“It started out as a fun line that we composed,” Matt Terry of Texas-based indie lo-fi band Summer Salt told American Songwriter. “As, ‘Driving in Hawaii / surfing on the street.‘It’s like,’ Oh, no one can drive in Hawaii. ‘
After that last line, Terry let out a warm, easy laugh, hinting at the serious humor and sentimentality behind their modern classic, “Driving To Hawaii”. First released in 2014, the song’s stripped-down arrangement and soft, mellow melodies established Summer Salt’s signature style.
On a Zoom call with the American songwriter – with the other half of Summer Salt, Eugene Chung – Terry was thinking a lot about the early days of creating this seminal, doo-wop-meets-tropical-indie sound. Since “Driving To Hawaii” took off, the group has continued to carry their inimitable approach to music creation through several albums, tours and eras of indie rock. Today, last June, they unveiled their most recent full album, Sequoia Moon, who saw them team up with legendary producer Phil Ek to record in a suitable studio for the first time. An evolution of their sound, both in terms of sound and composition, the record remains faithful to the initial magic they discovered in the early days of “Driving To Hawaii”.
“I think this song is a reminder of where we came from,” Terry said. “Sometimes we get away from that sound, but it’s really the heart of who we are as a band.”
Between the gentle lull of its 6/8 rhythm, the dreamy and fluid quality of its guitar harmony and the raw and emotional expression of Terry’s voice, “Driving To Hawaii” really strikes something authentic, powerful. and beautiful. To that end, it indicates the typical approach to writing Summer Salt – down-to-earth guys and intuitive songwriters, once they solidified that initial lyrical idea, they began to explore ways to bring the song to life naturally.
“We listened to the Surfer girl album a lot at that time, ”explained Terry. “So I kinda wanted it to have a ballad feel. We wrote a lot of songs in and 6/8, with a waltz and ballad vibe. So we thought about Surfer girl and all that stuff and we just started to find some simple melodies to match those opening lines. But, when we thought about the context, I realized that, like … well, okay, we were 23 or 24 at the time. We didn’t have jobs that brought in too much money. We were poor, had just graduated from university, worked in the services.
Far from any kind of glamor or luxury in their life, the idea of taking a sunset cruise on a hypothetical Trans-Pacific Highway felt like a hazy and truly absurd dream… which led Terry and Chung to find the message more deep of the song.
“It was like, ‘Okay, here’s that illusion’ – I could ‘drive to Hawaii’ and make this fantasy world because nothing else matters when I have someone I ‘m. love it, ”said Terry. “So it’s all about this relationship – we don’t need all of these beautiful places while we’re together. It’s a textbook song “I love you”. It might be longing for a dream that will never come true, but it doesn’t matter because you’re together.
Perhaps this is this underlying message of pure, youthful love that gives Driving To Hawaii such endurance. With a simple yet deep feeling, truly honest delivery, and a perfectly matched arrangement to boot, the song is a true romantic standard in the young independent lexicon. For their part, Terry and Chung are honored that the song has resonated so strongly with so many people.
“A lot of people are like, ‘This is your best song, it’s the holy grail,’ you know? Said Terry. “We could never, ever recreate it. It’s, like, the first thing we ever did, so we can’t get that energy back… it was so organic. But it’s a good reminder of where we’re from and what we loved when we were younger, it helps us stay true to that.
Listen to Summer Salt’s signature song, “Driving To Hawaii,” below: