Maui's preeminent hard rock band leaves the island for more metal-friendly pastures
November 30, 2006
At nine o'clock one recent Saturday morning a small group of people were milling about in a garage in Pukalani. They were at the home of Hans Schopen, drummer for Khrinj, the longest-running heavy metal band on Maui. And they're preparing to shoot a video for their new song, "Demonize and Degradate."
Soon two other members of Khrinj arrived—the lead guitarist, John Meyer, and rhythm guitarist/lead vocalist, Cayce Almason, who talked about the band's impending move to the mainland. He said he's looking forward to being able to drive for more than a couple hours and get a variety of gigs instead of playing the same venues over and over again.
The band's youngest member, Almason has a dry sense of humor with a heavy-lidded, deeply philosophical, deadpan delivery and a lot of theories. And then he gets an idea.
He begins enthusiastically telling the videographer, Randy Mills, about a part he envisions in the video where his character is a dictator addressing a crowd, trying to convince them another people are evil.
"We just need a podium and a microphone stand," Almason says.
"Um, I didn't really plan for that," Mills says.
Meyer—wearing a Rhapsody T-shirt, black fingernails and facial hair reminiscent of Anton LaVey, his black hair flowing freely—is possibly the quietest, gentlest member of the band. Yet he is asking where his crown-of-thorns might be.
"Hey, did anybody bring a black trench coat?" he asks.
An hour later, Meyer is manning the blender. But instead of pina coladas or some likewise cocktail, he is blending "glerp"—a water-gelatin mixture generally used in the garden for retaining soil moisture. The desired effect is a Ghostbusters-esque slime the crew will later use to cover the walls.
Two hours pass and Ian Horneman, the bassist and most hilariously outspoken member, still hasn't arrived. He's stuck at his girlfriend's house in Lahaina, somewhat put-off by the decision to meet at such an early hour. By now, the glerp fills an entire trashcan.
Around 11 a.m., Horneman meets the entourage in Kula at the video shoot set, which is located on a large piece of property offering rolling green hills and an array of abandoned World War II army bunkers.
After everyone helps to unload video and band equipment, Schopen—whom the rest of the band calls their "go-getter"—assists the crew flinging glerp on the walls inside of a bunker. Then they cover the solitary window with a man-sized metal canister and lay carpet on the ground underneath the drum kit and an amp with a sticker that reads, "If only closed minds came with closed mouths."
The sound engineer tests the decibel level of the playback recording. Mills fusses with a light bulb that is dangling from a line through a hole in the cement ceiling.
"I brought plenty of light bulbs, too," he says to Schopen. "So you can smash some of 'em."
Meanwhile, Horneman and Meyer sit on a rusted trough outside, and Almason ties his dog to a eucalyptus tree.
"You ever seen a koala bear?" Horneman asks. "They're so cute! Vicious, though."
Then he stands up, flipping a log over to reveal soft earth and a legion of bugs scurrying away from the exposure to light.
"Little worlds!" Horneman says excitedly. Then he sighs. "I need to get off this rock."
Mills signals the band to come inside. He's ready to begin shooting.
"Where's the make-up, the hair people?" Horneman asks. "Where are the fluffers?" He laughs, then half-mumbles to no one in particular. "I just want to go to a place where there are fluffers."
Talk soon turns—as it often does these days—to the bands' upcoming exodus from Maui. Meyer discusses the resistance the band has received over the years from particular island venues, and why the band has persisted to play public gigs and all-ages shows for so long.
"One of the reasons is it gives kids something to do instead of going to see a movie or drink in the cane fields," he says.
"Over there [on the mainland] people will come hear you play because they like the music," Horneman says. "Not because it's just something to do."
"I think we should throw all of our equipment over the cliff in retaliation!" Almason says suddenly.
"In retaliation of what?" Horneman asks.
"Of something… uh, that should be retaliated," he says.
Khrinj began in early 1997. With the exception of Schopen—who moved from Virginia Beach to Maui in 1990, as a freshman in high school—the burgeoning metal musicians were raised for the most part in Upcountry's small, quiet community.
Meyer befriended Schopen in St. Anthony High School, and the two started playing together in a band called Gristle. Through these gigs, they met Horneman, who had gone to school with Almason's older brother. It wasn't until years later—after Gristle disbanded—that Horneman and Almason began jamming with Schopen and Meyer, along with a lead vocalist who was soon—somewhat reluctantly—replaced by Almason.
The group has since played extensively on Maui, with a few shows on Oahu, and has garnered a steadfast local following. Part of the band's appeal, aside from their well-regarded musicianship, is the tight bond the members have maintained with each other over the years, as well as with their fans.
