Soulful Music With A Classical Twist

J. Lawson and Elizabeth Fong: doing what they were meant to do. Coco Zickos photos

Desperado Orchestra J. Lawson and Elizabeth Fong are putting their passion into practice. The duo were once highand elementary schoolteachers who fell victim to the economic climate.

“This is our fall-back career,” says Lawson, who plays guitar and sings at Kilauea Lighthouse Bistro Sunday evenings this month.

Bringing people together through music is rewarding, says Fong, who joins Lawson by playing the violin and viola.

Seeing their ideas become a reality is what Lawson finds so gratifying in his current career.

“Coming from something that we talk about and to actually see it and do it is one of the things I really enjoy,” he says one evening before they hit the stage.

The part-time Kalaheo residents also regularly tour throughout California, and recently released a new single titled 5 in the Middle.

The eclectic, soulful music they perform together on Kaua’i is reformatted from the 20-person orchestra they usually write and perform with on the Mainland. Fong describes their music as a “natural progression of each of our experiences.” Lawson focuses on the rhythmic portion of the music, while Fong develops the melody through string instruments. Even though they perform with only a guitar, violin and viola, the duet is versed in several instruments. Fong has been studying the piano since the age of 3 and bridged to violin at age 8. She took the academic route in Los Angeles and earned a master’s degree in African improvisational music.

Lawson, who took a less traditional route, began playing street music in Washington, D.C., at age 7. He was playing drums in church as well as the organ by age 10 all self-taught. Even though he had no formal instruction, he had plenty of mentors and people to look up to, including R&B and soul musician Cody Chesnutt.

“Watching him play I learned how to be honest with myself and my music,” he says.

It was through Chesnutt that Lawson and Fong met.

“I was in a place where I was just making a decision to do music full time professionally,” says Lawson.

Desperado Orchestra: a natural progression

The two connected in 2010 and have been creating harmonies ever since.

Desperado Orchestra is planning a gig in Vancouver, B.C.

“We’re just trying to broaden our horizons,” says Lawson.

They would even like to expand to countries such as Australia, Japan, China and Indonesia.

“As musicians, I think that has to be a priority now,” says Lawson regarding international tours.

With their lineup of performances, it’s a good thing that the two hardly get nervous anymore before a show.

“There’s definitely a tinge of nervousness and that’s OK,” says Lawson. “But as far as when I first started to play, I definitely had the butterflies. Sometimes my hands would be shaking so much I could barely play the chords.

“It’s like jumping off a cliff or an airplane. You definitely have a fear, but there’s a huge sense of accomplishment when you overcome it.”

And it’s well worth it. Playing music for people is an enjoyment Fong doesn’t take for granted. “Especially when people are receiving the music and enjoying it along with you. It feels good, it feels great,” she says.

“And it’s nice to do something that you actually feel like you’re meant to do,” adds Lawson.

But there are challenges. “Being an artist, you know there are good days and bad days; money comes and goes,” says Lawson.

Maintaining goals and keeping them in the foreground also has been challenging.

“And along with that, having a positive attitude if the goals that you set aren’t accomplished or obtained in the timeframe that you wish them to be,” says Fong.

Nonetheless, Lawson and Fong will always enjoy playing for Kaua’i audiences.

The island has “some of the most beautiful people I’ve ever met,” says Lawson. “That’s the real Kaua’i treasure.”

When they’re on-island and not weaving their creative melodies together, the duo can be spotted tandem bike riding in Poipu or hiking various trails across the island.

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