Taimane Gardner’s foray into the music scene is practically mythic: She got her start playing ukulele on the streets of Waikiki when she was only 7 years old. Eventually, she was spotted by Don Ho’s people and recruited to perform with the star.
From there, Gardner grew into a star in her own right, becoming a mainstay of the Waikiki performance circuit and releasing her first album, Loco Princess, at age 15. She became noted for her energetic style, seamlessly rocking her way through Led Zeppelin riffs, and delicately plucking through classical music and surf songs — sometimes all in the same mashup.
But by the time she hit her late teens, she was burning out, tired of the repetitive nature of her regular gigs. Every night, it was the same songs. Gardner, who’d always been writing her own music on the side (“The first song I ever wrote, I was five — it was called I’m A Ducky Ducky Ducky, and it was about being a duck, living in a pond,” she says, laughing), yearned for work that was more creative.
“I realized that I don’t want to be doing this for my entire life, I don’t want to be playing the same surf medley that I have been playing,” Gardner recalls.
“I was actually thinking of quitting music at that time,” she admits.
Fate, it seems, intervened, and she was introduced to Ong King Art Center and the then-burgeoning Chinatown arts scene. The creative environment nurtured her artistic inclinations and she found herself reinvigorated in her passion for the ukulele.
“Being able to see a different perspective of art was amazing,” she says. “It was a beautiful feeling to be accepted — they wanted original (songs).”
In the last several years writing her own music, Gardner’s career has blossomed. Last year, she released a self-produced album, We Are Made Of Stars — on which she sings as well — and next up, she makes her Hawaii Theatre debut with A Musical and Theatrical Odyssey The Elements at 8 p.m. March 25. Co-produced with Mark Tarone, the man behind the annual Hallowbaloo, The Elements is comprised of Gardner’s greatest hits as well as a collection of new material. The show also will feature dance, aerialists, special effects and narration in collaboration with other artists.
For Gardner, performing at Hawaii Theatre is a dream come true — literally. Last year, she dreamt that she was up on stage at the theatre. And now, it’s happening in real life.
Gardner recently spoke with Metro about her career, her upcoming show and what’s in store for the future.
How did you first become interested in music?
Well, I just grew up performing — even before I had an ukulele, I just loved being on stage. I was dancing from age 3.
When my dad gave me my first ukulele when I was 5, that was kind of the tool that I was given to perform with. He had gotten an ukulele as a gift, and he decided to give it to me and then realized that I loved it. I played in front of the mirror when I got it until I broke a string. I was pretending to be a rock star.
You have been doing this for so long; you must love it. What do you enjoy about making music?
I love so many things. I love people’s reactions. It’s kind of like a symbiotic relationship — I am giving off energy and they give energy back, and so that exchange is pretty much what I live for.
That’s interesting you feel it’s a symbiotic relationship. Obviously, from the listeners’ standpoint, people get a lot out of your music. But what do you feel that you get in return?
Just their oohs and ahhs and applause. The smiles. The people thanking me is really special. Something really connects with (the audience), and seeing that connection is really sweet.
Tell me more about what your upcoming Hawaii Theatre show will entail.
It is two very distinct different sets. The first set is the greatest hits — the covers, the Led Zeppelin, the surfing medley. The first set is what I grew up doing. And then the second set is The Elements show. I have written a song for each element: Earth, Water, Fire, Air. And I’ve got a fifth element, which I am not going to say — they’re going to have to come to the show for the fifth element.
I really enjoy putting together theatrical productions. I am really inspired by the Cirque du Soleil type of thing — having music be visual at the same time. I love to dance when I play. The visual side of music is really awesome. There are going to be lion dancers, an aerialist, modern dancers, some special effects here and there, and then there is a whole story; Kealoha is going to be narrating it.
What else are you working on right now?
After I get this big show done, I am going to do an EP. What I like to do is I like to perform the songs with my band so that they are comfortable, and then once we perform these songs for the show, then we are going to go into the recording studio. I know that’s a weird way to do things because usually you record and then you tour, but I think after performing (the material) is the best time to record, actually.
That is the next step. And then from there, I travel a lot. I am going to be (performing) in Europe during the summer, Australia during the fall. Possibly Japan.
Tell me more about your creative process — how do you go about writing new songs?
Lately, they have been coming through dreams. I have a dream, and I hear music in the dream. In the dream, I am like, “Wake up! Wake up so you can record this!” So I wake up and then I take my phone and record a line or two. Then I go back to sleep and when I wake up again, then I kind of build from that idea. There are two songs in the show that were created (that way).
It’s weird — last year, I actually had a dream I was performing at the Hawaii Theatre. That was before (the show) was booked. And that song that I was performing in my dream is actually happening.
Moving forward, what is your goal in your career?
I honestly just take it day by day. At the moment, my goal is to travel as much as possible — I love sharing my music.
TO PURCHASE TICKETS TO “A MUSICAL AND THEATRICAL ODYSSEY THE ELEMENTS,” CALL 528-0506 OR VISIT HAWAIITHEATRE.COM. TICKETS COST $20-$75. TICKET HOLDERS ALSO GET 10 PERCENT OFF FOOD AND DRINKS AT A NUMBER OF PARTICIPATING CHINATOWN BARS AND RESTAURANTS THE DAY OF THE EVENT (MUST DISPLAY TICKET): GRONDIN FRENCH-LATIN KITCHEN, SCRATCH KITCHEN & BAKE SHOP, J.J. DOLAN’S, THE DUMB COQ, BAR 35, RESTAURANT EPIC, SQUARE BARRELS, LITTLE VILLAGE NOODLE HOUSE, SMITH & KINGS, ETHIOPIAN LOVE RESTAURANT, MARIA BONITA AND PHO‘HANA. FOR MORE ON TAIMANE GARDNER, VISIT TAIMANE.COM.