Oct. 20 2010 10:55 AM

Heavy Hawaii’s Matt Barajas may write songs about being a slacker, but he isn’t one

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Matt Barajas (left) is taking it easy—but not that easy.

A few years ago, Matt Barajas played guitar in a local band called Fantastic Magic. His friend Sundar Whalen, fresh out of a Hare Krishna temple, played an array of Indian instruments. His other friend, Nathan Williams, played mandolin. They built a steady following over two years, but the band fizzled.

“Me and Sundar got these really hot girlfriends,” Barajas explains. “And we just didn’t want to go to practice. We were just being lazy and dumb.”

Williams, on the other hand, started a project called Wavves and rode a buzz tsunami to national stardom.

Now, Barajas fronts a new band called Heavy Hawaii, and he’s determined not to screw it up. So far, so good. They were nominated this year for Best New Artist in the San Diego Music Awards. They’ve garnered a considerable amount of blog attention, including a positive review from Altered Zones, Pitchfork’s sister website. And, Barajas says, they’ve piqued the interest of trendy DIY labels like Mirror Universe, which has released cassettes of hot lo-fi acts like Washed Out and Toro y Moi.

Barajas, 26, has a distinctive hairdo (close-cropped on the sides, big and messy on top), a collection of colorful baseball caps and the simplest motivations: “It’s all about having fun.”

Heavy Hawaii’s debut EP, HH, evokes youthful ennui and dank buds. The singsong melodies on tracks like “Teen Angel” and “Better” linger in your mind in the way a pothead stays glued to a TV. When Barajas recorded the tracks, he used pitch-shifting effects to make his Danelectro guitar, Casio keyboards and vocals delightfully high. “Got this teenage problem / how old am I?” he sings in “Sleeping Bag,” his warped voice sounding like a stoned teenager’s.

Like Wavves and Best Coast, Heavy Hawaii’s EP portrays a stereotypical California of sunny beaches and good vibes. In this fantasy California, you’re free to forget about downer topics like the state’s 12-percent unemployment rate.

“I feel like people in the U.K. enjoy southern California bands more than southern Californians enjoy them,” he tells me as we sit outside Gelato Vero, the Mission Hills coffeehouse, one breezy Thursday afternoon. “They love that idea of sunny, dreamy—‘California Dreamin’.’”

When Heavy Hawaii go on stage, the California dream turns into a nightmare. With the help of members of postpunks Nude Boy and keyboardist Aimee Sanchez of Black Mamba, Barajas infuses his sunny psych-pop with a freakish No Wave vibe. When they performed at Soda Bar recently, I could barely make out the melody of “Beacons”—the chillest track on HH, replete with the sound of soothing waves— thanks to a pummeling torrent of discordant guitar sludge. If the recording brings to mind an Ocean Beach hideaway, the live version conjured a Gulf Coast shore choked with crude oil.

The contradiction hits on what Heavy Hawaii represents: It’s not all fun and games—but it’s not all serious, either. Barajas’ lyrics cover making mistakes and learning lessons, “but just taking it easy at the same time.”

And, as you might expect from any young Californian, he sings about women.

“Right now, the drama in my life with this girl I was dating is just out of control,” he says. “And it’s funny, because [in] some of these lyrics, I’m talking about the woman I was with, but also about women I’ve been with before. But now more than ever, this record comes out and I’m going through this new drama, and it’s so relevant. When I play these songs, now they even mean something else.”

What, exactly? “I’m 26 years old, and I work at Starlite Lounge, at the bar, and I’m still acting like I don’t have any responsibilities, you know?” he says. “And a lot of me and this girl’s drama, of course, has been, like, you know, What the fuck are you gonna do with your life? and shit like that. I’m just like, I don’t know.”

It’s the overarching theme of so many young lives. But Heavy Hawaii is what Barajas is doing with his life. This month, they’re heading to New York City to perform at the CMJ Music Marathon. They’re going to make a music video for “Better.” They’re working on a full-length LP.

“You gotta work every day,” he says. “Just anything, something little, every day.”

He’s anxious to build momentum. After all, he learned his lesson.

“There’s a new song on the new record that’s about basically just dropping the ball,” he says, “because you just want to get some pussy.”

Heavy Hawaii will celebrate the release of their debut EP with Colleen Green and Raw Moans at Til-Two Club on Thursday, Oct. 28. myspace.com/heavyhawaii

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