• Pro Tip: Thumbing It, By Jason Arimoto

    Growing up in Hawaii, my ukulele journey began in the fourth grade where we first learnt our basic chords – C, F, and G7. My passion for the instrument developed a few years later during a resurgence of ukulele playing in Hawaii. Israel Kamakawiwo‘ole had just released his Facing Future album, Ka’au Crater Boys came out with Valley Style and Pure Heart featuring Jake Shimabukuro and solo ukulele albums by Daniel Ho were looming on the horizon. The mid-’90s brought ukulele back to the forefront of the local airwaves in a stripped-down acoustic format where you could hear each artist hitting the strings and even breathing in the studio microphones in quieter sections. I would listen to these albums on repeat, inspired by their playing techniques, which I still use in my performances today. 

    In middle school, I was thrust into a new world on the opposite side of campus, where the cool kids were ukulele players and they were playing all the songs I loved listening to on the radio. Not only were they having fun jamming, but people were listening – more importantly, girls were listening and singing along. Now my calling was clear: I would be a ukulele player. 

    My ukulele at home was a Martin soprano passed down from my great-uncle, who had worn a thumb groove into the back of the neck in first position and had worn the frets nearly flat from playing. I set out on the daunting task of teaching myself to play, pre-internet. My cousin’s friend, who happened to be a guitar player, helped tighten up the tuning pegs so they would hold their tune. My dad showed me how to tune the instrument using the piano and taught me the Hawaiian Vamp – D7, G7, C. My family helped me set up my first ukulele, but no-one thought anything of my new-found musical interest as I’d failed miserably on other instruments from a lack of motivation and practice. 

    I would have to learn a few basics on my own before I would dare take my ukulele to school. This presented a few challenges: one, I didn’t have a chord book, and two, I was supposed to be doing my schoolwork. I quickly discovered the best way to play in secret was to use my thumb. Using the side of my thumb as opposed to the nail made for a nice fleshy surface with a rich, mellow tone that was pleasant, subtle and quiet. It was perfect for late-night practicing propped up in bed when I was supposed to be asleep or studying. 

    While practicing in secret, I surprised my parents a few months later by playing IZ’s version of Somewhere Over The Rainbow/What A Wonderful World off a photocopied chart from the Roy Sakuma school that I got for trading some choice baseball cards. Soon I was asked to play the song at every family party, wedding and funeral. The core of the IZ strum to me is the use of the thumb as a different tone in the strum. 

    Many flashy techniques use the index finger as the main strumming finger – the nail on the down-strum produces a brighter, harder sound that sonically cuts through. The techniques I enjoy playing the most use both thumb and finger in the strum. The juxtaposition of tones helps to create a more sophisticated sonic landscape and in many ways is easier to keep in time. 

    As an example, strum swung eighth notes using your index finger with down-strums falling on downbeats and up-strums on upbeats. Now accent the backbeat (beats two and four). You’ll notice you have to strum harder in order to accent. This change in velocity of your strum creates an accent, but also adds another variable to fall out of time. Now add a downbeat/down-strum with your thumb on beats one and three while keeping the finger down-strum on beats two and four. The trick is to use the same motion for both the thumb-strum and the finger-strum and let the different ‘picks’ create the accent. 

    The brighter nail sound of the finger on a down-strum will give you a natural accent without having to use as much effort. This translates to a more laidback-sounding strum and lets you play with more dynamic range because the thumb-strum can be made very quiet due to the fleshy nature of the thumb, while the nail of the index finger adds a loud and bright strum. Changes in volume and tone create a more textured sound, producing a more nuanced strum. This type of flow in a strum is one of the most magical sounds in ukulele playing. 

    For people new to using the thumb-strum, I usually recommend two practice approaches for incorporating the thumb-strum into your repertoire. First, use your thumb on downbeats only. Start with the thumb on quarter-note down-strums, then incorporate up-strums with your finger. Next, practice alternating thumb and finger on quarter-note down-strums, then incorporate up-strums with the finger. 

