Girls in Hawaii: The band that survived

Article published on July 20, 2014
Article published on July 20, 2014

When the drum­mer passed away in a car ac­ci­dent three years ago, Girls in Hawaii thought it was over. They were at their best and sud­denly, si­lence. Now, the band gets back on stage, ready to tell the world that "it's not over, they've sur­vived and there's hope".

They’re called Girls in Hawaii but they’re not girls, nor do they come from Hawaii. The six mem­bers of the Bel­gian in­die-pop band that sur­vived a long pe­riod of si­lence are An­toine, Li­onel, Brice, Daniel, François and Boris. Now, one year after they re­leased their last album, Ever­est, the band is get­ting ready to go on an acoustic tour next au­tumn, per­form­ing on thirty stages in France, Bel­gium and Switzer­land. “The name is like an in­vi­ta­tion to the jour­ney,” says François Gustin, gui­tarist and key­board player of the band, be­fore their per­for­mance be­gins at Clemont Fer­rand’s Eu­ropavox Fes­ti­val. “They got bored a lot, lived in a small city from the south of Brus­sels and wanted a name that didn’t re­sem­ble them: young guys from the sub­urbs of Brus­sels, a place where noth­ing ever hap­pens”. François speaks Span­ish flu­ently be­cause, as he tells me, he spent some time in San­ti­ago de Com­postela when he was study­ing trans­la­tion and in­ter­pret­ing. He speaks qui­etly, he thinks of what he’s going to say and is not afraid of show­ing him­self as he is or re­veal­ing his feel­ings. François is as nat­ural as the band. When I ask him about what de­fines Girls in Hawaii, he states: “We are au­then­tic, we don’t try to make music that don’t re­sem­ble us. We’re 100% hon­est, we don’t have a mar­ket­ing plan or care much about our image, we don’t re­ally care about it. Music and what we can trans­mit to the au­di­ence when we play live is all that mat­ters”.

CLIMB­ING Eve­rest

In­deed, what makes them so dis­tinc­tive and spe­cial is their nat­u­ral­ness, but also their s­tory. Founded more than ten years ago in a chance en­counter, the band has un­der­gone changes from its birth until today. After their first album suc­ceeded, Denis, the drum­mer and An­toine’s brother (the singer), passed away in a car ac­ci­dent. This was a turn­ing point in the band’s his­tory, and now it's still im­pos­si­ble to not feel some melan­choly when lis­ten­ing to songs such as Misses, from the album Ever­est (2013), where the band re­peats “I miss you, I miss you…”, as if into an in­fi­nite empti­ness. “It was very hard,” says François. “We lost Denis, we lost two pro­jects, there was noth­ing to do; it was bru­tal and very hard to ac­cept. Girls in Hawaii is such a big fam­ily, re­la­tion­ships among us are very im­por­tant and, after the ac­ci­dent, the band didn’t exist any­more. After the ac­ci­dent, every­thing was over. We didn’t try to play to­gether again, there was noth­ing from one day to an­other, a big trauma”.

After more than two years of si­lence, An­toine and Li­onel slowly began writ­ing songs again sep­a­rately until they de­cided to join to­gether and face the empti­ness that the death of Denis had left be­hind. But it wasn’t easy. “We started play­ing to­gether again for a year, but we sounded like a cover band, like a Girls in Hawaii’s trib­ute band,” says François. So they de­cided to try again and hire a new pro­ducer, Luuk Cox, who helped them change some habits and climb Ever­est, which took them back to the stage. “Now we have a very strong team, we’re all con­nected and we trust each other. We have a new drum­mer [Boris] and we’re will­ing to re­lease a big­ger and stronger album,” as­sures the gui­tarist. How­ever, he rec­og­nises the “pres­sure” the band is feel­ing at this point. “I think we were very lucky be­cause after three years with­out hav­ing re­leased an album, peo­ple were still there. I think the ac­ci­dent pro­duced some kind of em­pa­thy,” he ex­plains. “Peo­ple were very cu­ri­ous about see­ing the band rais­ing and we’re aware that the media were nice to us when we re­leased our last album, which makes us feel more pres­sure now than with Ever­est. That album was a mir­a­cle".

"WE'RE HERE, WE've SUR­VIVED, THERE'S HOPE"

And today, four years after Denis’ pass­ing, the band is still play­ing and de­liv­er­ing their au­then­tic­ity and nat­u­ral­ness to their crowd as well as songs that tell sto­ries, “every­day sto­ries, some­times a lit­tle bit sur­re­al­ists”, in which one can find, ac­cord­ing to François, the al­ways con­fus­ing and a lit­tle con­tra­dic­tory Bel­gium iden­tity. “We’re Bel­gians, we’re a quite sur­re­al­ist vil­lage, there’s a lit­tle bit of sto­ry­telling in our music, like the one Paul Mc­Cart­ney would do,” says François. “We’re a re­ally ab­surd vil­lage, peo­ple don’t re­ally un­der­stand who we are. It’s a mix­ture of many in­flu­ences. Bel­gium is so small and we are in con­tact with so many cul­tures that we usu­ally are open-minded peo­ple. Al­though, at the same time, it’s al­most im­pos­si­ble to ex­plain how our po­lit­i­cal sys­tem works.” How­ever, al­most every song shares the same char­ac­ter­is­tic: melan­choly. There’s a yearn­ing, a long­ing for a bet­ter world or a past emo­tion that is sensed and that strength­ens when they play live, when the stage goes dark and a dim blue light and (fake) white stars blink­ing be­hind il­lu­mi­nates them. “How can you not be melan­cholic nowa­days?” François won­ders (or asks?). “If you’re a bit smart and you see how things work in this world, you have to be melan­cholic…but also you need a sense of humor and not take every­thing so se­ri­ously.”

Misses - Girls in Hawaii (2013) 

For François, life “is sad”. It's not good or bad: it is just the way it is. That’s why the songs from Girls in Hawaii, which talk about every­day life, have a melan­cholic side but also a bright side (again, the Bel­gian con­tra­dic­tion), some­thing that the gui­tarist vin­di­cates in order to state that Ever­est is not a mourn­ing album: “We try to tell peo­ple we’ve sur­vived, we’re here, things are not so bad and we want to give you some­thing a lit­tle brighter, give a lit­tle bit of hope.”