Interview: Ragamuffs is bringing the sunshine to you
Did any band at SXSW have more fun at the fest than Ragamuffs?
During their set at Las Perlas, Ragamuffs bandleader Haley Finesse and her band ran through a quick set of hits off of Ragamuffs’ excellent sunshine indie-pop album Achy Luminesence, as well as a few follow-up singles that have been released since then. And man, were they having a blast.
There was an overpowering sense of camaraderie up there on stage between Finesse and her four other touring bandmembers – Ryan Miyashiro (lead guitar), Tony Burruso (bass), Locke Nishihara (drums), and Analiese Esopenko (guest vocals and synth). Throughout the performance, they exchanged numerous sly smiles and knowing looks between one another, giving us the impression that they loved being up on that stage. This was a special occasion. After a few months of playing fundraiser shows and slinging merch back home in Honolulu, they were finally here… they had made it.
After the performance, I was able to catch up with Ragamuffs in the Las Perlas patio, where I was able to ask them about SXSW festival experiences, their journey getting to Austin, and what it’s like being an indie pop band in Hawaiʻi.
Is this your first time at SX, and what has your experience been like so far?
Haley: This is our first time at SX! We just got here, so we didn’t really get to experience all the activities. We’ve just focused on the show so far. It’s crazy. We ran into some idols of ours, like Japanese Breakfast. There’s a lot happening. Every act that I’ve seen so far that plays music… they’re so solid. It’s been amazing to be on that lineup with them.
Ryan: This is my second time performing here, and I love it. The energy, and it’s such a global festival, seeing bands from all over the world singing in their native languages and all just congregating for the same thing — the love of music.
What was the process like getting the band to SX? I know y’all have hosted a few fundraisers, sold some merch… What was it like meeting that goal and seeing all the support from your fans to bring you to Austin?
Haley: Personally, I think it’s been a journey for me. Before, fully committing and trying to plan this, I was job hunting. And then all of these things came up, and a long to-do list came up. I just knew I wanted to do SX, and we’ve been waiting since 2020, and I wanted to be covered financially. So my mind was on: How am I gonna raise enough money to bring a five-piece band all the way out here? It’s been a lot of logistics and I was selling t-shirts, literally out of my car trunk at Chinatown in Hawaiʻi. I don’t know, I was drunk one day and was like, “Hey, do you wanna buy a shirt?” But a lot of that, raising money, GoFundMe, and then a big fundraiser show that we had a couple days ago… it was kind of stressful. They don’t pay for anything — they don’t pay artists, they don’t fund anything, but it’s a cool opportunity, so I wanted to make it happen.
We surpassed [our goal], and I was just super stoked. Just really thankful that people are supporting, cause it’s been a long journey. I feel like momentum picked up before the pandemic, and then a lot of things shut down. I wasn’t sure if we were still maintaining attention from people. So to see all of that monetary support, it was awesome. Helped a lot.
Ryan: I was surprised, because you know, Asian families tend to be large, so we were like, “It’s probably gonna be mostly family.” But surprisingly, there were so many donors that none of us knew or were acquainted with. It’s incredibly humbling to see that kind of support and feel that love from people who we haven’t met in person.
Haley: I think being from Hawaiʻi too… Hawaiʻi people go hard when someone is representing something out of the state. It’s been super supportive from the local music scene and local community in general.
I heard through your interview with Hawaiʻi Public Radio that you guys were the only Hawaiʻian band represented at SX this year. What do you think about that statistic?
Haley: I think, initially starting Ragamuffs, I knew indie rock was a very popular genre, specifically, in Hawaiʻi. But I love that genre personally, and I kind of had that personal goal — I don’t know — make, like, an indie movement in Hawaiʻi. So to see that we got this far as an indie rock Hawaiʻi artist, it means a lot. Growing up, I didn’t see a lot of musicians in Hawaiʻi that played other than island music. I think it’s cool that people are really receptive to the whole thing.
Ryan: There’s a bit of a pressure, because we’re not traditional Hawaiʻian music, and maybe when people think of Hawaiʻi, they don’t necessarily think of any genre outside of island music. So on one hand, we want to make our state proud, we want to make sure we represent the state. But we also want to be able to show the world that there are other types of music coming out of Hawaiʻi. We can’t represent all of that, it’s like right now, tell you that it exists, and it’s very much worth seeking out. So many talented musicians and artists out there doing wonderful, creative things. Many we’re lucky enough to call our friends.
Haley: It’s funny, because everyone in this band have other bands. So it’s like, there’s so much talent within Hawaiʻi of all genres, not just what we typically hear.
Haley: Ryan’s been in a shit-ton of bands, so…
I think that growing up stateside, I had a hard time seeing myself represented in the media that I consumed. Since Hawaii is demographically very different than the Continental U.S., I was curious if that was also the case for y’all growing up.
Analiese: I feel like for me — I’m Okinawan — I’ve grew up around a lot of Asian music, anyways. I felt like — I don’t know, maybe it’s just me — but my Okinawan family, whenever we have parties, we’d end up listening to traditional Japanese music and stuff. I feel like because a lot of the island is Asian, we’re pretty well-represented.
Ryan: Hawaiʻi’s also another unique state in that Asians represent an ethnic majority. Growing up Asian, I didn’t really feel that sense of otherness that other Asian Americans experience in other states… until I moved away. I never felt a sense of Asian American pride, because we’re just here.
Haley: I feel like as a band, I don’t know, doing music on a serious level… I feel like indie is a really cool genre, at least a lot of bands that I like now, like Japanese Breakfast, Mitski, No Vacation, there’s so much Asian representation which makes it extra special to me. Even as myself, that’s why it took me a while to even accept if I wanted to pursue a creative career, because I don’t see a lot. Until one day, I was like, why can’t we be the ones to be that role model? Why do we have to wait for a role model to be there? We should just start now, and go for it. There wasn’t a lot, I would say.
Ryan: Since Hawaiʻi’s such a small scene, just finding anyone who likes the same music as you was just so exciting in itself, that no matter where they were from, it was like, “I’m so excited to finally meet you!”
As a kid growing up, listening to popular bands from the mainland outside of Hawaiʻi, representation was huge. I remember looking up to James Iha from the Smashing Pumpkins, or Mike Park from Skankin’ Pickle. Small indie bands like Korea Girl or Bic Runga. Whenever there was an Asian artist, whether they were from America or Canada or wherever, we’d listen to Jpop and Kpop and being so stoked to see people who looked like me on TV.
Haley: I’m Filipino American… I don’t know, Filipinos go crazy for other Filipinos!
For SXSW, who are you excited to see?
Haley: Japanese Breakfast! And when we arrived here, we literally were standing right next to her. And we were like, “Okay, we can go home now,” because we saw Japanese Breakfast and we got a photo with her right off the plane.
Ginger Root was supposed to be here, I was stoked for that. Mini Trees is another!
Tony: Elephant Gym, and Japanese Breakfast.
Ryan: Elephant Gym! They are doing an online thing. Shonen Knife is doing an online thing. There’s a Korean showcase where ADOY, sogummm, Woo, SURL… all these great Korean acts, I’m gonna try to catch the whole entire thing.
Analiese: Delta Spirit, baby!
This interview was conducted by Li-Wei Chu, in-person at SXSW 2022 in Austin, Texas.
Press photo taken by Kristi-Ann Say.
Li-Wei Chu is the chief editor of From the Intercom. When he’s not editing drafts and searching for new artists to cover for the website, he loves watching cult films, cooking, and listening to his ever-growing collection of vinyl records. You can follow him on LetterBoxd and make fun of his taste in movies here!