The progeny of musical icons have always had it tough, forced to carve out distinct musical lives separate from the oftentimes iconic careers of their parents. Think Jacob Dylan of the Wallflow-ers or celebrity-mainstays like Lisa Marie Presley. The results can be mixed, but every once in a while, someone is able to break through that unspoken barrier that sits between musical respect-ability and the inevitable perception of either undeserved success or talent that is somehow less-than what came before.
Singer-songwriter Tini Grey falls squarely in that category of an artist whose music has been in-fluenced but not overwhelmed by the formidable musical legacy of a father whose own music, even if not world renown a la Dylan or Presley, still had a significant influence in its own right: The elder Grey, Jerome, is a legend in Polynesian circles.
Jerome Grey defined a genre of island pop and folk that has influenced entire generations of Polynesian musical artists to this day. Not too shabby for a humble kid from the small island of Samoa, a South Pacific oasis about 2,600 miles southwest of Hawaii, and who left home with nothing but a guitar on his back, only to build a career spanning forty years—one that covers continents including Australia, Europe, and North America—and who still counts legions of fans across the globe.
The son of an itinerant musician, Tini Grey is another humble Samoan kid who grew up mostly in Hawaii and California. And in his music, there is ever-present the echo of his father's plaintive voice, a sense of emotion that springs forth from a deep and solemn place. In Polynesia, we call this spirit, mana. There is mana in Tini's voice. When he sings in his resonant baritone, it's equal-parts melancholy and joy. His father has that quality too, the ability to sound sad and happy at the same time. His son inherited this special gift, and it is the cornerstone of his music.
A life in music was not preordained for Tini simply because he was the scion of a musical leg-end; children often seek highways and byways different than the ones their parents took. For Tini, that meant forging his own path. After graduating from high school, he left the safe con-fines of Hawaii to study architecture in Los Angeles, an apt metaphor for the kind of craftsman-ship and design Tini would later apply in his songwriting. But music would always have a place at the table in his life. Tini returned to Hawaii after receiving his degree in architecture and with the help of friends, formed of Reign, a vocal quintet that made waves in the local Hawaii music scene during the early 2000's.
Fast forward ten or so years, and the recent release of Tini's debut EP, Better Place, says it all: Architecture as an avocation in Tini’s life never had a chance, and the world of music is certainly a better place for it. Tini is no clone of his father's, though. And this ability to borrow but not steal, to embody but not ape, did not come easily. The younger Grey has worked hard to create a cohesive yet distinct sound. Tini spent years living and gigging the very life he once abandoned for something safe. Greys don't tend to play things safe, and even when they do, it's not for long.
Upon his return to his musical roots, Tini played mostly cover songs at first. He eventually, how-ever, started writing his own songs, like all artists, borne out of the rough and tumble—and joy-ful—experiences of his own life. He needed another outlet, something more. Songwriting was it. And from that place of want, songs spilled out of Tini like a river. It is in those original songs that the crux of Tini Grey—the man, the writer, the artist—resides. Love, in all its various forms, are what he is about. And in the end, isn't it always about a girl?
Better Place boasts an infectious, mainstream sound. It's an album that, in just a few months since its release, has garnered rave reviews, radio airplay in the Hawaii and Samoa markets, and the very substantial and public blessing of Hawaii icon and tastemaker, Willie K, in the form of a record contract. Tini signed a production and distribution deal with Willie K's label, Maui Tribe, in May, and also began work on his first full-length CD, complete with performances by requi-site in-demand session players, including the likes of blind, savant guitarist Shawn Ishimoto, former Na Palapalai mainstay. Look for that CD before the end of the year, and see Tini open for Amy Hanaiali'i at Ford Amphitheater in October 2011.
Tini gigs. A lot. No surprise there. True inspiration and artistry arise from the grind of doing and not just thinking or imagining. At some point, you have to get out there and put pen to paper, pluck a string, sing a note, vibrate the air—something, anything to get it started. Eventually peo-ple take notice. Like the hip t-shirt slogan says, life is good. Disney recently tapped Tini as one of its performers at a new resort hotspot in Anaheim. And, he's married to a former Miss Amer-ica. Mogul-in-training? Check. Alongside his wife, Tini is the co-owner and founder of Isle En-tertainment, a successful live entertainment company based in Orange County. Talented sib-lings? Check. His younger brother is the lead guitarist and founder of the Common Kings, an up-and-coming buzz band that's recently been making the rounds in Hollywood hipster venues.
In the end, we are what we do, and make no mistake about it, Tini is doing it. An artist whose musical vision continues to grow and attract a new generation of fans, Tini makes music on his own terms. On the strength of beautiful melodies, heartfelt lyrics, and a kind of sincerity that's rare in today's media-saturated, sardonic world, Tini's music is, ironically, what a hipster Holly-wood bartender-turned-A&R genius might concoct in a moment of pure inspiration: An every-man shot of Jack Johnson's laid-back sensibilities, a twist of John Mayer's pop-leanings, tied together with the immediate, in-your-face, catchy-hooks of one Lionel Richie.
Whatever you call it, it's music for the soul. Somewhere out there, Tini's playing a gig or writing his next masterpiece of a pop song. If you listen closely, you can just hear it, the mana.
by- Gary King