After a trip to Hawaii in 2009, Ben Hassenger was inspired to form a ukulele band in Lansing. Almost eight years later, the band he put together is preparing to release its debut album.
The Ukulele Kings — Ben Hassenger, Patrick Malloy and Steve Szilagyi — are hosting a concert Saturday at the Robin Theatre to celebrate the release of “Three Cool Cats.”
“We just decided to focus on the ukulele,” Hassenger said. “It’s a super popular instrument now, and there wasn’t really anything quite like that locally or in Michigan.”
The album is named after a tune originally recorded by the Coasters, which appears on the album. Hassenger and company thought “Three Cool Cats” was an apt description of the group.
The members of the Ukulele Kings are veterans of the local music scene. Hassenger and Malloy were both members of legendary Lansing band Mystic Shake, and Szilagyi was bassist for local alt-country outfit the Weepers.
The trio has planned on releasing an album since it formed four years ago but finally got serious last year and recorded it in the fall at Lansing’s Troubadour Recording Studios. When it came to producing the album, the band wanted the CD to sound like a live show. Overdubs and studio effects were kept to a minimum.
“We wanted a fairly accurate studio representation of what we are live,” Hassenger said. “We kept it simple, did it ourselves and we’re pretty pleased with the way it turned out.”
Hassenger, who describes himself as “Michigan’s ukulele ambassador,” teaches and performs with the instrument all over the state. He loves the unique vibe of the tiny instrument and the joy it brings people as they learn to play.
“The ukulele, to me, is like one of the most folk of folk instruments because it brings folks together,” he said.
The songs on “Three Cool Cats” cover several genres, including folk, jazz and rock ‘n’ roll. The 10-song disc is mostly original tunes, with covers of “Spanish Flea” and the aforementioned “Three Cool Cats” thrown in.
“It’s a mix of stuff, which is what we’re all about. We never just stick to one thing. Hassenger said. “I’d like to even broaden that more, get a little more wacky with the second album, maybe.”
The band hopes to play more music festivals and live shows this year to promote the album. According to Hassenger, most ukulele albums are entirely composed of covers, making “Three Cool Cats” stand out within the genre. But he still enjoys the occasional cover tune.
“We’re not going to Beyoncé,” Hassenger joked, “We’re just glad to be the Ukulele Kings and just get out play in front of more people of more people, show them that original music can be done on the ukulele.”
Hassenger said it’s easy to get obsessed with trying to make something perfect or wondering if the album needs one more track.
“Anybody that has put together an album — it’s a pain in the butt,” he said. “You’ve got to know when to quit. Like, ‘Hey, this is pretty good. Time to put it to bed, and we can go on to the next project.’ We feel really good. We’re so happy to get a CD done and finally give the people something.”
The Ukulele Kings CD Release Concert
With the Springtails
7p.m. Sunday, March 5
The Robin Theatre
1105 S. Washington Ave., Lansing