One afternoon, late last summer, I found myself walking down a dead end street, two blocks off the famous Waikiki beach in Hawaii, looking for the address where I was to meet the owner of a local studio for an interview. In a small condo I found Chazz Lyons with a collection of recording gear and digital drums set up in a spare room, along with his friendly parrot Koa. Chazz's unassuming Janisha Music has turned into a casual yet productive career, serving not only local songwriters and singers but also people traveling from the continental US and Japan. It's a nice perk when you have the fabulous beaches, weather and Mai Tais in between your recording sessions!
What's your niche?
A lot of people who are developing as singers will come in with backing tracks — karaoke accompaniment. When I hear some good ones — I help them — I'm a vocal coach, too. I help them with that and I really help them with staging. We'll start off in front of a mirror then we'll go to a rehearsal studio then we'll get a band (if they're that serious about it). And sometimes they develop enough songs where they want to start playing live and that's where I come in and stage and that kind of stuff. I average once or twice a year that someone actually hires me as a stage director and a drummer. I program the music. Simple people who have some talent — that's what I like to deal with. The ones that we can learn off each other and help build it where they appreciate it. I've had some singers come here from California and do demos here. I like them 'cause what they do is just stand by that mic and do their thing.
What kind of jobs have you been doing recently?
Well, most recently Contemporary Christian. They came in — good songwriters, good singers kind of on the no- energy side. So I've given it a bit of a boost with the rock side. They liked it — they just couldn't see it. We've done some good reggae, a lot of pop stuff, a few funk, R&B always, some hip-hop...
How did you start?
I started off being a musician 'cause I'm a rebel — I didn't want to do what my parents told me to do. I wanted to do music — I started as a drummer-singer. I just got tired of going over to friends' homes and watching the computer as they do all the stuff and it would take forever for them to finish my songs. It would take so long and then they'd say, "Oh, it's crashed," and I'd be, "What does 'crash' mean?" So I begged my wife to start me off and I'd teach myself. Basically I taught myself but you can only pick up so much from reading until you start doing it yourself. Have you visited my friend Joe Fisher [local engineer and Japan Air pilot!]? He's the one who's taught me a lot about the VS-880 and the VS- 1824. I've taken a crash course with him. He's actually taught me the stuff that makes things easier. Like at first I knew how to bounce tracks. He just made it simpler. He taught me how to make the machines talk [to each other] and what masters this and all that.
Are you making a living doing this?
Basically, it started off a hobby. I was a musician always but I didn't really think I could help a lot of people. But I make good side money. Sometimes I choose a project that's really good and pays well.
How do you find it working here with your wife living here too?
She's the coolest! She pulled me back into music. I was married before and that one didn't work out. The wife said, "It's us or music" and of course I quit music but I was so unhappy. Jan said, "Come on, you should get back into it [music]". I've just been waiting, like someday she'll say, "You're outta here," but no, she really inspires me — she's very supportive. She's seen me go in and out of bands, she's seen me travel with the band, she's seen me how I work with projects — how I work with people who need help. She's cool.
Do the neighbors ever complain?
I normally do the loud stuff in the day [when people are at work] and at night, do everything direct. That's why I keep the electronic drums.
I'm curious how a guy like you is finding a niche... especially the economy of Waikiki.
In the '70s rock was king — we had concerts in the crater [Diamond Head] and a lot of festivals. Eventually the army stopped it. Everywhere rock groups or groups from the mainland would play in...