    The second approach is to use your thumb to play any of your go-to strum patterns. You’ll be using the side of your thumb on both the down and up-strums for a softer tone on both strums. Keep your thumb parallel to the strings and avoid using the nail on the up-strum – think of the feeling of swiping a touchscreen with your thumb. This will also ensure your wrist is relatively straight on the strum, which will help to minimise tension and strain and give you an even, mellow tone. Using your thumb on both the down and up-strums provides a tactile movement that will help you keep time by allowing you to physically feel the off-beats when incorporating both finger and thumb-strums. 

    I always use the example of listening to two very popular songs: IZ’s Somewhere Over The Rainbow/What A Wonderful World and Hey, Soul Sister by Train. One strum is nuanced with an interplay of all parts of the strumming hand, while the other has a more static feel. Both fit perfectly in their respective songs – the nuances of an IZ-style strum would be buried in a larger arrangement of a pop song like Hey, Soul Sister, but there is something beautiful and meditative about playing quietly and subtly late at night while propped up in bed using your thumb-strum on your ukulele. 

    This article first appeared in Issue 11 of KAMUKE, which is available in the Store

  • Review: A Hawai’i Interlude

    BORN and raised on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, Makana has been lauded for his slack-key guitar stylings, but he’s also a fine uke player, as he proves on A Hawai’i Interlude.

    ‘Diverse’ is the first word that springs to mind when I think about describing this album. A lot of instrumental records suffer from a lack of diversity, resulting in a fairly mundane listening experience. That’s certainly not the case here. Each of the 20 tracks has been well thought out and expertly produced to showcase Makana’s impressive compositional skill and playing ability.

    A few of the standout uke-centric pieces include the smooth Kahala Jazz, somewhat ethereal Waiola Wonderland and spacey Waikiki 2050, which has a sort of synthwave feel to it. And special mention goes to Pu’uale’ale’a (Bliss Hill), which features renowned jazz trumpet player Deshannon Higa. There are also some fantastic non-uke tunes – my pick is Ha’iku Zen, a layered and interesting collaboration with slack-key guitar master Jeff Peterson and shakuhachi [Japanese bamboo flute] player Riley Lee.

    If you’re looking for something a little bit different to the norm, I urge you to seek out A Hawai’i Interlude. Makana has managed to create a thoroughly modern album that is quintessentially Hawaiian and pays tribute to the unique musical traditions of the islands.

    The album is available on various platforms. Simply follow this link: bit.ly/AHawaiiInterlude

  • Ukulele Stories: Victoria Vox

    AMERICAN uke star Victoria Vox put out her first solo album in 2006 and in 2018 released her 10th, the fantastic Colorful Heart. More recently, she’s been performing with her husband Jack Maher as one half of Jack & The Vox, and the couple has been presenting fun online concerts from their home in California during the COVID-19 lockdown. 

    It was a real pleasure to catch up with Victoria for this episode and I hope you enjoy it!

    Cameron

    VictoriaVox.com

    Patreon.com/victoriavox

    Instagram.com/victoriavox

    twitter.com/victoriavox

    Facebook.com/victoriavoxlovesyou

    YouTube.com/victoriavox

  • Review: Ukexotic

    WHILE the uke has proven itself to be one of the world’s most versatile instruments, there’s no denying its tropical roots. Just a few strums can mentally transport the listener to an island paradise where the only thing you need to think about is which cocktail you’re going to order at sunset.

    If that’s the sort of feel you’re looking for, you can’t go past Mike Diabo’s new album Ukexotic. Inspired by the tiki/exotica scene of the 1950s and ’60s, it’s a polished collection of catchy ukulele instrumentals, bolstered by the addition of bass, percussion, flute and bird calls.

    “After looking around for a jet set-inspired uke-led album and coming up empty-handed, I thought I would record my own,” says Mike, who’s perhaps better known as guitarist Rev Hank in popular Canadian band Urban Surf Kings.

    The album opens with Ideal Surf Cafe, with its distinctive jungle rhythm and soothing vibes, and progresses through 11 tracks, appropriately ending with Tropical Twilight, which nicely highlights Mike’s uke playing. If you don’t have a Mai Tai (or at least a fruity mocktail) in your hand by this point, you’re doing something wrong! Cheers, Mike.

