Rising young stars, from left, are "Power Ranger"-dancer-stuntman
Nito Larioza, the Ki Ho'alu Kid Matt Swalinkavich and
all-around high school talent Aiko Schick.
But the year is still young, and there's a lot of time for potential stars to show us what they're made of. Here are some entertainers to keep an eye on in '97.
"I'm preparing by writing, and I've picked up some recording equipment to use at home, but right now I'm taking it slow. A lot of people have been encouraging me to record but the way I look at it I'm only 18, and I want to focus on expanding my sound, working on my voice and developing my style.
"I've watched people get excited and rush into recording. I don't want to be a flash in the pan."
Swalinkavich notes that the seemingly "overnight success" of popular performers like John Cruz, Willie K, and Hapa actually came after years of study, practice and club work here or on the mainland.
"I'm trying to find my niche, and it takes time (so) I've been gigging a lot and playing as much as I can."
Swalinkavich's current schedule includes Duke's Canoe Club on Sundays, the Hot Lava Cafe on Wednesdays and the Pacific Cafe in Ward Centre on Fridays. He is a full-time musician; he helped a friend out last year by pulling a three-month stint as a landscaper after he graduated from high school, but found working a day job and playing music at night was "a taste of working double-time."
He gladly relinquished the job when his friend returned.
Swalinkavich surfaced several years ago as a student and protege of slack-key master Sonny Chillingworth, but has been performing since the age of 7. That's how old he was when he joined the Honolulu Boy Choir. He was 9 when he began studying ukulele with Roy Sakuma. Two years later he picked up the guitar and began to prove himself as a musician.
He modestly demurs when people refer to him as a prodigy, but in addition to earning the opportunity to study with Chillingworth, he is a 1996 scholarship recipient from the Hawai'i Academy of Recording Arts.
Now people want this 18-year-old to teach them.
"It's in the plans along with recording, but for now I'm developing my own sound. Rushing into an recording project isn't the whole deal if you're serious about a career. I'm not planning to wait forever, but I don't plan to record or teach until I want to feel I have something of my own to offer."
Sunburn is, above from left, John Hacker, Jacob Villa,
Sean Grimes (looming), Neil Patrick and Michael Bach.
Sunburn isn't about to lament lost opportunity. Instead, the band is trying to create its own success. Today, band members head to New York for meetings with record company executives, which they hope will lead to a major label contract in 1997.
"They're not going in cold," said Brock Whaley, program director for KPOI (97.5 FM) radio. "We've sent their CD ("Flower") to a lot of our friends at major labels and they've gotten really good feedback."
Sunburn - Sean Grimes, Neil Patrick, Jacob Villa and John Hacker - came together last February and quickly released the seven-song e.p. "Flower." (Drummer Michael Bach was a later recruit and has just left the band.)
With its powerful vocals, lilting harmony and assured acoustic and electric guitar work, the band's first song off "Flower," "Spread So Thin," is getting a lot of play on KPOI, which generally sticks to a mainland alternative format.
"Sunburn is an excellent band and we're happy to be behind them," Whaley said. "We get a lot of unsolicited tapes but we can't be in a position of playing somebody just because they're from here.
"First, they've got to fit into our format. Then they've gotta be good, and we like them to be a band that plays around town so that people can go see them, and they've got to have product in the stores."
All this, he says, is a matter of which comes first, the chicken or the egg, in a town where it's hard for bands to land a well-paying gigs for funds for a demo.
But Whaley said KPOI is still considering bringing back a show similar to "The Local Edge," which focused on local rock and alternative recordings. The program ran for three years before ending last summer.
Meanwhile, at the office of concert promoters Goldenvoice, Sunburn was one of the bands touted as a possible opening act for Alanis Morissette, who eventually opted to perform here in December without an opener, and Stone Temple Pilots, who unfortunately cancelled their Maui and Oahu shows earlier this month.
Offering up a local act is never done lightly, said Goldenvoice's Mari Matsuoka. "Because of a lack of venues, local bands don't get much of a chance to play, so it's hard to find one that's really polished.
"Some of the punk bands are really good, and they always seem to be able to find a place to play, but basically, we wouldn't suggest them if we didn't think they could hold their own with a crowd."
At Radio Free Hawaii (102.7) and the Radio Free Music Center, where there's a large following of D.I.Y. or do-it-yourself bands, newer local bands getting a lot of attention include Grapefruit, Power Pellets, Tweaked, the Knumbskulls, Daughter Element and Go Jimmy Go.
Lily Young, who calls herself a "sort of" manager-gofer at Radio Free Music Center, said it's frustrating to watch local bands struggle.
"People ask for them, so I've been trying to get T-shirts for Grapefruit and Power Pellets, but they never have enough stuff.
"And some of the newer bands are great but they don't have (recordings) out. I tell them to try to get cassettes in, but you know, they don't have the money, especially since there's hardly any place to play anymore."
Still, Sunburn remains optimistic. Said guitarist Grimes, "Surf Psycho Sexy is finally coming out with an album this year and Venus Envy is working on something. I think the scene will really take off in 1997, and I'm hoping we can have something to do with it."
Sunburn dives back into the scene when the band returns from New York, with performances as follows:
Jan. 24 - Hard Rock Cafe, 1837 Kapiolani Boulevard, 10 p.m. Free.The band also has a 24-hour hotline, 1-(800)-559-8931, which allows fans to keep up with its gigs.
