Giving it All

by: Sky Barnhart
Maui Weekly Newspaper
Vol IX No.4   Jan 27 - Feb 2, 2005

Jake Rohrer believes in music that “emanates from and speaks to the heart.” At Ululoa Productions, they work personally and individually in partnership with each artist.
At a small studio tucked away in Upcountry Maui, some of Hawai‘i’s finest musicians have created recordings, sharing not only their music, but something deeper.“When a Hawaiian person makes a traditional CD, they’re giving you their guts,” says Laurie Rohrer, who owns Ulu Loa Studio in Ha‘iku with her husband Jake. “When people come here to record, we give everything we’ve got, and they give everything they’ve got.”

The result is something special, something that honors Hawaiian tradition and culture, and it’s what Ululoa Productions has become known for over the last several years. Artists like Ata Damasco, Pekelo Day, Cody Pueo Pata, Kaiolohia Funes Smith, the Hula Honeys, and Lei‘ohu Ryder have all gained an appreciation for Ulu Loa’s unique vibe.

Ryder was actually the one who gave Ulu Loa its name. Ulu translates as growth, spreading; to nurture; inspired by the spirits as for artistic creation. Loa is long, distant, sweeping. Ululoa is a star that appears during the month of Mahoe-Mua (July), a likeness of which the Rohrers incorporated into their logo.

Another unique touch at Ululoa: a detailed treehouse replica of the Pioneer Inn, where the Rohrers spent their wedding night 18 years ago.
The studio is set on four tropical acres, with the driveway curving through a sweeping lawn dotted with mango and orange trees, ti plants and fan palms. A tree house, painted to resemble the Pioneer Inn (where the Rohrers spent their wedding night 18 years ago), adds a whimsical air to the grounds. To one side of the studio is a custom-built stage where musicians play live music for CD release parties or other festive occasions.

The company typically produces no more than three CDs a year. Instead of contracts, Ululoa has a policy statement with each artist, in which both parties agree to be pono, or right and moral. Although financial success is always a goal, it never takes the upper hand over integrity for Ululoa projects. Still, “each of our releases has made money,” Jake says, which of course benefits the studio, the artist and ultimately the public that buys the CD.

“Hawaiians are the best musicians on the planet,” Jake says. “They’re just a dream to work with. They come in and don’t just sing or play ukulele, they do it all. I’m thrilled to work with musicians like this.”

Jake is no stranger to the music industry. Forty-five years ago, he learned his first guitar chords and songs from John Fogerty, and then went on to work with Creedence Clearwater Revival, handling promotions and tours. When the band eventually broke up, he was drawn in as a witness to years of extensive lawsuits. That’s when he realized that making music was getting lost in a sea of lawyers, contracts and money-driven ventures.

On the custom-built stage set amid the tropical grounds of Ululoa, musicians share their live music at CD release parties and other occasions.
In 1996, Jake and Laurie moved to Maui and set about creating a relaxed and supportive environment in which they work together with each musician. “I’d do it no other way,” Jake says. “Working one-on-one with the artist is just the most meaningful experience.”

Always fascinated with the back-room process of making records, Jake says the advent of digital recording helped to make it a reality. “It used to cost $100,000 to have the board and the studio and the equipment to record. Today, you can do it for a lot less.”

For Laurie, whose father was stationed at Pearl Harbor and worked with the father of Israel Kamakawiwo‘ole, Hawaiian music is as natural as breath. She studied the Hawaiian language for years and is a talented singer in her own right.

Laurie and Jake add their musical talents to a few songs on Ululoa’s latest release, Holoholo Mai—Maui: A Musical Journey Around the Island. The CD features 20 songs about Maui places, featuring Damasco, Day, Pata, Ryder and Smith, with special guests Richard Ho‘opi‘i, Cliff Ahue, and students of Pa‘ia School. A 28-page booklet describes each place and song, with photography by Randy Jay Braun and graphics by Bill Ernst.

“Everyone connected with this project—keiki to kupuna—felt that it was a very special opportunity to share their aloha for Maui,” the Rohrers wrote in their dedication on the CD jacket. “During the recording sessions, anecdotes about the songs and composers were shared; more than a few tears were shed. We feel it a deep honor to present in the music and the enclosed booklet the beauty of Maui and the songs it has inspired.”

The coming year promises more exciting things to come out of the little Upcountry studio. Both Pata and Smith are working on their second CDs, and Gypsy Pacific is recording a gypsy jazz treatment of hapa-haole tunes. For more information, visit

“The right people seem to find their way here,” Laurie says. “They are our teachers about this place.”

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