Heavy Hawaii was formed in 2009 by guitarist Matt Bahamas (née Barajas), who formerly played in Fantastic Magic with Indian instrumentalist Sundar Whalen and future Wavves frontman Nathan Williams (who played mandolin). The lineup has also included keyboardist Aimee Sanchez (Black Mamba), Mikey Peterson (Jungle Fever, the Natives), and Derek Butler (the Atoms/Watusis).
A Valhalla High grad and college dropout, Bahamas cites “babes” as a major inspiration: “Here in San Diego, they’re wearing low-cut shirts and short skirts...turning heads. The chase is the most fun, and writing music about the chase is fun. The band was going to call our new album ‘Shoulders’ — tanned shoulders are everywhere. We decided on a different name, mainly because the album’s a bit darker.”
Heavy Hawaii’s first song release, “Sleeping Bag,” appeared on the Bathetic Records compilation Summer Bummer (Get Laid, Get Wasted). Their song “Teen Angel” was the first single off their debut EP HH, released on Art Fag Records in late September 2010, the same year they were nominated Best New Artist at the San Diego Music Awards.
In early 2011, they embarked on a tour with popular groove songsmiths Dom. “Derek made out with Blaque Chris. Aimee slept on the sidewalk in the rain one night. Jojo [Keylargo] got to eat White Castle, which tasted like dog caca. Mikey bought a Wiggles guitar. I upgraded from the shittiest, most child-molester van to a not-that-shitty van.”
Around the same time, Barajas began creating a planned 12-issue comic book series with Wavves frontman Nathan Williams called Negative Dad.
“Nate and I made a comic strip when we were in Fantastic Magic. Negative Dad is the first legit comic book. We have a great artist, Nicholas Gazin, bringing our ideas together. We plan on releasing 12 issues. It’s sci-fi, drama — lots of twists and weird shit: aliens, drugs, mind control. Kids getting in trouble and dealing with robots, mad scientists, and intergalactic wars. The comics will come with music, too — tapes or 45s. Nate and I will be recording music as fictional bands that exist in the ‘Neg. Dad’ universe. Maybe have some other bands do stuff...We’ll probably have a preview by the end of summer.”
How does making a comic compare with making music?
“This is the first time I’ve sat down and written a book, panel for panel. People don’t understand how much time it takes to write out every angle and layout. Like music, Nate and I brainstormed and tossed ideas back and forth. You keep working till everything fits just right. But you get instant satisfaction from writing a sweet melody. And performing for big crowds is a rush.”
They toured in August 2011. Around the same time, Aimee Sanchez (who also plays in Black Mamba) co-founded a new band with Derek Butler called Divers, featuring keyboard, bass, and processed drums.
They played a release party for their three-song vinyl 7-inch “Superbowl XXIX” (limited to 500 copies)at M-Theory Music on Washington Street on January 28, 2012. A video for the song was released by Art Fag Recordings in March, directed by Bahamas, Samuel Bengtsson, and E.J. Binns.
Art Fag was also the label behind their April 2013 release Goosebumps, featuring the band's revised lineup as a duo featuring only Matt Bahamas and Jojo Keylargo and previewed with free downloads of their songs “Airborne Kawasaki” and “Washing Machine.”
Goosebumps was released in both CD and vinyl versions. “Music alone is a tough market, and vinyl is a really tough market,” says Bahamas. “We released music, cassette only, and those sold, but unless you’re Sonic Youth and releasing a vinyl box set on Record Store Day, it’s a big gamble.”
The cover photograph shows someone walking a Razor scooter through a park, wearing a Scream mask, and swinging an spewing fire extinguisher. “The cover was very much inspired by Mexican culture,” says Bahamas. “You’ll see kids still wearing old Freddie Krueger masks and shit, as if those movies were released this past year.” To promote the album, the group shot a video in January (“right off of the 94”) that emulates the cover photo.
“It’s funny, those fire extinguishers we let off caused a bit of panic. That stuff doesn’t just quickly dissolve; it floats around in the sky for while. I think the locals thought there was a fire where we were filming and, next thing you know, there’s fire engines and helicopters scoping the area.... We didn’t realize the choppers and trucks were there because we were so focused on getting the filming done before dark. Once we realized what we had caused, we got a little freaked and left. I’m not sure if we were on private property or if we would be fined for having these trucks come out.”
In August 2021, the band's video for "Boy Don’t Drown" took home a San Diego Music Award for Best Video.