    Ukexotic is available here: https://reverbranch.bandcamp.com/album/ukexotic

    And here’s track 2 off the album, Penetration:

  • Learning to Play Ukulele in a Group Setting: What to Expect

    There are many ways to learn ukulele, from doing self-study through books and instructional videos to signing up for private lessons or group classes at a nearby music studio. Each method has its own set of benefits and drawbacks – for example, studying on your own is often the cheapest way to go, but without a teacher around you probably won’t be able to tell if you’re doing something wrong, or which aspect of your playing needs to be improved.

    This is why many aspiring ukulele players choose to take group music classes while others sign up for one-on-one lessons with an instructor. Individualised instruction is recommended if you want lessons to be tailored to your goals, needs and learning style, and if your schedule doesn’t allow you to attend group classes. 

    A lot of beginners choose to enrol in group music classes because the classroom-like setting and supportive environment motivates them to learn. Group classes are best for ‘social’ learners who absorb information and perform best when they’re learning with other people. 

    Group classes, in contrast to private lessons, are also more affordable to a majority of players and allow them to learn some skills they won’t get to practice when they’re studying solo (like playing in an ensemble).

    If you’re also interested in learning to play the uke in a group, here’s what you can look forward to.

    Inspiration and motivation from classmates

    Different people have different strengths and weaknesses when it comes to learning ukulele. Some are better at memorising chords, some take a little more time to get strumming patterns right and so on. It can be hard for teachers to address the needs of individual students in a group setting, but often this is where the class comes together and helps each other out.

    In a group setting, beginners learn from each other and in turn be inspired and motivated to keep practicing. Someone who’s lagging would be encouraged to do better, or someone who’s learned a neat chord memorisation trick would share it with the rest of the class. 

    If you sign up for group ukulele classes, you’ll find that people who play the ukulele are some of the kindest, most helpful folks in the world. You can even get recommendations on the best concert, soprano, baritone or tenor ukulele models when you upgrade from your starter instrument.

    KAMUKE’s Cameron Murray teaching a group uke class in Sydney, Australia

    You can learn performance skills

    If you already play a bit of ukulele and want to advance in your playing, a group class can help you gain new skills. Performance skills such as improvising and playing in an ensemble are just some of the things you can learn and practice in a group setting. A simple jamming session with classmates can lead to you finding people whose style of music jives with yours. Who knows, you can even form a band!

    It’s fun

    When you’re in a group and you’re doing the same thing, the experience can give you a sense of belonging. Mistakes that seem horrible when you’re sitting alone with an instructor can be easily laughed off when you’re learning ukulele with other beginners. 

    It may feel awkward at first but once you get to know your classmates, become comfortable with one another, start playing together and learn from each other’s mistakes, it’s going to be a fun and rewarding educational experience for you. 

    All in all, if you want to have fun while learning to play ukulele, sign up for group classes!

    This is a guest post by Rebecca Marlow

  • Hall Of Fame: Cliff “Ukulele Ike” Edwards

    THE life of Cliff Edwards is as remarkable as it is tragic. 

    Born in 1895 in Hannibal, Missouri, the same town that informed Mark Twain’s youth and work, Edwards left school at 14 and moved to St Louis, where he got his start singing in saloons. As many of the venues didn’t have pianos, he bought a soprano uke to accompany his voice and was given the moniker ‘Ike’ by a waiter who couldn’t remember his name. 

    “Ukulele Ike” went to Chicago in 1917 and got his first big break performing a novelty song called Ja Da with its composer, Bob Carleton, at the Arsonia Café in 1918. On the back of the tune’s success, vaudeville headliner Joe Frisco hired Edwards and he was soon performing on Broadway in New York, first at the famed Palace Theatre and later with the Ziegfeld Follies. 

    The pioneer of a distinctive form of scat singing he called “effin”, Edwards made his recording debut in 1922 and quickly became popular. His version of Singin’ In The Rain was number one for three weeks in 1929, and he was the first person to perform the standard on screen in The Hollywood Revue Of 1929

    As Ike got more famous, so did the ukulele. Millions of instruments were sold in the 1920s and Tin Pan Alley publishers responded to the craze by printing ukulele chord diagrams on the sheet music of the day. Edwards always favoured Martin ukes and developed a unique roll stroke. 

