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Interview with Jim 'Kimo' West
What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
My older brother Allan played a bit of acoustic guitar, mostly folk music. Around the age of twelve, I got interested in pop music and found his guitar in the closet. It only had three strings on it but he saw I was interested so he went out and got some new strings, a chord book and a capo. That was pretty much it- I played constantly and learned all I could from books and watching guitarists on TV.
I had been into painting and drawing since I was seven or eight and entered college at sixteen to study visual arts. If it wasn’t for music I might still be in that area of interest but music won! I played my first electric guitar gig with a band that same year and never looked back.
What do you like to do when you are not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
I have a love for nature and gardening, growing things and hiking in beautiful places. I have a long relationship with Hawaii, having first visited in 1985. I lived in the remote village of Hana, Maui which is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever known.
How long have you been making music?
Well, it’s been about five or six decades now-it never gets old although I certainly do lol!
Where are you based out of and how did that influence your music?
I’m based in Los Angeles. It’s a huge multi-ethnic city with every kind of music imaginable. The caliber of artists here is very high and that always inspires me. This city gives me the freedom to write and produce anything that I like, knowing that there are fantastic musicians, orchestrators, engineers, graphic artists and studios always within reach.
Tell me about your most memorable shows, if you haven’t played live what is your vision for a live show?
I’ve been Weird Al’s guitarist for many years and we have played everywhere. In 2019 we did a huge tour with a full orchestra and backup singers. Playing a sold-out Red Rocks with the Colorado Symphony was pretty cool. And hearing them play one of my orchestral arrangements was a bonus! W also played Carnegie Hall last year on our “stripped down” tour.
What is your favorite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you have not already?
For my solo shows, I have always loved playing the Southern California Slack Key Festival. I’ve played it pretty much every year since 2003. Performing solo in front of 1500 people sounds daunting but it is very rewarding to have an audience that is behind you and hanging on every note. I also have played for many years at George Kahumoku Jr.’s Slack Key Show in Napili, Maui. Folks come to this 200 seat venue specifically to hear slack key and there is always lots of aloha in the room!
If you could play any show with any lineup, who would be on the ticket?
Besides my solo CD’s I have my “Guitar Stories” series, one of which won a Grammy in 2021. These albums feature a lot of great musicians in an ensemble format. I’ve considered doing this material on a tour with a quartet. Ideally I’d love to have Michael Manring or Jimmy Johnson on fretless bass, MB Gordy on percussion and maybe Charlie Bisharat on violin. They are amazing and all of them are on my new release “Of Wood and Spirit” .
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into making music and some advice that you would give to your younger self?
My advice is always to spread out your experience and learn about all aspects of music and the music business. You never know what opportunities will present themselves and if you are casting a wider net, you have a better chance of getting connected to people who can help you in your primary pursuit.
I’d also recommend playing with as many different people and bands as you can. I’m self taught but I learned a lot from all my band mates over the years.
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
I would say “My Hawaiian Heart” from my second CD, “Slack Key West”. It’s a song that pretty much wrote itself in five minutes. I had tears of gratitude in my eyes upon completing the song and it always reminds me that inspiration is divine.
Which songs are your favorite to play and which get requested the most?
I get a lot of requests for “Kohala No” which is pretty big on Spotify. I think it’s got almost 8 million spins now. Lately Ive really like playing “When Water Dreams” from my new album and ‘Wahine O Moku” which was a single release from a couple years ago.
What is your creative process, and what inspires you to write your music?
I get a lot of inspiration from trying new guitar tunings In fact, many of my records start with a few compositions using a newly discovered tuning. Every tuning has its own unique possibilities, its own special resonance. All your previous chord shape knowledge is useless so you follow your ear instead of your muscle memory!
Do you have messages that you like to get across in your music, if so please tell me about them?
My music is all about creating a vibe that brings people peace and aloha. I liken it to a big musical hug! But I also embrace the spirit of discovery and maybe even transcendence.
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that is coming up?
I’ll be starting a tour on October 13 in Europe. It’s European version of the International Guitar Night Tour which I’ve done twice before. It’s called Nacht der Gitarren and will feature gypsy/latin swing master Lulu Reinhardt from Germany, classical guitar virtuoso Thu Le from Vietnam, modern fingerstyle player Josephine Alexander from Indonesia and myself on Hawaiian slack key guitar
How can your fans best keep up to date with you, any socials you want people to check out?
My website is www.jimkimowest.com and my YouTube has some cool videos from the new album: