Amy Hānaiali‘i and Willie K release their first album in 10 years.
As I sit down to chat with Amy Hānaiali‘i Gilliom and Willie K, it’s clear they are in their element. Seated side-by-side, the two recipients of multiple Nā Hōkū Hanohano awards and Grammy nominations look right at home surrounded by the sleek equipment and audio gear that fills Willie’s Wailuku recording studio.
Hānaiali‘i, who’s just returned from a weeklong trip to the Big Apple (she represented her family at a Hawaiian Room reunion at New York City’s legendary Lexington Hotel), is the furthest thing from jet-lagged. She greets me effervescently, as though we are old friends. After a hug and a handshake, Willie relaxes into his chair, and soon his smooth voice fills up the room as he tells me about his tour bus adventures with Hānaiali‘i back in 2004. He leans over to her, a broad smile across his face. “Remember the time we went to the Walmart in Utah?” he asks, chuckling at the memory. “Yes,” Amy says, grinning back at him. “It was Provo, Utah. There was nowhere to eat, so we bought a crockpot and made comfort food for everyone on the bus.”
Peals of laughter bounce off the soundproofed walls as the two friends reminisce. There’s a palpable sense of buoyancy in the room, and it’s easy to see why: This celebrated musical duo just released their first collaborative album in November after a 10-year hiatus. Appropriately, it’s titled Reunion.
“In Reunion, we step back in the past,” Hānaiali‘i says, “while stepping ahead of ourselves into the future.” Merging the past, present, and future is a fitting theme for Reunion, as the musical project is proof that this type of synergistic talent never grows stale, no matter how much time has passed. For the diehard fans who have been eagerly awaiting this album, Willie assures them it’s worth the wait. “It’s the Hawaiian music album you’ll never expect to happen,” he says. “It will take a whole weekend for your brain to get around it.”
He’s right. While there’s a certain familiarity to it, Reunion features a lineup of brand new songs infused with new sounds, ranging from the toe-tapping beat of “Tequila Senorita” to the introspective lyrics of the ballad “Hawaiian Man.” You’ll hear hints of country, rock, gospel, rhythm and blues—and everything in between. Reunion is undeniably diverse (so much so, in fact, that both Hānaiali‘i and Willie describe it as a “variety show”), and no two songs sound the same. “This album will take you on a journey,” Willie says. “It’s not on the plane of tradition; it’s a ride … and it’s one of my favorite pieces of work.”
Cutting a record is no easy task, but the duo says the most challenging part of the process was deciding which songs to include on Reunion. The pair spent the last year composing and writing lyrics for a total of 52 songs, which had to be whittled down to just 14 tracks. But rest assured, the leftovers won’t go to waste. “Our next album will have more of a world sound,” Hānaiali‘i says enigmatically. I immediately pounce, asking if there’s another reunion in the pipeline. “Oh, yeah,” Willie says. “This is just the beginning.”
Reunion is available on iTunes and through Mountain Apple Company at shop.mountainapplecompany.com. For more information, visit amyandwillie.com.