    “Most people play the four-finger roll starting with the pinky finger and ending with the index finger or thumb,” says Ike expert Terry Chapman. “But Cliff Edwards played it differently; he started with the index and followed it with the other fingers, with the pinky last.” 

    In his only instructional booklet, 1927’s Ukulele Ike’s Complete Ukulele Method, Edwards describes his technique: “If you were to make a series of six consecutive strokes, in strict cadence, all down, in this order: index finger, second finger, third finger, fourth finger followed by the thumb then return up by the thumb, you will have laid the foundation for the very flashy roll stroke which very few amateurs know how to use.”  

    Throughout the 1930s, Ike appeared in Hollywood musicals and on radio, but his star began to fade as the public became enamoured with crooners such as Bing Crosby. Edwards’ last great role was as the voice of the infectiously happy Jiminy Cricket in the 1940 Disney feature Pinocchio, and his tender treatment of the song When You Wish Upon A Star made it an instant classic. 

    Sadly, massive alimony payments to three ex-wives and alcohol and drug problems plagued Ike’s latter years and he died penniless in a Hollywood nursing home in 1971. The Walt Disney Company paid for his grave marker. 

    Blessed with a three-octave vocal range and the ability to sell both comedy ditties and heartfelt ballads, Cliff “Ukulele Ike” Edwards sold an estimated 74 million records and appeared in more than 100 films. Aptly described by American movie expert Leonard Maltin as “probably the best known/least known performer in show business history”, he was a true original who deserves to be remembered. 

    This article originally appeared in Issue 2 of KAMUKE Ukulele Magazine, which is available in the Store

  • Ukulele Stories: William Preston Robertson

    WILLIAM Preston Robertson (above left) is the writer and co-director of 2003 documentary Rock That Uke. Narrated by Oscar-winning actress Holly Hunter, the quirky film looks at the punk rock ukulele scene that emerged in America in the 1990s and includes interviews with local punk luminaries, such as Carmaig DeForest, as well as our Issue 7 cover girl Janet Klein.

    RTU was heavily criticised at the time of its release, but to me – and many others around the world – it was nothing short of a revelation. When I finally met Bill in Sydney, Australia, I knew right away that we’d be friends. It was a great pleasure to reconnect with him for this episode. Happy listening!

    Rock That Uke is available on DVD exclusively here:
    kamuke.com/store/Rock-That-Uke-DVD

    *This episode of Ukulele Stories was recorded before the COVID-19 crisis.

  • Jazzing It Up

    A founding member of The Aliis, a group that performed with legendary Hawaiian entertainer Don Ho for decades, Benny Chong is one of the most respected and influential jazz ukulele players in the world today. Cameron Murray learns from a master.

    What did you think of the uke when you were growing up in Hawaii? 

    I’ve always thought the ukulele was a unique instrument. The best part about it was its size, I could take it anywhere with me to practice. My uncles were professional musicians who played the ukulele as a secondary instrument, so I was fortunate to be exposed to it as a 10 year old. I was just a normal kid who learnt to play the ukulele by listening and asking my peers. It didn’t matter if they were younger or older; if they could play, I wanted to learn whatever they would teach me. Some of the first tunes I learnt were Crazy G, Stars and Stripes, Hilo March, Lady of Spain and Granada. Those were some of the songs that were commonplace among the players at that time. 

    Who were your ukulele idols when you were a kid? 

    During the 1950s, there weren’t that many albums I was aware of which featured the ukulele as a solo instrument. The ones I heard of and purchased were done by Harry ‘Mungo’ Kalahiki and Kiha Kinney, and I had a 45 single of Perry Botkins playing On The Beach At Waikiki. In actuality, my favourite ukulele players of that time were my uncles Dennis (‘Kuki’) and Alex Among. It was their style of playing that attracted me. They were the first uke players I heard play tunes in a style using mostly chords to play the melody. This contemporary style of playing always made the song sound full, rich and vibrant, so when you played a solo you didn’t need anyone to accompany you because the melody and the chords were sounded simultaneously. It was my uncles who introduced me to Lyle Ritz’s first album. 

    What did you hear in the playing of Lyle Ritz that you hadn’t heard before? 

    It is no secret among my friends and fans which uke player is my all-time favourite: Lyle Ritz, whose playing influenced many of Hawaii’s finest musicians. His style of playing brought the uke to a whole new level. Pure jazz on the uke had never been done before. Some of us still call him the ‘Godfather of Jazz Ukulele’. Besides his amazing technique, the most inspiring aspect of his playing is his creativity. Technique can always be learnt, developed and improved upon to accommodate a player’s style, but creativity cannot be taught. It comes from a passion that cannot be duplicated because we are all individuals who have different interpretations on what we create.

    You almost made an album with Lyle. Tell us about that. 

    About 1969, the manager of The Aliis heard me play the uke at a party and told me I should do a uke album. He asked me who I thought would be a good producer for the album and I suggested Lyle Ritz. Lyle lived in LA and I lived in Hawaii. There were no computers at that time and we were both full-time musicians. To make a long story short, it was difficult to correspond with cassette tapes when we both travelled. Things happen for a reason and maybe it wasn’t the right time. I could have followed up and pursued it, even though it may have taken a long time, but I made the mistake of not doing so. Big mistake! But at least I got to meet Lyle in person and we have performed together within the past eight to 10 years.

    Technique can always be learnt, developed and improved upon to accommodate a player’s style, but creativity cannot be taught

    Who are your favourite players right now? 

    I’m always asked who my favourite uke player today is. There are many good players out there. For me, it’s not the art of playing the uke upside-down, behind your head or while tap dancing, etc. It’s also not about styles or types of music being played or how great your technique is. It’s about pure music, passion and, mainly, creativity. You already know how I feel about Lyle, so here are some of my favourite players and the reasons why…

    John King: In my opinion, he was the finest classical uke player in the world. Sadly, he died too young. You were fortunate if you saw him perform in person. His transcriptions for the uke of classical compositions were true to the structure and not watered down. You had to be very creative to transcribe some of these masterpieces to a four-string instrument. He used a re-entrant tuning and was the only person to play a true soprano-size uke. 

    Bill Tapia: I first met Bill about 2004 or 2005 through Byron Yasui, who called me one night when I was on my way home from work. When I arrived at the Moana Hotel, Bill was on stage singing, playing the uke and yelling out the chords to the band in between the lyrics of the song. After, we found a place in the hotel where we could play and not bother anyone. Two uke players jamming from 10pm until 1am. Bill loved jam sessions. His sense of rhythm, articulation and on-the-spot ad lib solos were exceptionally creative, even more so because he was 96 years old at the time. Bill played a tenor and used a non re-entrant tuning. 

    Dr Byron Yasui: Byron is a composer, classical guitarist, bassist, educator and ukulelist. When I first heard Byron play the uke, the style he played was similar to styles we all played when I first started. The difference with Byron was the form of the music and the melody and chords were always correct. When most of us learnt a song that had been passed on from one person to another, the form, melody or chords eventually got altered to a point of becoming musically incorrect. Through the past 10 years or so, Byron has developed a style of arranging that employs classical guitar right-hand technique and applications of contemporary art music concepts of harmony and counterpoint. It is truly a groundbreaking achievement that can change the way the uke is looked at as a solo instrument. His arrangements are at a level never before achieved and very difficult to play. You would be amazed to hear how beautiful the music sounds. Byron plays a tenor and uses a re-entrant tuning.                                                                             

    Abe Lagrimas: Abe is one of the most gifted and talented young musicians to emerge from Hawaii. He is a jazz drummer, mainly, but also plays the vibraphone and uke. I know he has released at least three uke CDs. He plays jazz uke with a creativity that puts him among the best instrumentalists in the world. I’ve had the pleasure of playing with Abe as a uke player and drummer and look forward to the day I get to play with him on the vibes. Abe plays a tenor and uses a re-entrant tuning. 

