Decarbonize: The Clean Energy Podcast

Earth Day Special Edition: Listening to "Otuhaka" with Eric Pasi

April 11, 2023 Fresh Energy Season 4 Episode 2
Earth Day Special Edition: Listening to "Otuhaka" with Eric Pasi
Decarbonize: The Clean Energy Podcast
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Decarbonize: The Clean Energy Podcast
Earth Day Special Edition: Listening to "Otuhaka" with Eric Pasi
Apr 11, 2023 Season 4 Episode 2
Fresh Energy

Fresh Energy is mixing it up for Earth Day with a podcast takeover by Palms Psalm, a music project created by Eric Pasi!

Tune in for a listening session of Palms Psalm's new release, "Otuhaka" with Fresh Energy's Jo Olson and Eric Pasi. "Otuhaka" is an album full of songs that weave surf rock with island vibes in a reflection on climate-fueled annihilation, specifically recalling old Polynesian music dug up by Eric, a first-generation Tongan-American. 

Join Eric and Jo as they listen to and discuss five songs from the album, along with Eric's inspiration, background, process, and more.

IMPORTANT NOTICE for sensitive listeners and people listening with children. There are a few instances of explicit words used in this podcast, please be aware. 

Get to know Palms Psalm and listen to the album on Spotify, Apple Music, and Sound Cloud. Mark your calendar for upcoming performances including:

Show Notes Transcript

Fresh Energy is mixing it up for Earth Day with a podcast takeover by Palms Psalm, a music project created by Eric Pasi!

Tune in for a listening session of Palms Psalm's new release, "Otuhaka" with Fresh Energy's Jo Olson and Eric Pasi. "Otuhaka" is an album full of songs that weave surf rock with island vibes in a reflection on climate-fueled annihilation, specifically recalling old Polynesian music dug up by Eric, a first-generation Tongan-American. 

Join Eric and Jo as they listen to and discuss five songs from the album, along with Eric's inspiration, background, process, and more.

IMPORTANT NOTICE for sensitive listeners and people listening with children. There are a few instances of explicit words used in this podcast, please be aware. 

Get to know Palms Psalm and listen to the album on Spotify, Apple Music, and Sound Cloud. Mark your calendar for upcoming performances including:


Jo Olsen: [00:00:01] Hello and welcome to Decarbonize the Clean Energy podcast from Fresh Energy. My name is Jo Olsen. I'm the senior director of communications and engagement at Fresh Energy. Fresh Energy is a Minnesota based nonprofit working to speed our state's transition to a clean energy economy. Now, if you've listened to our podcast before, you know that we usually bring our listeners conversations with Fresh Energy policy staff. And those conversations run the gamut from things like explainers about the grid to deep dives into complex energy policies. But today, in celebration of Earth Day coming up on the horizon, we're going to mix it up. Today I am joined by Eric Pasi to talk about music. That's right. We're going to talk about music today. Now, Eric Pasi is a board member at Fresh Energy, but he actually wears a ton of hats. Father, solar developer, author. Musician. I'm sure I'm missing a few, Eric, But welcome and thank you for being here.


Eric Pasi: [00:01:04] Thanks, Jo, for having me. I am very excited to join your listenership here this month to talk a little bit more about my projects and my side gig as a musician.


Jo Olsen: [00:01:17] Well, we are over the moon to have you, and the reason you wear so many hats is because you are so passionate about climate change. Which brings us to your new album, Palm Psalm, which say that five times fast. Palms Psalm. And we're going to talk about that today. And listeners, just so you know, this album and Eric has more than 8000 monthly listeners on Spotify alone. And one note before we dive into the music for our sensitive listeners and folks who might have kiddos with them, there are some explicit words in a few of the songs that we are going to be listening today. So if you're with sensitive folks or if you're sensitive yourself, I would hit pause and maybe set this podcast aside for the day. Okay. So now, Eric, you have described Palm Psalm as a reflection on climate-fueled  annihilation through the lens of your father's Polynesian culture. Can you say more about this? And I believe you visited Tonga, too. Is that right?


