Interview: Ron Yuen of Summer, Part 1

searching the Internet for more information about Weekends on Malibu, the brilliant sophomore album by Summer, was like digging through hundreds of LPs without a sliver of hope you’ll find what you’re looking for. So I decided to go to the source, Ron Yuen, the guitarist and lead vocalist for Summer.

Aloha Got Soul is often the only online source for soulful Hawaiian music. That’s why searching the Internet for more information about Weekends on Malibu, the brilliant sophomore album by Summer, was like digging through hundreds of LPs without a sliver of hope you’ll find what you’re looking for.

So I decided to go to the source, Ron Yuen, the guitarist and lead vocalist for Summer. (Ron is also credited as Ronald Y. Summer in some cases).

Thank you Ron for taking the time to answer my questions.

P.S. Check out my post about the Summer Hana Hou reunion show.

Ron Yuen of Summer

Ron Yuen of Summer at the band’s reunion show in January, 2012 at Terry’s Place, Honolulu.

Aloha Got Soul: Summer recorded “Weekends on Malibu” at the Yamaha Music Camp in Japan in September 1978. What is the Yamaha Music Camp, and how did Summer become a part of the event?

Ron Yuen: Our management company at the time had entered into a new partnership with Trio Records of Tokyo and we were invited to be part of a three album project. They and had secured access to an exclusive recording studio on the grounds of an ocean side resort in Nemu No Sato which is where the Yamaha Music Camp was located.

(Note: Nemu No Sato is located in the Ise Shima National Park, famous for its scattered islands and bays through the area).

Nemu No Sato hotel

Nemu no Sato, the hotel where Summer stayed during the recording project, is located in a scenic region of Japan.

We all stayed in cabanas for a month and recorded the basic tracks for what would turn out to be Kalapana’s Northbound, Summer’s Weekends on Malibu and Michael Paulo’s (first solo jazz endeavor) Tat’s in the Rainbow albums. The basic tracks were then brought back to LA where the vocals and overdubs were recorded before being mixed.

Michael Paulo - Tats In The Rainbow

Michael Paulo – Tats In The Rainbow

Were the songs for Weekends on Malibu written during the camp? How did the camp foster a creative environment to help this album come into existence?

A few of the songs were “re-worked” ideas that we brought with us but I do think a couple were penned there as well. There were rehearsal rooms on the grounds of the camp were we would spend all day jamming and trying to come up with new ideas.

The resort offered acres of natural creative environments from a seaside lookout to a wooded area with wildlife like deer, foxes and peacocks that would roam certain areas of the resort. We’d spend part of the day enjoying the amenities of the resort and the rest working to fine tune our songs until it was our turn to use the studio.

The sessions were blocked off to allow each project equal time so we’d be in the studio a third of the day (or night). We also shared the recording engineer (Brian Bell) and some of the staff from the Music Camp on all three projects and for Kalapana and Summer, we shared the producer (Ira Newborn) as well.

Oh and I forgot to mention that we were also playing on each others albums as well. so it was a very “ohana” kind of event.

To me, the songs on Weekends on Malibu explore a wider range of styles than In Malibu. Both are outstanding albums, and I enjoy the diversity in each track with  Weekends on Malibu. What music and experiences influenced you at the time that you may not have had when you recorded the first Summer LP?

Prior to recording Summer in Malibu, we had never played with a drummer. We had to audition drummers to be able to perform it live. By the time we recorded Weekends On Malibu we had played with several drummers and had become much more accustomed to one. I know that what I heard in my head when writing songs for Weekends involved a larger musical pallet than our previous attempt.

We were also being exposed more to the business side of the music industry and were made more aware about what it takes to be successful in the business. We became more critical of our songwriting process and our musical abilities.

I think the music happening at the time definitely influenced our song writing as well. This was the summer of 1978, a year after a wave of hits from Saturday Night Fever soundtrack along with movies like Car Wash and the beginnings of disco. I remember Donna Summer and Bee Gee’s billboards lining the freeways of LA. Billy Joel and Stevie Wonder were hot as were ABBA, Thelma Houston, 10 CC, Eagles and Fleetwood Mac. I definitely know this influenced my songwriting!

Because the album was a Japan-only release, do a lot of Summer fans know about Weekends on Malibu? Has there ever been an effort to release Weekends in the USA?

There aren’t a lot of people who know about this album mostly due to the fact that it was only available in the US as a Japanese import (album format only) and as far as I know, only sold at Shirokiya’s after it was released in 1979.

However, like a lot of other older recordings that were available only in an album or cassette format at that time, you can now buy Weekends On Malibu via the internet in CD format. (Because it is coming from Japan, expect to pay the price of an import).

Summer at the Ala Moana Center Stage, 1997. (Photo: Bradley Choi)

Summer at the Ala Moana Center Stage, 1997. (Photo: Bradley Choi)

Why the Malibu theme?

All I can think of is because the Japanese simply loved Malibu and would often come for extended visits with us. By now both Summer and Kalapana were living full time at the Malibu house.

What was it like to work with producer Ira Newborn? You mentioned he produced the Blues Brothers movie soundtrack.

The guys was (and has continues to be) a monster. Try and Google his name and you’ll see what an impressive career he’s had! We knew that he was a had just worked with the Manhattan Transfer as their musical director as they made their debut. He was an outstanding guitar player and played on a lot of the tracks for Weekends.

Ira had a certain disciplined style of producing that we had not experienced before. He advised us to be critical and to focus our thoughts and feelings into coherent lyrics that made sense and added merit to the song. If he didn’t think a particular line of lyric made sense, it’d get thrown out and we’d brain storm or work on the lyric at night and be ready with something else the next day.

He encouraged us and has made us better songwriters.

My favorite track on the album is “I’ve Been There Too”, I love it! What’s the story behind this song?

While selecting songs for the album, we were encouraged to be open to songs written by other songwriters and selected this song written by Michael Stevens after auditioning about a dozen demos that were submitted to us. The demo was actually presented to us as a rock song and got “mellowed out” by our producer. It was my first attempt at playing a slide guitar solo.

Summer in the 1990s in Hawaii

Summer at the Aloha State Games, mid-1990s. Ron Yuen, middle; Tim Hurley, far right. (Photo: Bradley Choi)

Check out my review of Weekends on Malibu here.

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