    Jake Shimabukuro: Jake, Byron, Gordon Mark and I toured the islands in 2000 in a tour put together by Jay Junker called The Art of Solo Ukulele. There could be no doubt of Jake’s passion for the uke. In those early years, his passion for music was expressed in part through his amazing technical abilities. Since then, he has developed into one of the most creative ukulelists. His arrangements, whether they are of standards or of new compositions, are created passionately and his feelings are expressed through his playing. He has great sensitivity for his music and has achieved a level of artistry that very few instrumentalists are able to reach. He will definitely take uke playing to higher levels. Jake plays a tenor and uses a re-entrant tuning. 

    These masters of the uke are serious advocates of treating the uke as a solo instrument. There are no gimmicks in their playing – just pure music. Their persistence and dedication show in their playing, yet it’s the fun of creating and the enjoyment of playing that remains on top for them.

    Benny, Bill Tapia and Dr Byron Yasui

    What are your thoughts on the current ukulele boom? 

    It is wonderful to see the uke grow internationally. For the majority of players, it’s not about how well you can play solos. It’s all about the gratification of playing an instrument, singing, getting together and just having fun. I have seen this in Japan, Australia, the United States and Hawaii, at uke festivals and gatherings. For these people, taking their playing ability to whatever level they want is achieving their goal. There is nothing wrong with that. The good thing is that, with so many uke players in the world, there will always be that small percentage of players who will take the instrument seriously; to explore, invent and use their imagination. The possibilities are endless. 

    It is wonderful to see the uke grow internationally

    What’s the trickiest part about being an instrumentalist? 

    Probably the question most frequently asked of my uke playing is about the way I form some of the chords I play. Understanding how chords are formed from scales, knowledge of intervals between notes that form a chord and ear training are all part of music theory. Basically, it’s a matter of changing the pitches an octave up or down or changing the interval of the notes within the chord. It is the creation of playing the same chord with the harmony spread apart or close together. As a uke soloist, I find that the most challenging aspect is trying to imply chords with 5, 6, and 7 notes on four strings. Finding the right combination of notes to make the melody sound harmonically correct and interesting is always a challenge. It is the placement of a chord on a melody note that adds harmonic value and sense to a song. 

    You often perform with a double-bassist. What is it about the combination of uke and bass that you love so much? 

    My favourite instrument to play with is the double bass. Dr Byron Yasui is the bassist I work with the most in Hawaii. It is obvious that the more instruments in an ensemble, the easier it is to perform and the fuller it sounds. As a duo, it’s not about the uke or bass separately, but the two instruments creating music together. There is a lot of demand on creativity, which makes it challenging and fun. Byron and I have performed together for many years, in Hawaii, the US and Japan. We perform together mainly as a bass-and-uke duo, but also do uke duets. Most recently, we were featured with the Hawai’i Symphony Pops Orchestra, each of us as soloist, but also together as a uke duo. It was the second time for us with the Symphony and for me the biggest accomplishment of my instrumental career. The whole experience was beyond words.

    Why do you prefer the baritone uke? 

    I play the baritone uke mainly because I have large hands and when playing chords above the twelfth fret, my fingers tend to cover two frets on the tenor or smaller ukes. I have grown to love the baritone because of the warmness of its tone. 

    Finally, what does the ukulele mean to you? 

    The majority of what I learnt on the ukulele was when I first started from 1953 to about 1959. From 1960 to 1970, I rarely played, except for one recording I did in 1965 with The Aliis on our first album. From mid-1970 to about the year 2000, I stopped completely. I never thought that the ukulele, being my first instrument, would make its way back into my life. It is as if it’s been looking for me to rekindle our relationship after all of these years. Well, it found me 12 years ago. Call it fate or whatever you want. It has given me new life as an instrumentalist and musician. Almost like being born again. There are endless bounds to what can be created on the ukulele for the soloist of today and the future.

    Bryan Tolentino, Benny and Jake Shimabukuro at the The Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards

    This article first appeared in Issue 4 of KAMUKE, which is available in the Store

  • Ukulele Stories: Gracie Terzian

    GRACIE Terzian is a ukulele-playing singer-songwriter and actor living in New York City. In 2015, she gained attention in the jazz world with the release of her debut EP Saints And Poets, and has just released a lovely Christmas album titled Bells & White Branches.

