Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, August 10, 2001

These guys are Knumbskulls, from left:
Danny, Nelson, Clif, Aaron.


Street-hardened punkers
get ready for mainland move

By Shawn "Speedy" Lopes

A YEAR and a half ago when Aaron awoke from a coma, he was aghast to find himself looking down at the precipice of life itself, bedridden with tubes running where no man dreams of being poked or prodded. Rushed to Queen's Medical Center's intensive care unit following an inadvertent drug overdose earlier that evening, he was as horrified by the knowledge of where his decisions had landed him as the gravity of his condition.

"I woke up strapped down, catheter in my penis, tube down my throat to keep fluid from filling up my lungs, a priest sitting on one side, my dad on the other," he recalls, shaking his head at the thought of his near-death experience. "I woke up and said, 'Holy (expletive), I gotta change!'"

Knumbskulls CD Release Party

With guests the Sticklers, Lose Money and Potluck
>> Place: The Shelter, 1739 Kalakaua Ave.
>> Time: 6 to 9 p.m. tomorrow
>> Admission: $5, all ages welcome

It was, everyone hoped, the end to a steep slide for the Knumbskulls' lead vocalist. In all fairness however, Aaron (who, like his bandmates, prefers to be known by first name only) was neither the first nor the only member of the band to experience such a frightening ordeal. At one time or another, nearly every Knumbskull past and present had cheated death through similar circumstances. As they explain, their life on the streets inevitably lead down a wayward path. Current band members Aaron, Clif and Nelson lived hard as teenagers and young adults, often making wrong choices along the way.

They can tell you about being homeless while in high school, awakened in a van every morning by classmates, going clothesline "shopping" every Monday night and foraging for food in Jack in the Box garbage bins. The Kapahulu Neighborhood Board would even label them as a gang. "But we were just basically hanging out as friends at this one cafe, lined up on the sidewalk outside with guitars," Clif says.

Nearly penniless, they prided themselves on getting by any way they could. Eventually the dead-end lifestyle grew wearisome and one by one, through a shared passion for music, the boys got back on their feet and began concentrating on writing songs. It wasn't long before their capricious lifestyles were replaced by a newfound drive for success as a band.

"I like where we're at now, but I'd be a lot happier with my mind if I hadn't done drugs," says Aaron. "Because of the streets and drugs, it's kinda warped my views on life."

"It's just stupid," adds Clif, who apart from an occasional cigarette has been vehemently anti-drug for several years. "I mean, if you can't even be in the right state of mind to play music, it's just dumb. I have a lot of regrets, definitely," he says with chagrin in his voice.

Still, with constant setbacks and a revolving cast of musicians, no current act on the local punk circuit has outlived the Knumbskulls, who have survived six crazy years and counting.

The band soon cuts the interview short. In preparation for this weekend's concert at the Shelter, the Knumbskulls have rented time at nearby Exclusive Music Studio in Aiea to work out the remaining kinks in their set.

The big plan, as Clif explains when we arrive at the studio, is to sell enough CDs at gigs and local music shops in the coming weeks to help buffer the costs of relocating the band to the West Coast. While drummer Danny and bassist Nelson have elected to stay in Hawaii, Clif and Aaron are taking the Knumbskulls' act to Southern California to start anew.

What is immediately apparent as the Knumbskulls explode into their practice set is that their sound seems impossibly huge for a three-piece and a singer. Danny's rapid-fire rhythms propel the foursome to furious heights. Nelson, staring blankly through an untamed mane, looks as if he'd rather be elsewhere, though his deft fingerwork says otherwise; he's very much in the moment. Wielding his signature low-slung guitar, Clif strums with panache, hinting at an innateness for showmanship. Meanwhile the tallish Aaron, eyes closed and hunched over, belts out song after song, leaning into every impassioned word.

"There were so many times we didn't even want to continue because things got so hard," huffs Clif between songs. "But just being able to practice like this and having an upcoming show -- that's the joy. It's like, we made it through the hard times, now let's see how far we can go."

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