Lars Mullen has spoken to Sarah Maisel and Craig Chee about the global pandemic, the struggles of many working musicians and how they are helping ukulele players around world during this difficult time.
We're now going to nip over to the other
side of the USA the West Coast of California, sunny
California, San Diego to be precise and we're going to welcome Sarah Maisel
Aloha! 'Well Sarah, you got your hands full there.'
I sure do. Our son Cameron was born in January of this year (2020)
it's been really amazing watching him grow and seeing how fast he's grown.
He's already seven months old and is a wonderful happy sweet boy.
Fantastic, now I wasn't quite sure I said San Diego because I hear you're moving
back to Hawaii is that correct?
Sarah: That is correct, we're going to be moving back to Hawaii, it'll be wonderful to have Cameron surrounded by family, especially because that's where Craig grew up.
Lars: I was just about to say that and also arguably the birthplace of the ukulele.'
Craig: That's true, that is very, very true we're very, very excited to be surrounded and inspired by being back at home as well.
Lars: In the music media you have been hailed as two of the finest ukulele players in the world. Sarah, you've been called the Queen of Jazz for your adaptations between taking them down to the four strings. It can't be easy.
And Craig for your more 'up-to-date adaptations as well.
Craig: Well, I love that that that's how we kind of started and when we had our own separate careers that's definitely kind of where that line was.
Everything we've done in the past, Ithink five years, of
really working together has completely changed our sound and what we do
together and it's been so incredible just to kind of witness
that and to be a part of that change.
Sarah: Yeah it's been amazing to be able to blend those two styles together as well so that we actually have been writing and creating arrangements
that utilize different techniques from sort of both genres and it's been a
whole lot of fun.
Lars: It's funny because it's probably the same over there but in the UK every village, every town, in every city they've all got a ukulele orchestra. You can walk around the villages at night and there's a little village hall and they're strumming away Jimi Hendrix, Sex Pistols, Classical Music, I mean for 130 odd years
it's still going. Why do you think it survived all the trends of punk and
rock and blues?
Sarah: I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that it's one of the least intimidating instruments that you'll ever find and so because of that people are very excited about learning it. It's easy to pick up and just be able to play, you know three chords and all of a sudden you can start playing a ton of songs,
so people that were always scared about learning music can learn very quickly and easily and I think that's a lot of why the instrument has stayed so popular and also it's a social thing. All of the gatherings and things that people do with the instrument I know for myself, it gave me a whole new circle of friends when I started playing. I think that's another reason why it sort of stood the test of time.
Craig: It doesn't matter your age, doesn't matter what genre of music
you like, you can do everything on it.
Lars: That's very true I don't think I've ever seen an unhappy ukulele player. Just go back, back, back, back. Was the ukulele the first instrument that you both decided to learn, it must have had some sort of backing before that maybe
classical training because you're very, very good.
Sarah: It is not my first instrument my first instrument was actually classical violin. I picked up the uke in my 20s when I discovered a group of people
playing ukulele and playing Hawaiian music, it was the first time I'd ever seen Hula and for me it just, you know I was surrounded by happy positive people and the instrument radiates positivity and so I was hooked instantly.
Craig: And although I started with piano and cello I actually learned way more about music and music theory with the ukulele than I ever did. There's something
about that classical training versus something like the ukulele because
with piano and cello I felt like I was really just following notes on a piece of paper compared to being incredibly creative and playing kind of on the fly.
Lars: On the fly... it because I mean ukulele spanish was it dancing flea, dancing fly?
Craig: It was jumping fleas, lele is jumping and uku are fleas. So when it came over from Portugal the Hawaiians said that their fingers looked like dancing or jumping fleas. That's where the name of the ukulele came about.
Lars: I'm you cleared that. Just say ukulele again for me.
Lars: How you first met, I think it's brilliant , that you know you've made a career
out of playing the ukulele but I think you told me a while ago that you
you met after you were both on the same bill? Same gigs? You got to know each other?
