By Jordan Yeager
VANCOUVER – Blue Hawaii specializes in love lost. With song titles like “No One Like You,” “Do You Need Me,” “Searching For You” and “Free At Last,” their second studio album, Tenderness, has a very pointed message. The nostalgia-soaked, synth-heavy record chronicles unrequited love and the changing landscape of emotional intimacy in an increasingly impersonal, technological world. But this isn’t their first time navigating emotionally fraught waters. In fact, a lot has changed in the four years since Raphaelle “Ra” Standell-Preston and Alex “Agor” Cowan last released an album as Blue Hawaii.
“Our last record is called Untogether, and it’s kind of about our breakup,” Cowan says. “The breakup happened around when we were finishing the record and touring it, and it was a very emotional experience. And after that, we just didn’t really hang out for a few years. But now we’re really close! We hang out constantly. I feel like having that time off is really important, and now we’re just super strong platonic friends, and that’s really great.”
Those in-between spaces of uncertainty in relationships seem to be a driving force behind Blue Hawaii’s creative process. Tenderness was born out of the blue, when Standell-Preston was “experiencing a relationship she wanted to be a part of, but never saw the person because they lived so far away, so the whole relationship took place over instant messaging.” It’s not a new observation, but it’s certainly relatable: technology has brought everyone in the world closer, while simultaneously leeching relationships of their intimacy. And by prioritizing and nurturing online relationships, the reverse becomes true: when you’re constantly accessible via text, are you ever truly experiencing the present moment?
“A lot of the themes on the record are this feeling of how you can be so close with somebody because you chat with them a lot – they’re constantly in your life, in a way,” said Cowan. “But it’s about the boundary between that and a real-life relationship. It colours it a bit differently. Tenderness is about being kinder to people, especially in an online sense, and how to know when you are being honest and open and when you’re quickly brushing things off, and just being held accountable.”
Despite having not worked with Standell-Preston in four years, Cowan disagrees with critics who say their sound has changed to become more accessible to a mainstream audience. Rather than striving towards a specific sound, Blue Hawaii has expanded upon what they already know and love: ‘90s dance music, acoustic guitar, experimental beats and heartfelt vocals.
“We’ve always made electro pop – that’s the kind of project we are,” said Cowan. “It’s funny because people will find a reason to hate on it. This time, they’re like, ‘They’re selling out and making Calvin Harris-style electro pop!’ But to me, it’s not that mainstream sounding. And I’m not even super confident this is a new direction, really. To me, it sounds like a logical progression in things. I’m just excited for our live set. We’ve always been this project where the recordings are a little awkward, and then live we just throw down a heavy beat and want everyone to dance.”
Blue Hawaii perform on October 14 at Celebrities. 5 per cent of the album’s proceeds will be donated to the Centre for Gender Advocacy in Montreal.