Author: Pete

Seattle Castaways Audition for The Ellen DeGeneres Show


Seattle’s loudest ukulele band, The Seattle Castaways, are excited to announce they are pursuing an audition to be the house band for the Ellen DeGeneres Show.  As longtime fans of Ellen’s show, the band is humbled by this announcement and is ready for the challenge.

“Ellen’s show is fun, quirky, and full of surprises.” said Pete Harris, the band’s obtrusive percussionist. “That’s a great fit for what we do.  Ellen surprises people all the time, and in the same way, we surprise people with our crazy ukulele rock and roll.”

The band will audition as a permanent replacement for Ellen’s former resident DJ, Tony Okungbowa, who left the show in September 2013 to pursue his acting career.

Multimedia producer and director of The Castaways’ latest video, Jamie Gower says, “the Castaways are a perfect match for Ellen’s good humored style.  They’re fun, a little unexpected, and audiences love them – just like Ellen.”

“We’re ready,” said Pam Mandel, “As the lone female voice of The Castaways, I can tell you that we are sooooo ready! Our record, Miniature Horses, is out in the wild and we’ve been searching for our next challenge.  Our 2013 Hawaii tour was exhausting so this year we want to settle down with a project that will keep us a more grounded.  Ellen’s wit and charm are a perfect match for what we do.  And we can’t wait to have her and her guests sit in with our band on ukulele! I call dibs on teaching Neil deGrasse Tyson the chords in Galileo.”

To keep tabs on The Castaways’ progress throughout the audition process and more, subscribe to the band’s newsletter, or become a fan of their Facebook page.  Additional information about the band, including bios, audio clips, and pictures, is available at

And as Ellen says, “Be kind to one another.”

Cajon shopping

Last weekend I was in Vancouver, BC to visit friends.  It’s now become a bit of a habit while I’m there (does twice make a habit?) to visit Gandharva Loka: World Music Store.    It’s located on Granville Island, and is across the street from the Granville Island Public Market.  As the in-house epicurean for The Castaways, I love to visit markets for various delicious morsels.  But in Vancouver, it’s becoming more like I’ll stop at the Granville Market while I’m shopping for new percussion gear for the band.

This weekend I went to Gandharva Loka to have a longer look at their amazing selection of Cajons.  They had close to a dozen cajons of all shapes and sizes.  Including an acrylic one clearly destined for a heavy-metal ukulele band (I think this might be one of Jim’s side projects).

I spent some quality time talking with Rodrigo and played a variety of cajons and hand percussion,  and I listened while other shoppers tried various other instruments around the store (yes, they have ukuleles).  Basically as obtrusive percussionist, this is my candy store.  Last time I was there I brought home a new shaker, a mouth harp, and a chime.  This time, I narrowed it down to a pile of cajons.

Shopping for cajons goes about the way that sounds.  They come in all different shapes and sizes.  Different colors and styles.  And, of course, they all sound different.  This may sound funny, but they feel different too.  You’ve basically got to play them to figure them out.  Several of them sounded very similar to the cajon I’ve been playing, so they were easy to put back.  But one of them sounded like the perfect complement to what I already play.

I brought home the smaller one sitting on the floor in the foreground of the photo above.  It doesn’t have snares, sounds almost like a conga drum, and has an amazing dark wood grain.  Both sides are also slightly different pitches, so it should be pretty versatile.  Maybe you’ll see it at a show sometime soon…

Band Research

Last weekend was the Capitol Hill Block Party.  Pam and I went to see some music and do some research.  We caught mind blowing, amazing sets from Allen Stone (yeah, he’ll be on Letterman tomorrow) and Fitz and the Tantrums.  We also noticed a variety of things that don’t happen at our own shows.  Here’s a brief, freestyle, un-sequenced list of things we noticed that we will be considering for our own future shows.

  • Wrist bands.  Sure, we rarely charge a cover, but the custom woven wristbands the block party was using for keeping track of us were awesome.
  • Merch tent.  We have some merch, we need a tent.  Staffed with interns.
  • Food trucks, photo booths, and other sponsors selling wares.  This will give you something to do at our set breaks.  After you buy some merch.
  • Choreographed band warm up.  We saw the Ten Man Brass Band warm up.  Who knew tuning together would sound cool.  Mark probably expects us to be doing this already.
  • Band security.  Large dreadlocked, tattooed security people.  (This is mostly for Pam, being a Diva and all.) (Editor’s note: Am not!)
  • Ladders or elevator shoes.  This is for all of our short fans.  We’d like to promote height-equality and give our short fans a fighting chance of seeing the show when tall people come to stand right in front of them.  The block party should have had this.  If Jim were to stand in front of you at a show, you’d want this too.
  • Stage monitors.  For standing on and jumping off.  They probably sound good on stage too.  Fitz did this a lot and it was awesome.
  • Windmill size cues.  It was not lost on us that Fitz wasn’t playing a ukulele (or a guitar for that matter) and yet he was queuing the band with giant windmills.  You know, windmills.  Ed is already very good at this.
  • Stuff to throw into the crowd at the end of our show.  Sweat rags, drum sticks, guitar picks, etc.  Also, we may need to start using sweat rags, drum sticks, or guitar picks.

Fun at the Revolution

One of the survival traits of any band is momentum. You have to keep getting your name out there, keep expanding that awesome fan base bigger and bigger. When you’ve got something good, you look down every avenue to see where your band can plant a flag and claim that spot as the latest jewel in its rock-n-roll crown.