Eric Pasi: [00:02:21] Yes, back a handful of years ago. My dad was an immigrant from Tonga, which is for the listeners out there unfamiliar, a small island nation in the South Pacific. My parents met on the north shore of Oahu in Hawaii. There's a BYU campus there that not many people know about, but they were both going to school as young adults and at the college campus there and split up shortly after I was born. And I was born on the north shore of Oahu and raised by my mom and the Caucasian side of my family. And so I wasn't really until after high school that I reconnected with my dad and learned more about the Tongan culture. So I'm I was once at a place in my life where I didn't really know anything that much about Polynesia, but have since my adult life learned so much about about it to the point. Also in 2014, I mentioned that I spent time in Tonga and learned more about where my father came from specifically and learned about how vulnerable much of Polynesia is to climate devastation. And it energized me to continue to push for more equitable solutions. And so my father's from an island called Nukualofa, which is where or Tongatapu, which is where Nukualofa is located. That's the capital city. And I started reading books and learning more about how people, how and why people got on boats and traveled thousands of miles seemingly in the dark with really no direction, and how they learned the navigation system to make sure that they arrived at their destinations safely. And when I arrived, it was really interesting because I'd never I'd never really been to a place like Tonga, if you can imagine. It's a it's really been untouched by, by would say Western development.


Eric Pasi: [00:04:32] And so I landed and there was immediately like an eight magnitude earthquake there. And if I didn't feel out of place before that, I definitely did after that. And wow, um, I met, you know, it was, it was so fun. I met, like an uncle I'd never met before. I hadn't met before. Cousins, first cousins I had never met before. And it really, really connected me to that place, which, as mentioned, is in. The it's at severe risk for climate climate devastation being only less than ten feet above sea level for most of the island. Um. So, you know, that really put music on the shelf. Shortly thereafter, my dad passed in 2015 and started to focus on climate solutions and specifically solar. And it wasn't until about two years ago that I, I re I went back to some of the things that he'd left for me, including a lot of old Polynesian music. And one thing about my dad that that I always appreciated is that he, for his his adult life, ran the luau show night show at the Polynesian Cultural Center. So every time I go out there, I would see all these different dances and and and tried the food and, and got to know, uh, very, very well that, that, that show. And, um, he left me, uh, vinyl recordings from both that and then old Polynesian canoe chants and, and all these other things that I decided to pull together into this, this new concept album, uh, that, that is Otuhaka. And so, um, yeah, just released it a month ago and happy to share more about it with with the listeners.


Jo Olsen: [00:06:42] Thank you so much. And I think having that background is going to make the listening experience even, even better, just knowing some of the history. And I think one of the things that is especially poignant about today, the day that we're recording this podcast, March 20th, is that the IPCC or the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change delivered its scientific final warning on the climate emergency in the form of its final summary of its latest appraisal of global climate science. So the IPCC, probably all of our listeners are aware of this, but they are warning that the world only has a few years in which to achieve a profound shift in a global low carbon economy, or face the catastrophe from extreme weather, which includes rising sea levels, which has a huge impact on island nations. So I'm going to be thinking about that as well as what you said as we listen to our first song, which actually is the album's opening song, and it's called Tide.


"Tide" from Otuhaka: [00:07:54] Dawn is here. Start again. Living like there's no tomorrow. And on the breaks. Ride the wave. Keeping our heads above the water. (Interlude) Dawn is here. Start again. Living like there's no tomorrow. And on the breaks. Ride the wave. Keeping our heads above the water. (Interlude) And when we're gone. Lost our way. F*cked around. We got no home that we can borrow. And in the end. Start again. Living like there's no tomorrow.


Jo Olsen: [00:10:47] Eric, tell us about this song tied and why you chose to put it first on the album, which, by the way, for folks listening, the album name is Otuhaka.


Eric Pasi: [00:10:59] It was important for me to set the tone and the stage for the first with the first song. And much of my music samples, old canoe chants and other music that was handed down by my dad. And his name was CAC Armani Pasi. Again, it was an immigrant from Tonga. And during the interlude parts, you can hear some of these ambient sounds, and that's from the luau that he ran for most of his life. Wow. A recording from that from the late 70s. And then the earlier samples that you hear are an ancient canoe chant. And what I learned about some of these canoe chants is that the meaning of the words has been lost through time. And it's only the sounds of those words that have remained and I thought that there was something kind of tragically beautiful about that. Just the the love of. Or the you know, of traveling across the sea and these these stories essentially being passed down that I didn't want to lose that about my dad. And so that first song does give a glimpse into some of the other samples that are kind of sprinkled throughout the rest of the album.


Jo Olsen: [00:12:29] Love that. Thank you. So now we've talked a little bit about the inspiration for your music, but there's actually a lot like logistically that goes into making an album. You don't just like sit down and do it. Can you? Maybe, maybe you do. Maybe that was your process. But can you tell us a little bit about the technical and artistic elements that went in into creating Otuhaka? I know it's your vocals, but is it also you on the guitar? Did you mix the songs yourself? Do you have like a whole collection of guitar pedals and synthesizers at home? Like, how did this go?


