Heels & Picks: Kai eyes L.A. after Brown Bags win
BY ERIN SMITH / Special to the Star-Advertiser
Brown Bags to Stardom has been a staple in Hawaii since the 1970s. These days the talent show pulls winners from talent competitions at local schools and has them face off on television.
Homegrown talent like Bruno Mars, Tia Carrere, Jake Shimabukuro, Glenn Medeiros and Kapena have all graced the stage at one time or another, making Brown Bags the competition to watch in order to catch the newest stars from Hawaii before they hit it big.
What the future holds, we’ll never know. But after watching this year’s winner, 16-year-old Kaiser High School student Eden Kai, I couldn’t help but draw a comparison between his and Shimabukuro’s virtuoso performance styles.
The kid is good.
Kai performed a song on guitar that he had written for the Brown Bags to Stardom competition, “Beautiful Stars,” and he tore it up. He has a fluidity of playing and a skill level far beyond his 16 years.
A tri-lingual young man, Kai is fluent in Japanese, Chinese and English, and it’s clear he’s also fluent in the language of music.
With the Brown Bags to Stardom title under his belt, Kai is considering making a run on “American Idol” and “America’s Got Talent,” and he’s made connections with some industry heavyweights.
After living in Hawaii for two years, it’s clear the lifestyle and beauty of the islands have inspired him. He’s played guitar for only three years and the level at which he performs is that of someone with a lot more time under their belt.
Catch Kai on stage at Hard Rock Cafe Honolulu on May 31 from noon to 1 p.m. and again on Aug. 1 at the Waikiki Shell as part of Laugh Under the Stars with Augie T, Natural Vibrations and more.
The Pulse checked in with Kai via email to get his thoughts on Brown Bags to Stardom and find out more about his mentors, inspirations and future plans.
HONOLULU STAR-ADVERTISER: Where did you learn to play guitar? How long have you been playing?
EDEN KAI: I started playing the guitar when I was 13 in Tokyo. Piano was my first instrument. I started taking piano lessons when I was 5.
My parents told me when I was in my mother’s womb my father played lullabies on guitar for me every day. He also played songs he made for me on the piano, Japanese shakuhachi bamboo flute, drums, and koto.
When I was 10 I was asked to write a song as a member of the POPLIP group for charity to help children in disaster-stricken countries. My song is called “Sekai no Tomodachi”, meaning “Friends of the World” in Japanese.
After the CD release party for my debut song was held, my great-uncle was so happy for me after watching the video of my performance. He wanted to give me an acoustic guitar as a present. He thought it would be better for me to also start writing the music, too, so I could sing and play all my original songs.
So, when I started to show interest in the guitar my dad showed me how to play the basic chords. My fingers hurt at first but got easier and more fun with practice. But before that I was mainly singing and writing lyrics.
I learned the basics for a year in Tokyo. The past two years after moving to Hawaii I have been teaching myself through watching YouTube videos and listening to music. So, it’s been three years.
SA: What inspires your compositions?
EK: When I make a song I imagine what song I want to make. I have liked writing stories since I was little.
I’ve never had a girlfriend but I imagined how to write a love song. My song “Dearly” tells the story of a person who imagines what is love? I hope people will share this song to their loved ones when they don’t have words to express their love for each another.
SA: Tell us about your Brown Bags to Stardom experience.
EK: It was the first time for me being in a big competition. And it was the first time for me to be on a big stage in Hawaii. I was doing a talent show at Kaiser. It was just for fun. But people in the Leadership Club asked me to be in the competition and I never heard of the name before.
I was so excited to perform in front of a lot of people and it was totally new. I performed my original song “Beautiful Stars” and I’m glad the audience enjoyed it. It was amazing when I won. I’m really grateful that I was able to have the opportunity to perform in Brown Bags.
SA: Who are some of your influences?
EK: My big influence is basically Andy McKee, but mostly the players on YouTube that played solo acoustic guitar.
SA: Who has mentored you and how did you meet them?
EK: Rick Barker, Dave Kusek, and Wade Sutton. My Dad found a group called the Music Industry Blueprint, which was founded by Rick Barker who was the former manager of Taylor Swift, and Dave Kusek who founded Berklee Online and the New Artist Model.
From both Rick and Dave I have learned about the inner-workings of the music industry. Everything from marketing music using social media, e-mail marketing, how you go about communicating with fans, how an artist can become and stay relevant in a very crowded industry, etc.
Also, other musicians, songwriters, and people in the music industry are in this group and help each other. I learn so much from everyone.
Wade Sutton at Rocket to the Stars has helped me with stage performance, understanding how crowds react to what I’m doing, how to talk to people, and control the room and get the reactions I want from a live audience. His instruction is very helpful, and I used his advice in the Brown Bags competition, too. He also built my website and electronic press kit.
SA: You are interested in acting and singing, as well. Do you feel that guitar is your biggest passion?
EK: I have a lot of passion with guitar, but I want to do them all in my future. I love acting and singing and have been doing those activities since I was little, so I always knew I would be continuing those interests.
But when I started playing the guitar I was shocked at some guitarists’ songs. Those songs were totally new to me and was a big influence on me to start new things in my life. So, guitar might be my biggest passion.
SA: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
EK: Well, I’m not sure where I’ll be exactly, but I can definitely say that I will be on stage performing because that’s my passion and a big part of what I want to do with my future. I want to see peoples’ faces listening and enjoying my music and having fun at my show. I hope my music helps people enjoy life.
I’m in the broadcast media class at my high school. I usually act, write, direct and edit movies. It gives me the opportunity to put my feelings in the movies we have been making. So I want to use this experience for my future in filmmaking.
I wish I could go near Los Angeles for music. It will be a big opportunity to go over there. It might be risky but I want a challenge in my life… and this is what I want to do.
SA: Tell us about your Brown Bags to Stardom performance.
EK: The piece I performed on Brown Bags to Stardom was an original song I wrote called “Beautiful Stars.” I was born and raised in Tokyo; it’s such a big city. They have so many bright lights, which is the reason it was hard to see the stars in the sky.
But after I moved to Hawaii, I was in awe that it is such a beautiful place! In the night time I could see so many beautiful stars in the sky. One night with a group of my friends from high school, we were near the ocean to watch shooting stars. I’ve never seen shooting stars.
The shooting stars exploding across the sky filled with beautiful stars was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen! I was so moved, and as soon as I came home I started to play guitar and made the “Beautiful Stars” song. That’s why I made this song for my piece.
SA: How did your childhood in Japan differ from what you’re doing now in Hawaii?
EK: I was mainly doing dance, acting and singing in Japan. After moving to Hawaii, I started making more of my original songs on the guitar.
I feel relaxed and comfortable performing in Hawaii and I’m having fun!
SA: You’re giving fans free downloads of your music. Why do that and how can we take advantage of that offer?
EK: I’m actually giving all of my fans free downloads of several of my original songs at my website, www.edenkai.com. It is my way of showing appreciation for their support.
Recently, I went into the recording studio and recorded my original songs for my debut CD coming out soon. My EP and songs will soon be available for download.
Erin Smith is a singer and guitarist who performs as a solo artist and with Maui-based Na Hoku Hanohano Award-nominated band The Throwdowns. Born in Canada, she moved to Hawaii in 2004 and now resides in Kailua. Contact her via e-mail or follow her on Twitter.