I got the opportunity to sit down and chat with Kenny Lewis over at the Wonderland Ballroom’s lovely patio before he stepped onto the stage to play drums for the Harikaraoke Live Band Gong Show! We somehow started talking about Twitter before we got to the interview. We both shared the fact that we do not have accounts; however, after our discussion I’m sure that his band will have one, because they are so awesome! I may activate an account so that I can follow where these guys are playing.
Three years prior to our conversation, Kenny was in New York city searching for a club that had live band karaoke going on one night. “It was on the lower east side on a Monday night and I saw this one that tended to be more rock and roll with two guitars and heavier stuff. The place was packed and the sign up sheet was full before it started.” He came back to D.C. and found that nobody else was doing it here, so he met with his bass player Steve Sachse and told him “We’ve gotta do it. We got together, he made margaritas and we sat around trying to come up with a name and went back and forth and then all of a sudden he spewed it out ‘Harikaraoke!’” *
Notice that the word “gong” was not part of the group name…yet. As fortune would have it a symphony gong was resting in a buddhist alter in Kenny’s attic. “I always wanted a gong and a couple years ago I bought it. Somewhere along the line I thought about using it to get my money’s worth rather than keeping it at my house.” He decided to make it a part of the show and wanted to keep the premise of the former seventies show “The Gong Show” alive. “I don’t find it’s a copy I just think that it’s appropriate to keep it going and it works with the name.” People get the gong whenever the audience starts motioning a one handed chop. The band instructs the audience to do a two armed chop motion that means “Rock on!” When Kenny hits the golden metal and it takes over the entire show. It drowns out all sound and is incredible, but it also means that you sucked. However, the band has taken precautions to ensure that getting gonged is a good thing. “We give them a prize now, so people don’t feel as bad. We try to be careful. I don’t want to make them cry. I bought some Japanese gifts.”
Kenny and Steve teaching the crowd to signal the gong.
Their first gig was playing at The Wonderland Ballroom’s Sundress festival in May of 2010 and Kenny told me about the most memorable singer that has ever graced their stage. “We had this one woman came in, did her thing, and disappeared and I’ve never seen her again and I wish I could see her again. She was out of hand. She rolled on the floor. She was saying crazy foul stuff that was funny and her timing was perfect. I want to say her name is Rebecca and we would love to find her again, because she was just such a star. Steve told her ‘I think you need to learn how to break out of your shell’ The people were going nuts. Then she left like it was nothing. It was beautiful.”
Click on this link to see where you can catch the Harikaraoke Band Live Gong Show! happening in your neck of the DMV. I highly recommend checking out the show if you ever want to rock out of your everyday routine . It’s a blast to watch people get into it and if you love to sing then it’s a great experience to sing with a live band. There are wigs, hats, and costumes for people to dress up with before stepping into the spotlight, which Kenny has had to start repurchasing, because people tend to take their stuff. “People steal man. Especially hats. It just cracks me up. It doesn’t put a damper on anything. I’ve been writing ‘I stole this’ on the back of the nicer hats.” When you step on stage you will have Dave Ylvisaker on the keys behind you. Steve Sachse will be beside you on the bass and he also helps guide you through the song if you get lost. I know from experience. Then you will have Robert Sullivan or John Lee on the guitar to your stage right. Kenny will be behind you with the gong and playing the drums. They have around 250 songs to choose from that range from Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” to the ever legendary Journey song “Don’t stop believing.” “We have two notebooks full of songs and we keep growing.” When the song is done you get a temporary tattoo with their signature character committing harikari with a mic stand. The tattoo may only last about three weeks, but satisfaction that you sang in a rock and roll band lasts forever.
*Committing “Harikari,” or Seppuku was a samurai way of killing yourself by slicing your abdomen with a sword. Warriors were encouraged to do it to prevent enemy capture, or as a way for disgraced warriors to regain honor.
**I got gonged before. I tried to sing “Like a Prayer” and got lost in the words. They gave me a Japanese dolphin eraser. However, I did not get the gong when I sang later the night I did this interview. I sang “You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling.” A guy came up to me after it was over and said “We didn’t think that you were going to be able to pull off the song, but you did.” I felt like a rock star. Now I think I’m good enough to go solo.