As a band, Khrinj is a cast of mismatched characters who challenge and complement each other's varying musical interests. As individuals, they are as different from each other in temperament and personality as they could be. But musically, they simply fit.
Inside the army bunker video set, Mills gave a brief rundown of how filming will go. During playback, Mills wants the band to actually be playing their unplugged instruments with Almason singing—not lip-synching—to capture the vein-popping energy of a live performance.
"I should let my hair down but I did that for the last [video], hunh?" Almason asks, wearing a camouflaged do-rag and long pigtails fastened by studded leather straps. "It is better for headbanging."
"So third beep or second beep?" Hans asks of the playback cue telling him when to begin drumming.
As the tape rolls, the dangling light bulb is being pulled in and out of view by crew on the roof of the bunker, creating an eerie flash in front of Almason's face.
"It's making me nauseous," Almason says. "This would be great for a zombie movie."
"Looks good, guys," Mills says.
"More cowbell!" the sound guy says.
A cacophony of noise erupts as players test the acoustics between takes. Mills whistles for everyone's attention.
"Okay, you ready?" he asks.
"So am I going against the track or Hans?" Almason asks. "So when he goes off, I gotta kung fu my kung fu-ness back?"
"That's right," Mills says, smiling. "Your kung fu-ness."
Playback begins and the musicians almost immediately lose footing. Schopen misses a beat then Meyer stops singing his back-up parts. Mills cuts filming.
"You're gonna have to turn it up, dude," Horneman says. "We're getting lost."
"Yeah, let's move the speaker over here," Mills says, who then instructs Almason to stand further back.
"Why don't I stay to the left so you can see Hans?" Almason asks.
"Well, I can still see the drums," Mills says, who then gives specifics to the lighting guy on the roof. The sound guy asks about the delay, and gives a test run.
"You ready?" Mills asks. "Better? Louder?"
Playback resumes but shooting is cut immediately. Schopen forgets the three-beat start. They begin again.
During filming, Mills motions to Almason to move back but Almason's eyes are closed. Mills stops rolling.
"I can't hear anything at that one part," Schopen says.
"This is like ice fishing for metal heads," the lighting guy shouts down, as he dips the bulb in and out of the hole.
"Okay and… roll playback," Mills says.
Three beeps. Then the combined sound of live drums with prerecorded heavy guitars blast out in the dank, cement room at full throttle. Horneman's hair covers his face as his head thrashes forward and back. Meyer is hunched over his guitar, methodically fingering silent notes, as his head comes up briefly for back-up singing parts.
Almason's eyes squint shut, his jaw taut as he bellows his vocals, brows furrowed and mouth wide in impassioned elocution. During non-vocal stints, he turns to face the drums and continues playing guitar.
The sound guy stops the recorded music prematurely, confusing the band.
"Okay, that was great," Mills says. "We're gonna do it again."
"I never felt like a bigger cornhole than right now," Horneman says of his faux-performance. Then he teases Almason, calling him "Andy Vanilli."
The next take has a strong beginning but the light bulb burns out instantly.
"Yeah, that was better," Mills says, yelling up to the lighting guy. "More motion is better."
"I don't have to look at the camera, do I?" Almason asks.
"Make love to the camera!" Mills says.
When shooting begins again, Horneman starts scowling wildly and staring straight into the lens, eyes wide, before resuming his usual headbanging theatrics.
The next take, the bulb flickers and dies near the end of the song.
"I'm smelling cow shit," the sound guy says. "We're gonna get mad turd disease in here."
"Okay, we're gonna do one more wide shot like these and then we'll do close-ups," Mills says.
Finally, on this take, there are no problems. Although by now, the glerp on the walls is drying.
"Good job," Mills says. "Let's take five."
After the break, Mills continues filming. Almason's close-up shots are first, and his performance doesn't change even though the camera is now inches away from his face. Mills tilts his lens towards Almason's guitar, then aims towards Meyer's face on his backing vocal parts.
"Good job, guys," Mills says. "We're gonna do it again from the beginning."
It's now 4:15 p.m. and Schopen's girlfriend—the band's official photographer—asks if she can take a few stills outside while it's still daylight.
Halfway through the shoot, Horneman starts playing with the dog. Almason hides out on a branch in a tree with his girlfriend as Ross, a friend of the band, shows up just to hang out.
The video shoot filming recommences at 5 p.m. with more close-ups of Meyer, now with dirt covering his face from frolicking outside.