Sarah: That is correct. Well yeah, actually yes and no. So, we actually met through a friend of ours who is a luthier and that person was actually making
instruments, making one for Craig and making one for myself and he got us in touch because I was actually looking for a specific low g string and Craig actually had access to an unwound one and he sent me one and then we met at the NAMM show and then started appearing on the same bills and then the next thing we know, we end up together, married and have little Cameron now.
Lars: Fantastic, fantastic so when his fingers' are big enough you'll be on to four strings.
I mean you mentioned the NAMM Show, we gotta mention lockdown haven't we, all the shows have been cancelled, a lot of bands are being proactive and
artists like yourself or it's been a complete nightmare. How has it been for
Craig: So to be honest, we've been very, very fortunate during this time mainly because for the last two years we couldn't have asked for better
planning. You know, we said okay if we take some time off, we can
try to get pregnant and then the next year we'll take some time off
and help raise the kid and we had our online school with
Artists Works to kind of help supplement everything.
Once we realized how many people just saw their whole
year vanish we're drinking coffee and tea in the morning and we turned to each other and we said we have to do something to help because not everyone is in that same place and or as fortunate as us so we sank in about 200 plus hours on the first, we call them Mini Fest but we hosted over 20 ukulele artists.
We hosted, I think it was a seven and a half hour livestream.
So we ended up doing two Mini Fests each with over 20 artists. I think the second one is over nine hours long. It was supposed to be shorter but and
then we hosted a smaller event featuring some of Hawaii's best ukulele artists as well so that was its own separate thing which was another like six, seven hours or so.
Sarah: And all of these were fundraisers. We wanted to make sure that we were able to help as much as we could. All of our friends that we knew were in need because all of the gigs everything was gone and we were really, really, really
happy that we were able to help all of the friends that we brought to join us for those live streams.
Craig: I think we have almost now 30 000 people watch that first Mini Fest which was amazing for a tiny little instrument and to see those kind of numbers and to draw people in for the first time. A lot of people said that it was the first ukulele event that they've ever really done and they can't wait to actually seek out some of the physical festivals that are around them when
everything gets safe and open again.
Lars: Fantastic, I've said many, many, many times it's' all the power of music. All these events you've just talked about, can we see any of these online?
Craig: Yes, if you go to our YouTube Channel YouTube.com/CraigAndSarah
you can actually see all of the live streams that we've been doing for the past five or six months now.
Lars: And of course acoustic guitars for many years outsold electric guitars, high up on the list have been ukuleles a vulnerable instrument whatever make it is, I mean you play some very high-end exotic tone-wood models, so you've really got to protect them and obviously the Fusion Gig Bags are paramount for protection whilst traveling.
Sarah: Well, I love our bags so much, I'm still amazed at all of the the places that they fit so beautifully. All of the overhead bins we've always been asked, how do they travel? They're perfect, even the smallest overhead bins we've been able to stash our instruments without a worry and I second what Craig was saying
about they're just so comfortable and you know we've worn them all day. And we know our backs are fine the next day, unlike if we had a hard case so it's really nice to have something that's light and durable that we know protects the instruments very well.
Lars: Fantastic and long may you travel and let's see you back in the UK soon.
Craig: That sounds wonderful, thank you so much for having us.
Sarah: Thank you so much.
Lars: Thank you Craig, thank you Sarah and thank you Cameron. See you in the UK with your own ukulele when you're a little bit bigger.
About Lars Mullen
With over 30 years in the music business, Lars Mullen does indeed wear many hats, as a writer, journalist, photographer, press person for his own company Music Media Announcements. As an extensive traveller, he's a familiar figure reporting from music trade shows around the world. Spending many years touring as a professional guitarist, Lars has also interviewed a host of top bands and artists, continues to write articles for magazines globally and still finds time to track down Fusion artists for our Artist Spotlight column and Fusion Virtual World Tour Interview Series.