    In our chat, we talk about the holidays, creativity and her preference for the unusual harp ukulele. 

    Thanks for listening to Ukulele Stories in 2019. I have some great interviews lined up for 2020, so please subscribe so you never miss an episode. Merry Christmas!

    Web
    gracieterzian.com

    Twitter
    twitter.com/gracieterzian

    Apple Music
    Bells & White Branches

  • Talk Story: Folk Uke

    Yes, they’re the daughters of music legends Willie Nelson and Arlo Guthrie, but Amy Nelson and Cathy Guthrie, aka Folk Uke, are stars in their own right. Armed with a guitar and a ukulele, the talented duo travel the world singing hilarious original songs, such as Knock Me Up and Shit Makes The Flowers Grow. KAMUKE chats to the ladies about their famous dads, uke heroes and cheesy pick-up lines.

    Why did you choose the ukulele, Cathy?

    Cathy: It was almost 20 years ago when I was hanging out at Amy’s house and picked up her ukulele. I hadn’t really played a uke before, but she showed me a few chords and I decided I wanted one for myself. So Amy and I went down to the local music store and picked out a ukulele.

    Do Willie or Arlo play uke?

    Amy: My dad played my uke once and sounded great, but I don’t think he’d played one before.

    Cathy: Yes, my dad actually has a ukulele I’m hoping to steal one day!

    How have your dads influenced your music?

    Amy: Do you mean how have we influenced their music?

    Cathy: Haha! Good point, Amy! It probably goes both ways.

    What’s your songwriting process?

    Amy: Usually, one of us thinks of a song and takes it to the other and we both write it… months, sometimes years, later.

    Cathy: Sometimes it just takes a few minutes.

    What do you think of hardcore ukulele people (like us)?

    Amy: We love them!

    Cathy: I get a little nervous playing for ‘ukulele people’ because they might notice I’m really not very good!

    Do you have any uke heroes?

    Amy: James Hill, Jake Shimabukuro and Cathy Guthrie. I just listened to the new recording of Jake Shimabukuro playing with my dad. It’s beautiful.

    Cathy: Oh, I want to hear that! [Ed: So do we!]

    You’ve been to Australia a few times. You must like it…

    Amy: We don’t like it. We love it!

    What’s been your most memorable gig so far?

    Amy: I used to have one, but now I can’t remember it.

    Cathy: It’s usually the last one we played.

    We love your latest album Starfucker, which features both Willie and Arlo. Do you have to twist your dads’ arms to play on your records or are they always up for it?

    Amy: Yes and yes.

    Cathy: They’ve been happy to play on our records… so far.

    Have you encountered many starfuckers on your musical journey so far?

    Amy: Yes.

    Cathy: And yes.

    There are some super-cheesy pick-up lines on the track Sweet Talker. What’s the worst pick-up line you’ve ever heard?

    Amy: The worst one I’ve ever heard was, ‘I’ve decided I’m going to have sex with you tonight.’

    Cathy: One time, I was at a bar with my sister Annie and a guy walked up to her and said, ‘Do you wanna dance? I have a moustache.’ I still don’t know what that means, but I haven’t forgotten it.

    Another great song on the album is All I Want For Christmas. What do you want for Christmas?

    Amy: I want a re-do on the US presidential election.

    Cathy: Yeah! What Amy said. I’m glad she got to answer these first.

    FIVE FAVOURITES

    Colour
    Amy: Purple
    Cathy: Teal

    Animal
    Amy: Spider
    Cathy: Dog

    Food
    Amy: Chocolate
    Cathy: Mexican

    City
    Amy: Austin, San Diego, New York, Sydney, Melbourne, Amsterdam, Vancouver
    Cathy: All of Amy’s choices are great and I’d love to visit Paris sometime soon

    Word
    Amy: Love, compassion, fuck
    Cathy: Ukulele

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    This article originally appeared in Issue 11 of KAMUKE Ukulele Magazine, which is available in the Store