Jan. 25 - Hot Lava Cafe, 2535 Coyne St., 10 p.m.; $3 cover.
Jan. 26 - Planet Hollywood, 2155 Kalakaua Ave., before, at halftime and after the Super Bowl; $3 cover.
"I like doing anything that lets me perform," she says of her interests in singing, dancing and acting. She plays piano, saxophone and violin as well. Among her other interests are writing music, drawing, and "hanging out" with friends or family. In the last few years she hasn't had a lot of time to hang out.
Schick started performing "seriously" about four years ago. She appeared as one of the Miyashiro girls for two years straight in Diamond Head Theatre's production of "Scrooge," and was seen statewide a year ago as a finalist in the Oceanic Cablevision "Road to Fame" competition.
Since then she's appeared in the Army Community Theatre production of "West Side Story," Diamond Head Theatre's popular staging of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" and in Dustin Sparks' smash hit, "Imagination ... The Grand Adventure Begins" at Ala Moana Shopping Center.
Her most recent public appearance was as a member of the DHT Shooting Stars youth program last month. She danced in one showcase segment and rocked the house with a Madonna-style rendition of "Santa Baby" that had many in the audience wondering how old she was.
"I enjoy singing things that let me act, but if people think I'm (really) like that they need to get a life," she said afterward. Active in the Hope Chapel youth program, she has also helped raise funds for a windward abuse shelter and worked as a volunteer entertaining at Castle Medical Center.
She was also one of two island teens named as an Outstanding Youth Citizen by the "Up with People" program in November.
Schick is preparing for a role in a local production of "South Pacific" that will be going on the road for performances in Nebraska this summer.
The Kalaheo High sophomore says she's enjoyed music as far back as she can remember. Her parents encouraged her interests. She was 7 when she began "playing and fooling around" with the piano. She picked up the sax in the 7th Grade; violin came "somewhere in between, (although) I'd wanted to play it when I was 3."
With two years of high school to go, Schick says she hopes to get as much stage experience as her studies allow and develop her talents. In the meantime, she has no time for proposals and propositions from self-styled free-lance photographers and agent/manager-wannabes.
"Some of them really need to get a life," she says.
"I'll probably be with the Shooting Stars for another semester, but other than doing that and 'South Pacific' I want to concentrate on school so I don't go down there. School is the most important. Modeling could be fun - later. It could be fun to record if my singing voice gets better, but I wouldn't want to do something just to do it and end up a flavor-of-the-month. I have plenty of time, and whatever I do I want to do it right."
When the "Power Rangers" are in costume, it's still easy
to spot local boy Nito Larioza. He's the one flashing
the shaka sign, left.
After visiting family and catching Michael Jackson at Aloha Stadium, the 24-year-old singer-dancer-choreographer-stunt man returned to California where he is currently working on "Aliens IV."
"When I was doing 'Power Rangers' everybody knew who was from Hawaii because we'd do the shaka sign, but you never saw our faces. I'm stunt-doubling this Hispanic guy (in 'Aliens IV'), but a lot of the production people also have roles in the cast and they're talking about having me do something (like that) too."
The sci-fi/horror saga is only one of the many projects Larioza is working on. A broken forearm last year was only a temporary setback as a new Power Rangers film, "Turbo Rangers," is due out this spring.
"It's a new look, totally cool," Larioza says, adding that his name will be somewhere in the credits. "Hopefully we'll be out to do a promotional appearance here."
He's also working on a similar show, "Beetleborg" ("I don't think it shows here yet"). Recent jobs have included choreographing a segment in a Zalman King movie, work on videos for Crystal Waters and the Braxtons, a national Taco Bell commercial, and a spot on "Martin" that could be the lead-in to a new martial arts movie.
"Working with (Martin Lawrence) was great, so it'll be fun if it happens," Larioza said with cautious optimism.
Larioza was in high school when he hit here as a member of the Hoku Award-winning pop-music quintet New Generation. Designated group choreographer ("I was the best dancer," he says matter-of-factly), he discovered after the band relocated to Los Angeles and signed with Warner Brothers, that he had something to offer in his own right.
"I'd take (dance) classes to check out what was happening there but people loved the way I danced because they hadn't seen anyone that danced like me. They liked the way I danced (and) the way I looked. I'd get booked for (choreography) jobs. That kind of gave a conflict between staying with New Generation and making it on my own but that helped me to live up there and pursue my dreams. The opportunities are on the mainland."
Among the high-profile opportunities that came his way was a recurring role on the Jay Leno Show as one of the Dancing Itos. Another was a shot at fame on "Star Search" that took Larioza and his partner in Urban Jamm - now the Flip Side - all the way to the grand prize.
"Winning (in 1995) was cool because we really didn't expect it. At first we were just, whatever happens, but then we started winning and we really got into it. We didn't expect to win but after we won a lot of jobs came up."
"Now we're competing with the new choreographers and (with) people like the choreographers for Michael Jackson. They have a resume that's huge - like En Vogue, Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson. It's hard to compete with that but it's great that the work is there - and we're working."
For the future Larioza plans to expand his credentials as an actor and stuntman. "I have more to offer than just dancing or choreography. The competition is just as tough but I enjoy it."