Photos by Jason Perez // Video by Reese Kato
Intro and transcription by HNL Flow staff
Iliahi Robbs, Dairen Hagenhoff and Kai Johnson are three talented teens with a serious passion for rock and roll. Together, the trio of friends make up The Bitten, a pop-punk band hailing from Windward Oahu.
Iliahi plays guitar and sings lead in most of their songs – which makes her a vocal powerhouse at the age of 13. Dairen and Kai, who are sophomores in high school, also provide vocals for the band. The two boys play the bass and drums, respectively.
After Iliahi was asked to perform at a grand opening event early last year, she recruited Kai, Dairen and former lead guitarist Olivia to join her in the performance. After the failed performance – Kai claimed it was because there was no drum set for him to play with – the band decided that they’d become official.
The Bitten practices on Tuesdays and Thursdays, under the direction of Society of Seven member John Salvatera.
Below, photographers Jason and Reese interview The Bitten about the ‘secret’ behind their name, their motivations and the future of the band.
Iliahi (left), Kai (center) and Dairen (right).
Jason: How did you guys come up with your name?
Iliahi: *laughs* Well…
Dairen: It’s a secret!
Iliahi: It’s a secret. We let other people decide for themselves.
Jason: Can you give us some insight on it?
Jason: Is it that much of a secret?
The Bitten: Yeah! *laughs*
Dairen: Let’s just say…
Iliahi: I’d rather not say…
Dairen: We have written about our mosquito bites —
Dairen: It was because we were in a forest —
Iliahi: Oh my God, you guys! You’re giving it all away!
Kai: It’s not a good story. Whatever. *laughs* There’s a lot of mosquitoes that come by a lot, and Dairen got bit by mosquitoes.
Kai: End of story.
Iliahi: Yeah, that’s pretty much the whole thing!
Dairen: Yep, we got bitten by mosquitoes.
Reese: How did you guys meet, and what was your motivation to start this whole band?
Iliahi: Well, I had just quit my old band, Random Weirdos…and this lady asked me – she didn’t know that I wasn’t in the band anymore – and she asked me if I could perform at [her club’s] opening. Yeah, it was a year and a half ago or something like that. So um, I called up…Well first, I had texted Dairen and asked him if he wanted to help me out with it. He said, ‘Yeah.’ And then I asked Kai and this other girl, Olivia, she was our lead guitarist for half a year or something like that. We practiced really, really hard for about a month, got a set list together, and we were only gonna play for that one show. But then we decided to keep playing because —
Dairen: It was fun. Also, because that show was horrible.
Kai: Yeah, it didn’t have a drum set.
Reese: So how long have you guys been together?
Iliahi and Kai: Like a year. A year and a half.
Reese: Who inspires you guys? Who are your influences?
Dairen: Blink 182, Led Zeppelin, Nirvana, stuff like that.
Jason: What inspired you to play the instruments that you play?
Kai: I always had an interest in drumming since the 3rd grade, so my parents put me in this little program that I’d play the drums for, and then I wanted to continue taking lessons. So I got an electric drumset and started learning to play drums.
Iliahi:I’ve been singing since I was three, and I’ve always wanted to be a musician. So yeah, I’ve been taking singing lessons for ten years. When I started playing guitar, it was for the band. We needed a guitarist but didn’t want to add on anyone else, so I decided to pick up a guitar and start learning it. Once our guitarist left, I decided that I wanted to play lead.
Dairen: I started playing bass because I saw Cliff Burton from Metallica and I was like, “Hey, he’s pretty cool. I’m gonna learn how to play bass.” And so I did.
Jason: Do you guys play other instruments on the side?
Kai: I play some guitar on the side, and I’ve play ukulele for a long time. I still pick it up every now and then. Not as much though. A little bass, ‘cause I talk to my friends and we jam and I teach them how to play. They come from school. We take our guitars and we get into a circle and play.
Iilahi: I play the flute and the ukulele. I started off with the ukulele, actually.
Dairen: I play the cello, the drums, the guitar, the ukulele, the bass…
Iliahi: This list could go on forever!
Kai: Oh, and one more thing I forgot to add is that I play things like the xylophone and the chimes, because I’m in the Hawaii Youth Symphony. So I play those sorts of instruments too.
Reese: Do you have any original music, and if you do, what inspires you to write music?
Iliahi: Yes, we do have original music. We are currently working on more so we can record and release an EP sometime soon. Right now, we only really play one in public, and I’m not really sure, but I think we’re gonna start playing more because we’ve been practicing more original stuff. And also, what inspires me to write, is real-life experiences, I guess.
Kai: A big influence would be hardships and darker days – [those] inspire me more to write songs. More like really happy, or really sad, would be real inspirations for songs, rather than just the melancholy. As Ili said – experiences.
Kai’s father: How many shows have you guys played, and what are your favorites?
Dairen: 45, right?
Iliahi: We’ve played 45 shows?
Kai: We’ve played 45 shows, I think?
Iliahi: I think it’s more than that, Kai. I think like 63.
Dairen: Yeah, maybe 63.
Iliahi: You counted?
Dairen: I counted.
Iliahi: Dairen counted. Dairen counted, you guys. Well, if you combine this year and last year, it’s about 50 or 60.
Kai: My favorite show would have to be The Republik. One time, that was a really nice show. I like how they have the sound set up and like, when the pedal for the bass drum fell off, the sound guy helped me with that, which was really good. So yeah, I got to keep playing and he got to fix it. So I really like the sound they set up. I like when at Crossroads at Hawaiian Brian’s. It’s pretty good. I like the sound there.
Iliahi: My favorite place to play is the Station. It’s small, but I like it because you can interact more with the crowd. Everybody’s so cool over there, and you just have a lot of fun.
Kai: It’s mostly musicians too, that are hanging out there.
Iliahi: Yeah, that too. There’s a bunch of musicians.
Kai: Everyone sitting there is going to play next, pretty much, so it’s really nice because you’re cheering everyone else on.
Dairen: I like playing at The Studio at Hawaiian Brian’s. It’s always fun. It’s always loud there, so that’s pretty cool.
Reese: Is there a certain place that you frequently play at?
Iliahi: The Station. I think we have majority of our shows there.
Reese: What do you guys have planned for the future, and where do you see the direction of the band going?
Dairen: I’d like to get better.
Iliahi: Definitely improve more.
Kai: Come up with an album.
Iliahi: Just be solid.
Kai: Get a little more tight, and get a full set of originals we can play.
Reese: Since you guys are really young, how does it feel to play shows like this and do you have any hardships or struggles because of it?
Kai: I would say, I don’t like when my friends can’t come because sometimes it’s 21 and over. I like having them there. Also, I’d say, setting up everything – sometimes we have shows where we have to bring everything.
Iliahi: Yeah, sometimes we have to do our own sound. I guess the other hardships would be like…being young, and being super busy. That’s one of the reasons too.
Kai: Homework. School can conflict.
Iliahi: Juggling both is really, really hard. Especially when you have like, 10 projects to do for school.
Kai’s father: Do you guys get along?
Iliahi: We actually get along great. I don’t think we’ve ever fought before.
Darien: Nah, me and Ili fight every week.
Iliahi: *laughs* Every band drama we have doesn’t involve Kai. It’s always me and Dairen, ‘cause me and Dairen were friends before the band. Best friends for a while. But we’re all best friends. That’s one of the good things about it, is that we’re all pretty close, and we always have fun together. That’s the main thing is to have fun.
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