Eric Pasi: [00:13:08] Yeah, I used to play music in several Minneapolis-based bands, kind of in the teens of and and there I obviously had bandmates. I play guitar, I play keys, and I sang for most of those groups. But my friend Jeff Markowitz, who is the drummer in a band called Hunting Club, I approached him kind of late 2021 to talk about doing this project, and he's also a producer, used to run the sound gallery and worked at Terrarium and some of the other studios in town, but had just finished his own home studio. And I back right around when my dad passed away. I'd been playing music and just recording it on like the Voicemail Voices Voicemail app or some of the voice recording apps that you just get stuck on your on your iPhone and started to flesh those out. Like once I dug into the music. And so a couple of interesting aspects about like the technical side of it was that the I only used old these old vinyl pressings that I found that I found that from my dad we had access to and recorded the kind of the A side and the B side of these vinyl pressings and took those marked each of the the spots on the recording where we wanted to retrieve the samples. And from there we actually sped things up or slowed them down or transposed in some cases. The key in which some of these tracks were being in which they were recorded and for the most part, I tried to stick to the the fidelity of what was recorded and not try to do a lot of the of of that messing around on the back end. But it was very time intensive but it was really fun because you got to dig into the minutia of like each of these like small little parts and just honing in on things that you might just gloss over on a casual listen, um, to the point where, you know, we've, we used, well, you know, dozens and dozens of samples throughout throughout the album and it was really, it was really fun.


Jo Olsen: [00:15:46] Well. And I've found myself, you know, wondering, you know, your dad had these this trove of records and some of them, you know, couldn't it's not like they were massive runs of records. Some of them might have been, you know, not many copies still floating around in the world. So I thought that was pretty special to. So next, I think I want to play my favorite of those with the samples. And that song is called Homau Fonau.


"Hamau Fonau" from Otuhaka: [00:16:17] Hula Hula for me by sha la la la la la. Sha la la la la la la. With. He might. By the way. La la la. Fa la la la la la la la la.


Jo Olsen: [00:17:43] All right, everyone. That was Homau Fonau. And Eric. So quite a few of these songs, as we've discussed, sample old Polynesian recordings, some of which came from your dad's collection of records. Um, you talked a little bit about this element of the album, but is there anything else that we should know about the sampling process and the Polynesian music integration? Anything you want to add before we move on to the next song?


Eric Pasi: [00:18:14] Yeah, this one was a little bit tricky because we used the entire recording and as you can hear, it speeds up significantly. And so when Jeff and I were trying to put drums and guitar and bass and everything to this song, it was like we really had to get into the feeling of of it. Yeah. And couldn't rely on any tricks or, you know, traditional, I guess I would call it like modern recording techniques and just really, really just sit inside of, of what was recorded. And we also had to really tweak because the claps and some of this was in this happened throughout the process where like some elements like the claps in this particular song were a lot louder. And so we tried to EQ and we tried to do some different techniques to attenuate wait, some of those things that did stand out. And we tried to do our best and that was that was the result.


Jo Olsen: [00:19:21] I loved it. I really loved it. Okay. So I think so I was interviewing you a couple like a month ago for a donor profile for Fresh Energy's website. And that was I knew about your music before that, but we talked a little bit about your music then. And I think at that time you described it as surf pop. And so I want to play for our listeners the song that to me as a listener as well, that I thought most embodied that surf pop vibe. And the song is called D. G. A. F.


"D. G. A. F." from Otuhaka: [00:20:22] Out here we're not, trying. I. Out here we're not, crying. Now here we are, dying. No one gives a f*ck. Now, here we are lyin. Now here we are denyin. Out here we are dyin. No one gives a f*ck.


Jo Olsen: [00:22:16] Okay, Eric, will you talk to us about the song we just listened to called D. G. A. F.?


Eric Pasi: [00:22:23] Yes. So this song is a straight forward I would call it a pop song that just it's giving commentary on the fact that even though people. And our planet is dying. Nobody really gives a fuck. And. I think about the the climate crisis in a way that is very visceral because because of what is at stake, not just, you know, Polynesian culture or my dad's culture, it's everything. And think about it, too, in a way that a lot of folks will look to the future and what what this means for the next generation. But also think about like. It affects all of the generations that have come before us and what everybody, all of our ancestors have fought so hard to get us to this moment today and for us to fail them, it's just not it's not an option for me. And that is the you know, if that induces profanity and, um, challenges us in different ways, I think that's good. And for me, it's cathartic to think about like. Um. A. It's cathartic for me to think about making people uncomfortable because I'm uncomfortable. And we we all need to be more uncomfortable with what's happening today.


