Slowey and The Boats Talk Hawaii, and The Holidays

Slowey and The Boats is a perfect example of the wide open musical landscape that is Asbury Park (and Philadelphia too). The five-piece outfit performs an amazingly intoxicating brand of Hawaiian Jazz. I know, you probably didn’t know that was a thing either did you? But when you hear this band perform, you’re immediately transported from the cold shores of wintry New Jersey, and to the immediate, and welcoming warm embrace of the Hawaiian islands.

Recently, they released an absolutely amazing Christmas record — Merry Christmas from Slowey & The Boats Volume 1 — which is a great record to play during any type of Christmas party. It’s on Spotify, go check it out.

This Saturday, the band will perform at Hi-Tide Recordings, “A Hi-Tide Holiday” at Little Buddy Hideaway on Cookman Avenue in Asbury Park. We recently caught up with the band to talk Hawaii, jazz, and the holidays.

Slowey & The Boats Are (band members & instruments they play): Isaac Stanford: Steel guitar, Nate Skiles: Resonator Guitar, David Streim: Wurlitzer piano, Michael Hlatky: Upright Bass, and Fred Berman: Drums.

Year We Were Formed In: 2012

We’re Based Out of: Philadelphia

The Story Behind Our Name: One of the albums that inspired the band when we were first getting together was by a guitar player named Jimmy Rivers and it had a great version of the song “Slow Boat to China.” I always loved that song and figured it could somehow be turned into a cool band name. Once we had our first show as Slowey and the Boats there was no going back.

Cool/Famous Bands We’ve Shared the Stage With: We don’t do many opening slots for other acts. We end up playing our monthly gig in Philly and then a lot of private events. We do the Asbury Park Surf Music Festival every year and that has been great to share the bill with a bunch of great surf music bands. Even though we’re not a “surf” band, that crowd seems to really appreciate what we’re doing.

Our Sound Has Been Likened To: We are most often likened to the Spongebob Square pants soundtrack.

You’ve Seen Us Before In Other Bands: Everyone in the band is involved in many different projects. A couple of the guys are in Amos Lee’s band. Our bass player has a bluegrass band called the Keystone Mountain Boys. I end up playing some bluegrass and country gigs pretty regularly since I also play Dobro and pedal steel. I’ve also done some collaboration with the Philadelphia-based dance company BalletX, using the steel in one of their recent productions.

You guys play a unique blend of Hawaiian, Jazz & retro swing music — can you talk about what inspired you to create a band based around this sound?

I started getting into the steel guitar around 12 years ago and after starting out on a pedal steel I got interested in playing non-pedal steel. I wanted to play some of the more old-fashioned types of steel guitar music before the innovation of pedal guitars. In 2012 I had a guitar made for me by Todd Clinesmith out in the Cascade Mountains in Oregon. It’s a beautiful instrument, hand-made in the style of the old Bigsby guitars of the 1950s. After getting that guitar I realized I needed a band to play all the tunes I was learning and luckily I knew some guys around Philly that were into the idea.

When I listen to your music — no matter the song — I’m immediately transported to Hawaii. Is this on purpose, or is this something a listener is projecting? Have you guys ever been to Hawaii? If so, what did you love about it?

The steel guitar was initially a Hawaiian instrument and we do a lot of old Hawaiian melodies. We like to combine the Hawaiian tunes with some western swing and jazz elements too but the band is definitely inspired by the Hawaiian sounds. I’ve actually never been to Hawaii but my dad grew up there and turned me on to a lot of great music from the islands.

You just released a Christmas record — what was your favorite song to record? Also, it’s not something a lot of bands do (a full record, usually it’s just a song or two), what was the thought behind recording a full Christmas record?

I love Christmas music for a lot of reasons. There are some great melodies that people instantly recognize. I also love the fact that there are all of these great tunes that you can only get away with playing for a brief time each year. It’s a fun musical challenge for me every year to try and remember the songs and then maybe learn a few new ones. I’ve wanted to do a Christmas album for a long time so I was really happy that it finally came together thanks to our label Hi-Tide Recordings.

If someone’s coming to check you guys out at the 12/16 show, and they want to do a little pre-gaming and check your music out, what would be a good song to start with and why?

They could start with any of the tunes on the Christmas album. We’re usually all instrumental but there are two songs on the album that feature our friend Shannon McGill singing so there’s something for everyone. We also have our full length album Set Sail available on all the streaming sites.

What has been one of the coolest and/or most satisfying moments you’ve had as a band? Conversely, what’s been the most frustrating/disappointing? And why to both questions?

My favorite thing about the band is how fun the music is. We do a show and BBQ on the third Sunday of every month at Dawson Street Pub in Philly. There’s a BBQ truck, Philly Blind Pig BBQ, that’s usually there serving up some great food. It’s a great excuse to get together at least once a month with some of my best friends to have some BBQ and play music. The pulled- pork and brisket are great.

I can’t say that there’s been anything frustrating about this project. All the guys are great musicians and really sound great together.

What do you guys love about being in Slowey & The Boats? You dedicate a lot of time to this band — so what is it about it that makes you want to put some much time and effort into this?

I just love having an excuse to play all these old steel guitar tunes. It’s such a fun repertoire and there aren’t really any other bands in the area performing this type of music.

What are you most excited for in 2018?

We’re really excited about closing out 2017 with all of these Christmas gigs. After the show in Asbury Park on the 16th we’re heading back to Philly for our monthly BBQ on the 17th and then we’ll be on WXPN’s Free at Noon show on December 22nd for a live radio broadcast. We’ll have lots of cool stuff coming up in 2018. We’ll definitely be back in Asbury Park for the Surf Music festival in August. That festival was such a great time last summer and we’re really looking forward to being back in 2018.

All photos credit Patrick Gilrane of The Pop Break.

Slowey and The Boats perform at a Hi-Tide Holiday at Little Buddy Hideaway in Asbury Park on Saturday.

Bill Bodkin is the gray bearded owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, he is lucky husband, and proud father to a beautiful daughter named Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site’s podcast, The BreakCast. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites