Chillin’ with Kalai


KANIELAKALEIALIIOKALANI KALAI, SR. has been playing the guitar since he was 8 years-old. He will perform in the Eccles Conference Center on Sept. 16, at 7:30 p.m Photo courtesy of Sarah Darling

US: First off, tell us a little bit about why you perform at Utah State every year. What’s special about Logan?

K: I like playing up there. It’s pretty isolated, so it makes it more shows more intimate. It tends to be more more responsive. When you play at (Louisiana State University), it’s big and exciting, but it’s big for big’s sake. Logan is more intimate and less distracting. That’s why I keep coming back.

US: Any eateries you love in Logan?

K: That pizza place at the end of town. Right as you’re coming off the highway. Oh, the Firehouse Pizzeria. It’s the only thing that’s right there. I go there most times I’m in Logan.

US: What are some current projects you are working on?

K: I’m bringing up a new EP. I’ve done some covers in the past, and people have requested them. I’m also working on an album called “White Mule.”

US: Why a white mule?

K: The whole album is laid back, roots-folk type of thing. If you’re familiar with Christ coming in on a white donkey, then it’s like that.  He came in on a donkey and I’m coming in on a mule. Like I’m perfect but not quite. It’s deep, but it’s just a title.

US: We’ve heard that Kalai is just a nickname. What’s your full name?

K: My full name is Kanielakaleialiiokalani Kalai, Sr. The front part means Daniel and the royal lei of heaven, and my last name means “in the way of the sea turtle.” It’s excessive but kind of neat. I have a brother named Jason.

US: In the future, where do you see your music going? Would you rather hit the big time or stay as a localized artist?

K: We did a long the run in New York, but I’m from Alaska, so things got too fast for me. I ask myself if I’d rather have a lot of time or lots of money. I view the big time as a sacrifice I don’t want to make until l have to. I feel very uncomfortable networking, it feels disingenuous. I want to keep making  music, making a living and watching my kids grow. Family time — that’s all I got. I don’t want to miss the younger years of my kids. What I’m doing is more of a passion.

US: Your biography says if Dave Mathews, Paul Simon, Ben Harper, James Taylor, John Mayer, Bill Murray and Béla Fleck had a baby, it would be you. What genre do you classify your music as?

K: It’s an urban-vintage thing, but that doesn’t explain it. I take pride in the fact that it’s difficult to explain accurately. It’s all lyrical. Sometimes playing the songs sucks. I would say there’s a lot of world influence.  I like that nothing I could say would give anybody a preview.

US: Did you always want to be a musician? Where did your love for music come from?

K:I always knew I was going to do it. I’m not really good at everything else, except fishing. My dad played in bands, and his playing is unique, I picked up a lot of that. I didn’t get to be around him a ton, so it had to be the “Jurassic Park” where I filled in the gaps. I loved it right off. I started when I was eight, but I quit. I played “This Old Man” in a school talent show, and my friends laughed at me. I pulled out guitar again at 16 — it came a lot quicker. It’s a process of passion. I’m always waiting for the flame to go out, and sometimes I think it has.

US: You were born in Hawaii, raised in Alaska, but your music is based in Utah? How did that happen?

K: I came down to go to college at Snow College. When you’re from Alaska, it’s probably a joke to you guys, but my parents told everybody ‘He’s going to college out East!’ To us, this is out East. I started playing in college to support myself and it worked. I stuck around. It’s the only decently cold place I could be. I like being cold.

US: What’s your favorite performance you’ve ever done?

K:It’s a type of performance when I’m healthy and top notch. I get colds a lot, and it pisses me off. When I’m healthy and well rehearsed and the sound is good, there is not an audience out there that I can’t captivate. I don’t know if I’ve played the perfect place — you know, the one. You psych yourself into one show and that’s what keeps you playing.

US: What would you be doing if you weren’t performing? Any secret pipe dreams?

K: If I wasn’t preforming, I would probably be in Ichthyology, the study of fish. I’m a hermit. We have a detached garage where our studio is. It has half a wall covered in fish tanks. That’s my power secret. I didn’t tell my wife until after I married her.

US: Anything else we should know about you?

K:I don’t know enough about me to wonder what anybody would want to know.


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