Eric Pasi: [00:24:05] So in terms of the song itself, you'll hear like these different elements kind of coming in at the at the front end of the song. And those were older samples from from vinyl. But what I will say is that when I when I started to think about like the, the, the chorus part or the pre chorus of like getting an insane actually saying no one gives a fuck was actually incorporated. Sounds from actually a modern Hakka dance. And for some of your listeners may know what a Hakka is, but it's a Maori tradition where people it's usually led by one or more, um, it's a dance and, and it's basically most people would remember it by people just yelling and screaming and being really intimidated. Um, and so I grabbed a dance that was done in northern, in north, north, north shore of Oahu from YouTube. And so I ripped that and then I added it in as just an emphasis, further emphasis on that part of the chorus. But it's a song that I really, I really like, but it's also a song that, you know, kids are in the car. I do have a clean version.


Jo Olsen: [00:25:30] So noted. Yeah, well, I think too, like the juxtaposition of the what, what you would traditionally think of as light hearted surf pop against the message is just so interesting to me and I think really makes the song so meaningful. Um, well, I was thinking, Eric, we could listen to Erosion next, so let's do that.


"Erosion" from Otuhaka: [00:26:25] Wash away the bullshit. None one cares. Tell me, what's the point? Can't outrun the assholes. When it's never enough. All we got's. Not enough.


Jo Olsen: [00:28:29] Okay. Eric So this song Erosion especially makes me think about some of the climate activism that I know you've been involved in. So you are at the UN's annual climate summit in 2022 in Egypt, where you debuted a song, you've also been advocating at the state level in Minnesota and at the federal level for clean energy and climate policy improvements. And for me, I hear all of those things and so much more wrapped up into this song. So can you tell me what this song means to you?


Eric Pasi: [00:29:06] I get so frustrated by. The these arguments and of both sides ism. Right. Like you can't have one side least in our culture. We need to hear from both sides and that's derailed action on climate for for decades. And it's you know, fueled by misinformation from parties that have financial interests. And we we've seen it, you know, related to tobacco. We've seen it related to everything. Um, where where money and power are concentrated, we can create. The paralysis essentially by. Um. The public feeling that there's two sides to every to every argument. And that may be true, but not in this, not in the case of climate science and this song. Is an acceptance, you know, that it's that nothing will stop money and power from destroying the planet. Um, even though, you know, I fight for it every day, you know, I have moments of of despair and I have moments that it feels hard to continue because the what's in front of us is so. Uh, the challenge is so mountainous and it feels insurmountable. So that was where I was coming from with this song.


Jo Olsen: [00:30:43] Thank you. And I know that sharing these stories and your feelings through music has been really important for you, especially as we work toward as a as a as a globe, toward a future that includes Tonga and nations like it. Can you tell us how you're working to raise awareness through your music? Because like I said, you think debuted a video at COP. You were involved in a festival recently in the Twin Cities, I think in January. Yeah. Tell us how you're raising awareness through through your music.


Eric Pasi: [00:31:22] Yeah. You mentioned the, um. The festival that was just a part of which was the Great Northern Festival. And I was just so elated to be a part of it. Given the focus on climate as a kind of a pillar of of of the festival, and it also includes other winter events that we don't want to lose in, in a in a future that that could be maligned by, you know, a heating environment. And that includes like the Lopit and it includes the winter carnival and other outdoor events that we're that we've all come to treasure as, as Minnesotans. And and so I was so happy that the the album release party was a part of it was that ice house. Um, I actually my sister flew in from Utah to dance, um, as part of the, as part of the show and just, and I'm going to be including more and more Polynesian artists and specifically visual artists and, and dancers within future shows, including my cousin who's joining me for a show upcoming, which will which will maybe talk about who a second cousin who lives here and shares a lot of the same experiences. But what I wanted to do with the festival show is to raise money for the Climate Action Network, International Climate Action Network, and the one that's specific to the Pacific Islands. And so we ended up raising about $2,000 through that process. And this has been it's a mission of mine to to share and raise awareness and and share resources with, with the folks of Polynesia. Um, through through this art. And that is going to be a continuing mainstay at a lot of my live shows is is to to be very forward about about philanthropy and charity related to increasing resiliency essentially in in Polynesia.


Jo Olsen: [00:33:59] Absolutely. That makes so much sense. And I was just thinking, you know, as you talk about adding different Polynesian cultural elements to your events, you know, I know your your dad is no longer with us, but thinking of how you're taking his his legacy, you know, what he did and, you know, his life and background and you're building on that legacy with your own, you know, musical legacy and climate activism and climate philanthropy. It's just it's just really cool. I mean, I can't even imagine, you know, I bet your dad couldn't even imagine that you would be performing like he did. I think that's really neat. So I think. Do you want to add anything there or should we talk about it?


Eric Pasi: [00:34:46] I was just saying or I was just going to say that we're all standing on the shoulders of giants. That's a phrase that we've all heard. And again, it brings us to the importance of of of our ancestors and respecting what they've given us and knowing that that we're protecting their memory by protecting the planet. It's so important.


Jo Olsen: [00:35:12] Well. So I'm going to think we're gearing up to kind of close out the podcast today and have a song that I want to close with. But first, Eric, I think I would be remiss if we didn't talk about where listeners can hear you live, especially now as we're talking about music and dancing and visual arts as all part of your events. So I think you have a few live gigs coming up in Minnesota this spring. Is there anything you have locked in that we can share with our listeners?


Eric Pasi: [00:35:41] Yes, I do. Actually, on Earth Day, Saturday the 22nd, I have a solo show at the Solar Arts building fitting, right? Yeah, for somebody like me. And so I'll play in the mid-afternoon, early afternoon there. It's a sustainability-related event again on April 22nd. The Saturday. I also have a show upcoming for Art-a-whirl at Prize Brewery on Saturday, the 20 20th of May and that will be a ton of fun. A lot of surprises for for that show in July. I'm playing at Bauhaus Brewery on July 15th, which is a Saturday and then again on July 20th. Uh, seventh, and that is in Lowertown for Lowertown Sound outdoor show as well. Um, at Mears Park and all of that information about upcoming shows and more can be found at


Jo Olsen: [00:36:59] And I will make sure to put that URL in the podcast description. And I do want to warn folks, I'm pretty sure am I remembering correctly, that your Icehouse show from a couple of months ago actually sold out? Yes. So. So don't just think about going if you're interested, the folks listening, get your actual tickets because the odds of Eric continuing to sell out are actually pretty, pretty high.


Jo Olsen: [00:37:25] Yeah, but. Oh, yeah, go ahead.


Eric Pasi: [00:37:28] No, I'm. I'm a pretty, uh, usually pretty modest person, but. Yes, thank you for that plug.


Jo Olsen: [00:37:34] Well, and if you can't make it to a live show and you just love the music and what we've heard today, you can stream this album on Spotify and on Apple Music and basically anywhere that you can stream music these days, but also if you want to stay up to date on Fresh Energy's work, head to our website at or follow us on social media and it is on that website that you can make a gift to support Fresh Energy's work. Just click the donate button in the upper right corner. Aside, of course, from going to one of Eric's gigs, I think a donation to Fresh Energy is a pretty good way to celebrate Earth Day. Um, okay, so, Eric, for our last song, I was thinking we could close out with Otara Millionaires Curse. Because first it is a song with really big sound, but also it kind of disintegrates as it progresses, which I really, really loved. So before I hit play, is there anything that you want to say about this song?


Eric Pasi: [00:38:44] Yes. For your listeners. Not many people know the most successful Polynesian musical artists of all time. Do you happen to know Jo? You might know because I told you already, but yes.


Jo Olsen: [00:38:58] Yes.


Eric Pasi: [00:39:00] But the most the most successful Polynesian musical artists of all time is is a group called OMC, and that stands for Otara Millionaires Club. And it's best known for their hit. How bizarre. Very popular. Yeah, very popular. Formed by Maori brothers Pauly and Phil Fuemana. And they I don't know how I stumbled on this, but they did a little bit of research, like, what are they up to now? Um, and I learned that they died both both brothers died tragically of unrelated health issues at 40 and 41. And as a wise and old millennial, you know, I'm getting a I'm not, you know, not there yet, but it's it really was. Uh. I don't know. It just brought it home for me. That life. Nothing's guaranteed. Life is short. Have fun. Do what you love. Um. And there was an article about the Fuemana brothers, and Pauly's widow actually referred to, like, their misfortunes. And the song How bizarre as the Otira Millionaires Curse. And so I just loved that title and what it meant. Um, and this is the resulting.


Jo Olsen: [00:40:27] Music. All right, let's play it.