, writer Jeremy Schneyer said, "Although Koltnow's vibraphone certainly lends a twinge of exotica to the proceedings, it would amount to little if it weren't for the strength of Cavallario's songwriting and the tightness and versatility of the rhythm section of Gengler and Parks. Songs like 'Let Your Head Hang Low' and 'Balling Phase' are instantly appealing, with Cavallario's distinctive, slightly reedy voice leading the way. While his lyrics are often subsumed in the general din of the band, they are actually quite worth paying attention to. In 'Let Your Head Hang Low,' he poetically details an individual's insignificance in the face of the world: 'Let your head hang low / If you've drawn yourself a breath / you know the wind can wrest the world out of your hold'. The vocal melody of 'Balling Phase' oddly resembles vintage XTC, and resolves itself into one of the more upbeat, catchy songs on the record."
Even with a slew of positive reviews, however, the band hit a roadblock in 2002, when Koltnow revealed that he was to become a father. The band decided to no longer work with him, and in turn, grinded to a halt, opting not to tour in support of Sugar. Cavallario eventually moved to Pittsburgh with his new wife, and some speculated that the band had broken up. In truth, fans' assumptions couldn't have been closer to the truth. Cavallario even told Delusionsofadequacy.net, "I ended up quitting, saying I wanted the band to be over." But, while being disinterested in continuing with Aloha, Cavallario met producer/percussionist T.J. Lipple, a partner in Arlington, Virginia's Inner Ear studios. They started collaborating, and soon, Lipple's presence rejuvenated Cavallario's interest in the band. In May of 2003, Cavallario, Lipple, Parks, and Gengler reformed Aloha at Cavallario's grandfather's house in Altoona, Pennsylvania. Parks and Lipple began switching instruments, both playing vibraphone and drums, and an array of Lipple's homemade instruments, including a mixture of a marimba and mellotron that recreates the sound of an orchestra.
The result of their collaborations was Here Comes Everyone, released by Polyvinyl Records in October of 2004. Coming off like a combination of the Police and Led Zeppelin, with odd time signatures butting heads with a newfound interest in guitar solos. Once the album was released, the reviews came pouring in, with Pitchforkmedia.com giving the album a 7.2. A review on Prefixmag.com said, "Here Comes Everybody contains some of the most memorable songs Aloha has ever written."
With a new life breathed into the band, Aloha again hit the road in support of their new album. Still, they found time to write and record more music, even though all four members were now living in separate places: Pittsburgh, Chicago, Cleveland, and Washington, DC. On weekends and long vacations, however, the band again cooked up another full-length, Some Echoes, released in April of 2006 on Polyvinyl Records. Recorded with Lipple at the helm, the album was the band's strongest to date. Entertainment Weekly said, "Like a computer geek with a romantic streak, Ohio's Aloha straddle the line between trad songcraft and proggy virtuosity. They're a band for which Yes and Wings occupy equally esteemed positions … McCartney's influence takes hold, especially on spiritual dream-pop like 'Come Home' and the caressing ballad 'Ice Storming.' Tasteful, tuneful indie-pop is a crowded field these days, but Aloha's embrace of unusual tricks—knotty discursive bridges and lots of marimbas—will have you at … aloha."
The Great Communicators, Interpreters, Nonbelievers (EP), Polyvinyl, 1999.
That's Your Fire, Polyvinyl, 2000.
Sugar, Polyvinyl, 2002.
Here Comes Everyone, Polyvinyl, 2004.
Some Echoes, Polyvinyl, 2006.
For the Record …
Members include Tony Cavallario, guitar, vocals; Matthew Gengler, bass; Eric Koltnow (left group, 2002), vibraphone, percussion; T.J. Lipple (joined group, 2003), percussion; Cale Parks, drums.
Group formed in Ohio, 1997; signed to Polyvinyl Records and released a debut EP, 1999; released full-length debut That's Your Fire, 2000; toured for the next couple of years; released Sugar, 2002; Koltnow left group, 2002; Lipple joined group, 2003; released Here Comes Everyone, 2004; released Some Echoes, 2006.
Addresses: Record company—Polyvinyl Records, P.O. Box 7140, Champaign, IL 61826-7140, website: http://www.polyvinylrecords.com. Booking—Flower-booking, Mahmood Shaikh, phone: (773) 289-3400, website: http://www.flowerbooking.com. Website—Aloha Official Website: http://www.myspace.com/aloha.
Entertainment Weekly, April 4, 2006.
"Aloha," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (June 25, 2006).
"Here Comes Everyone," Prefixmag.com, http://www.prefixmag.com/reviews/cds/A/Aloha/Here-Comes-Everyone/1152 (June 2, 2006).
"Interview with Aloha," DelusionsofAdequacy.net, http://www.adequacy.net/interview.php?InterviewID=12 (June 24, 2006).
"Interview with Aloha," NowonTour.com, http://www.nowontour.com/news/interviews/00107.php (June 25, 2006).
Polyvinyl Records, https://www.polyvinylrecords.com/index.asp (June 24, 2006).
"Review: Here Comes Everyone," Pitchforkmedia.com, http://www.pitchforkmedia.com/record-reviews/a/aloha/here-comes-everyone.shtml (June 24, 2006).
"Sugar," PopMatters.com, http://www.popmatters.com/music/reviews/a/aloha-sugar.shtml (June 25, 2006).
"That's Your Fire," LostatSea.com, http://www.lostatsea.net/review.phtml?id=2622783841799a58b98ce (June 25, 2006).
a·lo·ha / əˈlōˌhä/ • interj. & n. Hawaiian word used when greeting or parting from someone.