By John Berger
Special to the Star-Bulletin
For Frank Orrall -- founder, leader, and alpha male of Poi Dog Pondering -- the decision was strictly business, not personal. He called the 11-member band together last spring and informed five of the others that they were out.
"It was tough but necessary, because musically we were speaking in different languages. You could feel the difference, and I'd much rather be around people that I have the same communication with musically than keeping something together for the sake of cohesiveness," the 38-year-old Orrall explained over a cup of coffee recently.
Orrall and four of the other survivors became the nucleus of a new 14-piece ensemble. Honolulu meets the new Poi Dog Pondering next week when Orrall and the band play a five-night engagement at the Wave Waikiki.
In concert: Aug. 25-29, 10:30 p.m.; doors open at 9 p.m.
POI DOG PONDERING
Venue: Wave Waikiki
Tickets: $5 at the door
Info: 941-0424 or online, http://www.wavewaikiki.com
"The band is a very different animal from what it was like right after it left here. Chicago has had a enormous impact on the band, with its rich dance-music history. There's a different flavor to what I'm doing 12 years down the line."
It's been almost 10 years since Orrall and the band - PdP for short -- last played in Honolulu. His ties to Wave Waikiki, Honolulu's definitive "post-modern" nightclub, go back to the dawning of what was once the "alternative music" scene in Waikiki.
Orrall was barely out of Kaiser High when he played the Wave with the first of two bands that dominated the "new-wave" club scene in the early '80s. The Squids were Hawaii's first notable "alternative" band -- and the first to record here.
"Working with Kit Ebersbach in the Squids was really formative for me. Before that I was playing in high school party bands and I was writing songs. I remember showing Kit a lyric I had written about a fictitious event and Kit looked it over and said, 'Now try writing from actual experience.' That really stuck with me."
"The Squids had an irreverence because we knew we were going to get no radio play or anything."
Several members of the Squids eventually opted out of the club scene. Orrall was soon headlining the Wave with Hat Makes the Man.
His musical interests were so diverse that he ended up in more than one band at a time.
"Growing up in the middle of the Pacific and hearing Hawaiian music and Tahitian music --right off the bat I realized there's a lot of music out there. With all that information going on in my brain, the narrow band of rock music never made sense to me. It always seemed malnourished."
Those eclectic interests caused Orrall to leave Hawaii after the Hat hung it up. He spent almost a year traveling North America as a free-lance street musician with the group that became the original Poi Dog Pondering.
"We traveled for about a year from Los Angeles up to Canada down to Mexico and across to New York -- from college town to college town, wherever we could get gas money. We slept in grass a third of the time -- the other two-thirds would be on somebody's floor. You have to want the adventure, but on coffee and bread for days you can go crazy."
Orrall settled in Austin, Texas, in 1987. PdP recorded two obscure EPs, then landed a three-album deal with Columbia in 1988.
Three albums later Columbia ended the relationship. Orrall looks back at it as strictly business, not personal.
"We were a real frustrating band for them. ... We were led to believe that we had the creative control that was in our contract, but at every turn we exercised it there was resistance. I'd never had anybody in the kitchen with me other than the band members and all of a sudden I had all kinds of people in there."
"The stuff I demo'ed for the third record they hated, because it was all instrumental and a real departure from songs like 'Be The One.' ... They would have been fine (with anything) if we sold a lot of records, but they were in it to really make the cash and we weren't making the cash. We were in it to make the music. It was a relief when we were dropped, and that's why we never even bothered trying to get another label deal.
"Now I have a lot of perspective and understand that when they said we could do whatever we wanted, what they meant was 'only as long as it sells.' "
Orrall moved PdP to Chicago in 1992 and founded his own record label three years later. Several successful releases after that, he and PdP signed a distribution and promotion deal with Tommy Boy Records. The promotional campaign for the current PdP album, "Natural Thing," kicked off with the release of a four-song cassette sampler in March.
The new PdP includes four vocalists, two keyboards, bass, drums, percussion, sax and flute.
Characteristically, Orrall is looking at two outside projects. He says the members of the Squids have all recorded individual tracks that could become the first Squids release in almost 20 years. He's also been talking with Peter Bond, Marti Kerton and other members of Hat Makes the Man.
"I don't think the Squids will do anything live, but Hat Makes The Man may do a reunion in September."
Poi Dog Pondering (Columbia) 1988
Wishing Like A Mountain, Thinking Like The Sea (Columbia) 1989
Volo Volo (Columbia) 1991
Pomegranate (Plate-tec-tronic) 1995
Electrique Plummagram (Plate-tec-tronic) 1996, remixes, some new songs
Liquid White Light (Plate-tec-tronic) 1997, live double CD
That's The Way Love Is (Plate-tec-tronic) 1998, remixes
Natural Thing (Plate-tec-tronic/Tommy Boy) 1999
Orrall before Poi DogThe Squids, The Squids (Multinational Tentacles) 1981
Searching ... For The Fertile Fields, Hat Makes The Man (The Hat) 1985
Click for online
calendars and events.