The band still practices three times a week for a couple hours and have done so, for the most part, since their inception nine years ago. But with the increasingly imminent mainland move, their Pauwela Cannery studio is mostly cleared out—except for a few random items.
The picnic table remains, on which sits a few scattered fliers, a guitar with broken strings, a George W. Bush talking figurine with a carefully drawn Hitler-mustache, and a couple science-fiction paperbacks: The Amber Enchantress and Flight of the Raven.
Across from the table is a bookcase with a row of old issues of Playboy and Maxim, a 1969 National Geographic with "Abu Simbel's Ancient Temples Reborn" on the cover, and a skull ashtray. Posters adorn the walls—Iron Maiden, Primus, Sepultura, Testament, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and a tribute collage to Darrell "Dimebag" Abbott—as well as a fire extinguisher.
In the short hallway leading to the soundproofed practice area are various drum parts and cables, amps, speakers and an empty can of Arizona Green Tea. A horned ram skull looms over the doorway to the room. To the side of the entrance is a gentle reminder: "Close Door Behind You Fucks!!!"
There is a steady rumble from inside. The guys are intent—all focus is towards the drums—heads bent over guitars, Almason and Horneman are slowly nodding, melody and rhythm in perfect, symphonic unity. Horneman occasionally glances at Schopen during beat breaks.
Near the end of the song, Almason stops playing and grabs a can of Coke as he heads out the door. When the song is done, Meyer finally looks up at Schopen and grins sheepishly.
"Broke another string," he says.
"That's his Podagee guitar management," Horneman says with a snicker.
Khrinj has produced two albums—Defense Mechanism in 2000, and Ruin in 2003—and is in the process of wrapping up a third, tentatively titled Rise of the Unnameable. All three recordings are slick, virtuosic affairs—Khrinj complements the sonic power of traditional metal's heavy guitar-and-drum dominated sound with highly technical, tightly wound layers of intricate melody and intelligent lyricism.
But up to this point, the band has never bothered getting a distributor, manager or agent. As such, most copies of the first two albums have been given away to friends and family.
"We weren't as serious as we are now," Meyer says.
"We were gonna sell 'em on tour but then we never went on tour," Schopen says.
"We went to Lahaina and sold 'em there," Almason says. "That's the extent of it."
"Our new album might do something," Schopen says. "Randy [Mills] is putting together a DVD for us, and we're getting a press kit together."
The reason for the sudden shift when it comes to the business of Khrinj is timing. Schopen wants to start school in January—he's planning on taking welding classes—and is leaving for Colorado in December, with the rest of his bandmates following his lead a couple months later. So will most of Horneman's family, who also currently live on Maui.
The band's plan is to get a farmhouse and take a few months to finish their album and practice, lining up gigs in the area and anywhere they can.
"I'm stoked to leave Maui," Meyer says. "More opportunity."
"The town we're moving into—when I visited—there's a big metal scene there," Horneman says. "And we're 45 minutes away from a big city. We couldn't move to the West Coast and deal with the traffic and people."
"And we're from here so…" Schopen says. "The hard part is leaving here—it didn't matter to where. We can do all the things we can't do here—skiing, see mountain lions, run from bears and stuff. And we're central so we can travel and gig everywhere. Plus the music is weird [in California]."
"We'd get categorized as an old band," Horneman says.
"If we were young and wanted to make it," Schopen says. "We'd go to L.A."
"We're not after fame and fortune," Horneman says. "We just wanna play somewhere and see bands we like. What it comes down to is, there's nothing here for us. We love all our friends but this island doesn't cater to anybody unless you're a reggae band. The bars are just so hared out by the LC [Department of Liquor Control] and fines. Over here it's such a police state. Look at DeanO's [now closed Kihei pizzeria and bar]. They got shit for going against the grain and playing punk and metal shows."
"They treated us real nice there," Almason says.
"It really sucks because I grew up here," Horneman says. "I love Maui but no one likes metal on this island. Not that I don't like reggae but there's too much of it."
"Yeah, try to work on a construction site," Almason says. "You hear the same cheesy-ass stupid fucking songs over and over and everybody sings along!"
"We've thought about leaving for several years," Schopen says. "The timing was just never right, for whatever reason. We all just had shit going on here. There was progress and then plateau-ing."
"It is an expensive habit," Almason says. "Being in a band and having this room since 2000."
Hearing this, Ross, their longtime friend and fan, looks around the room. "It's gonna be so weird not having you guys here," he says.
For more info on Khrinj, visit www.myspace.com/khrinj. MTW
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