Talking Story: Guitarist Pat Eskildsen

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In my travels covering the Big Island’s music scene, I’ve crossed paths with guitarist Pat Eskildsen several times. My first encounter came when I was filming a documentary, and Eskildsen was laying down backing tracks for Lopaka Roots’ new single “Aftershock.”  I could see that he was both a pro and a perfectionist as he worked closely with producer David Fulkerson to achieve the desired sound.

I next saw him performing with the Big Island’s “Kings of Hawaiian Swing” group Kahulanui at the Kahilu Theatre in Waimea in 2017. Eskildsen played electric bass, lead guitar, and contributes background vocals. In May they scored Nā Hōkū Hanohano’s “Jazz Album of the Year” award for Mele Ho‘oilina, as well as the “Instrumental Composition of the Year” award for “Kahulanui Boogie Woogie.”

Every time I catch Eskildsen in performance he’s bursting with energy and ready to cut loose when his solo arrives. Wanting to delve deeper, I suggested this interview, and am grateful for the time he provided.

Tell me about your background and where your musical inspirations came from.

Pat Eskildsen Sr.’s 1960s surf band The Warlocks

I’m from Kahaluu, Oahu, and my father was a musician. He’s Pat Sr., and he played guitar and bass. He played about five gigs per day… luaus, briefings, anything to help our family survive. He’d do one-man band gigs, sing, play guitar, and operate the bass pedals with his feet. He was the showman… bouncing off the walls – smiling! He was my hero! I’d help him carry his amps to the Hilton Hawaiian Village where he played poolside in the morning before Don Ho would come on later in the evening. My mom’s a great singer and plays bass too! They currently perform together.

What pulled you into being a musician?

I watched but didn’t really play from the get-go. I was into sports… football, basketball, track. It wasn’t until high school graduation that I got interested in music. My dad showed me a lot on guitar and told me if I kept at it, by the time I turned twenty-one, I’d be a monster. With screws in my legs from injuries, there was a crossover for me into music. I started jamming with some neighbors who were into hardcore punk/thrash bands like Agnostic Front… the type of music where you’d jump off a speaker and fly into the crowd. I had steel-toed boots, and it was on!

My dad put me into a roots-reggae band called Native Roots. It was around 1994. I started to rock out with the lead and mess around with distortion. We got paid gigs. I did some recording, but didn’t do anything for a while after that.

How’d you get back into it?

I came to the Big Island. It was a fast scene on Oahu. Not healthy for me. I have some friends I used to run with that are probably dead now. I met Scarlet in Waikiki and moved over here with her. We got married a few years after living here in 1999.

She’s also Kahulanui’s manager and did the cover art for the recent album, right?

She’s amazing, and her cover got a Nā Hōkū nomination. She has a music background too. Her mom was in one of the first all-female rock bands from the ‘60s called the Ace of Cups. Through her mom, I worked with David Getz who was the drummer for Big Brother & The Holding Company.

Matt Spencer (L) and Pat Eskildsen (R) at the Aloha Theatre 2018

When you recorded the latest album, Mele Ho‘oilina, did you have a sense it was special?

The whole recording process with Michael Surprenant at Mana Music Studio was special. We’ve won two awards for that album and will be going out on tour soon. We’ll start in Massachusetts and slowly make our way to the West Coast. We’ll even catch the Sisters Folk Festival in Oregon.

What’s next musically in your future?

I’d like to continue with this band, but I have some songs tucked away that I’d like to get to eventually. Mostly I revert to instrumentals. I may not be a lyricist like Bob Dylan, but I have a voice that can fit somewhere and tell a good story too. That’s the next project after this.

Any final thoughts?

I feel music is a blessing. Being able to perform music is the biggest gift I ever got. It’s uplifting to be able touch people with your music. That’s a big thing in my journey right now.


This interview was edited for space and clarity. Warlocks publicity photo courtesy of the Pat Eskilden Jr. archives. All other photos by Steve Roby.

Copies of Mele Ho‘oilina can be purchased here: http://www.kahulanui.com/the-legacy-of-music.html

For more information on Kahulanui and their 2018 tour, go to www.kahulanui.com 

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