One night stand? Friday night's Catalyst show is the final evening of Pele Juju's reunion mini-tour, after which the band's future remains uncertain.
Pele Juju regroup and find a way to heal
By Paul Davis
The life of a hard-working and driven band can be taxing, no matter how positive their message may be. For Santa Cruz's beloved all-woman world beat group Pele Juju, eight years of constant touring and recording took a toll that may not have quite devolved into acrimony but still put a strain on the members' relationships, in stark contrast to the band's uplifting mission. "The end [of the band] wasn't the greatest--we were kind of chewed up by an L.A. producer, and the ending wasn't horrible, but it wasn't on the friendliest of notes," says leader singer Dana Hutson. Having sold 50,000 copies of their self-released albums--an incredible number for a band without record label support--Pele Juju found itself in the dicey situation of trying to reach a larger audience without sacrificing the muse. "We did a CD [1997's Rhythm Rite] and it's a classic story of a producer--they just try and turn you into this marketable thing and put you in the 'pop box,'" says Hutson. "The CD did get released but none of us liked it and really didn't push it. Everyone was like, 'It's time to hit the big time,' and I think we lost our spirit in that mix."
Going their separate ways in 1999 after a New Year's Eve set at the Catalyst, the former members stepped away from the professional music world. Hutson moved to Mexico, where she now lives with her fiance, and returned to playing music for her own enjoyment. "I was so burned out ... I took a big hiatus," she says. "I really had to take music back to something I did for my own joy, rather than being a commodity that I was selling." This re-evaluation of priorities was shared by her band mates. "People were doing their own things, but none of them with the big professional push that we had before," she notes. "Everybody's been taking it back to the roots, back to why they played music in the first place. None of this 'Do this many shows' and this push, push, push. For eight years on the road, that's what we did."
All the while, their loyal fans refused to give up faith. For years, Pele Juju's manager David Claytor attempted to arrange a reunion, noting the continued demand. But for the greater part of a decade, his efforts bore little fruit, until one well-timed email to Hutson. "I got contacted by our manager out of the blue, and he asked if I would be interested in a reunion, and I said, 'Yeah, if other people are into it,'" says Hutson. "He contacted a few of the other core members and everybody was in a spot where they were ready to have a healing reunion. It was kind of this divine moment. We're all peace-loving people, and if we can't find a way to get along and forgive each other and make it work, then how can we expect the world to work that way?"
The band has spent the past month playing favorite haunts in Alaska and the Bay Area, with the upcoming Catalyst show the final destination on its reunion minitour. Hutson cautiously suggests this may be a new beginning for Pele Juju, but acknowledges there are practical considerations for her and her fellow members, Shelley Doty, Jayn Pettingill, Annie Steinhardt, Afia Walking Tree, Brindle, Deb Lane and Molly Higbie. "The future we're leaving really open--we're just playing shows and reconnecting," notes Hutson. "We're not all in Santa Cruz anymore so the logistical part could be a little challenging, but I'm not saying that's not going to happen at some point. We're letting whatever feels right happen."
Still, whatever the fate of Pele Juju, Hutson feels that the time is right for the band to revisit their organic and uplifting sound. "You turn on the TV and you're inundated by all this negative media crap," she says. "There's a lot of room in our music for jamming and creativity that's not just this canned thing you hear over and over again. I think people are craving that, because we don't get that anymore. The whole reunion is about forgiveness and healing, which the world needs so much right now."
Pele Juju perform Friday, Sept. 29, 9pm, at the Catalyst, 1001 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. Tickets $15 adv/$19 door. (831.362.4415; www.catalystclub.com)
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