Our latest jewel? Madison Valley. And what a jewel it is! I was recently at a dear friend’s dinner party and one of the attendees was my friend’s fellow French expatriate, chef extraordinaire, Thierry Rautureau. While telling me to “Go for a third helping!” of his delicious grilled chicken with wine and mushroom sauce, he mentioned that he was helping to throw Madison Valley’s first ever Bastille Day Bash. Between blissful moments of devouring said chicken dish, I offered up The Castaways to help in the celebration. My good friend chimed in ” Oh yes! You have to have them! They are a ukulele rock band! They are great fun!”  I gave Thierry a CD and business card and there, the gig was set.

When I emailed the band to announce the new gig, Pam accused me of holding out about my “high society connections.” The band would play for not only the people of Madison Valley, but for one of the best French chefs to set foot into a kitchen. We (especially our in-house epicurean Pete) were stoked.

The Castaways laid claim to 28th & Madison, right smack dab in front of Thierry’s French bistro,  Luc (named after Theirry’s beloved father). We brought the whole rock show for the bash: amps, The PA with Bigger Speakers, and even a tent!

I told the band at rehearsal that Thierry was really excited to have us, but that sentiment was driven home when Thierry – directly to Pete’s left – began playing his Weber grill like a guiro and boisterously hollering “YEAH!” He had a grand time of it.

And a grand time it was! Full of the familiar but always appreciated sight of  puzzled, bewildered faces that greet us at every performance — the look that says, “What the hell?” and “Did they just do that song on ukulele?”

Yes. Yes we did.

That look never gets old. It means we are doing something right. Between the two people staring in disbelief at Pete wailing on his cajon and collection of do-dads to the gaggle of folk in front with arms crossed, jaws dropped and staring as if 50 clowns just spilled out of Smart Car… what could be better? How about a couple of miniature horses walking past without a care in the world? Yep. Check that off your Rock-n-Roll bucket list, Pam.

The crowd was awesome! It was their positive energy and zest for fun that fought back the rain and cast the golden rays of the sun onto a splendid celebration. Castaways fans are simply the best. It didn’t hurt to have Thierry at stage left dishing out unbelievably tasty bits of foodie awesomeness!

Speaking of food, after we wrapped up our performance and stowed all the gear, (Miss ya, G!) we settled in for the big payoff: Dinner at Luc. Thierry had reserved a table for the band and promised a flatbed truck to deliver us all home after our meal. We were up to the challenge. Well, all but one of us. Mark was unable to join us due to conflicting dinner plans with friends. We were saddened ever so briefly until we realized his absence meant more food for us! Sorry Mark!

And there lies one of the bits of magic about this band: We have fun. We kid and joke around, Jim pushes his boundaries with Pam, we keep it light and leave the baggage at the door. (Except Pam, who has lots of baggage being a Diva and all.) (Editor’s note: Do not!) Mark may not have been there at dinner physically, but he was there in spirit. How could he not be? We choked his iPhone with text messages and Instagram shots of our ridiculously awesome plates of food.  We ended each message with a Bruce Lee 1-inch punch to the ribs of “Wish you were here!”

Mean? Naw. We were trolling to be honest. We knew he was laughing. We wanted Mark to respond with a “Wish you were here!” as he was preparing a not-too-shabby meal for his wife and guests. We were ready to crash that party, too.

Great friends, great music, great fans. That’s how we roll: We have fun!

A special thanks to Thierry and the awesome crew at Luc. You guys rock!

The Art of Noise: Testing the Patience of Mr. Bader

We may be a uke band, but getting our awesome uke tones down on tape – well, crunched into the computer’s brain is the same process that your average metal or hipster pop band would follow, minus all the vomit and bedazzled prostitutes skulking about in the studio.

The Castaways are lucky. Not only is Mark our bassist extraordinaire, he is also the owner of one fine home studio giving him the unenviable task wearing the producer hat. Yes, he gets to try and corral us — his hell raising band mates — into finding a calm state while coaxing the musical tornado out of us and into the Castaways Audio Vault.

Each session begins with Mark assigning us a date and time on the band calendar. It is set: You show up. You rip. Done.

If only it were that simple. We are human and there are days where the right hand does not want to cooperate with the left. Tuning gremlins scamper in when your head is turned and pull an Old Number 7 on your tuning pegs, leaving you exasperated from your inability to keep four strings in tune.  The inability to slip into a rhythm pocket — however brief — can spin a session into production stutter frenzy along the lines of Mel Tillis reading from a German phone book.

When the bad happens, there, like a safety net under flying acrobats, is Mark: Smile on his face, calm and encouraging.  “OK, Ed, can you take that from the top of the bridge again and lay back on the pick attack a bit? Mellow it a bit. This baby has a swing to it.” Calm. Cool. Collected. Meanwhile I’m killing Care Bears in my mind because my spastic hand won’t jive with what my brain is telling it to do.

Navy pilots call it “A night in the box.” That’s how they refer to a pilot’s inability to land their plane on a pitching, rolling deck of an aircraft carrier at night. If the Castaways have “a night in the box” we thankfully, aren’t ditching a multi-million dollar aircraft into a black ocean. Nope. But we may impose the “woodshed” rule — go home and practice it some more — to save what time remains, moving onto the next task at hand.

For instance, I play a majority of the time with a medium pick. I have played a certain song a million times in practice and live, but when it came time to record the track, Fumble City. The rhythm was not happening. Mark smiled, and said “ why don’t you go home and woodshed it, and we’ll pick it up next week.”

Like a dejected starting pitcher leaving the mound at the bottom of the third, I headed home to figure out my rhythm conundrum. At home with no recording pressure, I discovered that my pick was hampering my string attack. Once I dropped the pick… Voila! Proper rhythm restored.

It’s Occam’s razor for sure: “All things being equal, a simple explanation is better than a complex one.”

Rhythm is restored. Mark keeps smiling and another Castaways track goes into the can. The remaining Care Bears in my head breathe a sigh of relief…for now.