Telling stories, chasing dreams

LIHUE — Kepa Kruse doesn’t expect to make a lot of money off the Friday release of his new CD, “Electric Island.”

But he doesn’t care because that’s not the point.

“It’s a great way for me to share something I’m passionate about,” he said. “It’s a great way to inspire people.”

The Waimea-born man wants, more than anything, to be positive, to motivate, to encourage.

“That’s what this is about. It allows me to put some positivity out into the world,” he said.

His stories, told through his music, reflect the endless energy that flows through his life.

“I tell the story of young local guy coming out of Kauai. It’s about ocean, love, surfing, family, drinking Japanese beer with friends, barbecues, gardening,” he said. “Those are things I like sharing with people.”

Kepa Kruse is someone others like to be around and might be a bit jealous of. He’s handsome, confident and enthusiastic. He’s got a friendly, warm smile and easy laugh. He is at ease with himself. He believes in having dreams — and chasing them.

It’s why he left Kauai and headed for Los Angeles in 2004 to pursue a career in the entertainment industry. Oh, it didn’t work out exactly as planned. He didn’t become famous or rich. But it was good enough for him to work in some films with established actors like Sean Astin and Danny Glover. It was good enough for him to see and learn how Hollywood operates, to hone his talents and what it takes to succeed.

He wasn’t sure it was what he wanted, after all.

Two things stuck with him from his seven or eight years in California: He saw how powerful storytelling could be and the impact it could have on people, and he knew that he was incredibly homesick.

So he returned.

“When you’re away from something you love, you’re able to focus in on the minute details and pick out pieces of the puzzle that mean a lot to you,” he said.

Those experiences led him to write his first album, “Coconut Wireless.” It did well, earning rave reviews and the 2011 Na Hoku Hanohano award for Best R&B Hip Hop album of the year.

Four years later, he’s back with his follow-up album, “Electric Island,” which he describes as “slightly humorous music.”

The 33-year-old believes this could be his finest work. He wrote all 12 songs. He played the instruments and sang. He mixed the music himself from home in Koloa.

“Incredibly low overhead,” he said, laughing.

“The only thing I didn’t do was the mastering,” he added. “That’s Ron Pendragon.”

Music has long influenced Kruse’s life. When he was a toddler, his mom sang lullabies as he fell asleep. He remembers well the day a ukulele was placed in his hands at school one day, and he was told to play.

He did.

“I was like, ‘This is kinda of cool. I think I kind of like this,’” he said. “I stuck with it and I kept going at it.”

Kruse grew up listening to hip hop, often told from the first-person perspective. He loved the way the songs shared life’s lessons.

He attended the University of Hawaii, played music and used his tech skills to repair computers and laptops to pay his bills.

Since returning to Kauai after his time in LA, Kruse continued to use his gifts.

He was a utility stand-in when “Jurassic World” was filmed here. He taught music at an Anahola school. He served on the board of directors. He volunteered to help bring the Creative Technology Center to Kauai because he believes it would provide wonderful career opportunities to the island’s youth right here.

“You don’t have to go to California like I did, and sit in the traffic and smog. You can learn those skills here and have a future,” he said.

He operates Kauai Tech Support, his computer-repair business, and performs with several musicians.

“I get to do stuff I’m passionate about and share with people,” Kruse said.

That passion is reflected in his music.

“Electric Island” includes songs like “This is the Life” (about local lifestyle, enjoying friends, catching fish and barbecues); “Joy in my Heart” (about things that make him happy, like surfing and riding motorbikes); “Under the Mango Tree” (about love and wanting to grow with someone); “Interisland Flights (about how expensive they are); and “Guy Hagi,” (about the popular TV weatherman).

They are fun songs, the kind that bring a smile to your face as you’re driving on Kuhio Highway.

“You listen, you’ll realize there are a lot of relationships in there,” he said.

And he’s thankful for those relationships and the people who have been part of his life. It’s why he wants to pay it forward.

“I’m only here because I was given opportunities by people who believed in me,” he said. “When you’re given opportunity, you’ve got to come back and return that opportunity to someone else.”

Kruse rises by 6 a.m. most mornings and follows a simple, but vital routine.

“I usually start my day on things I’m grateful for,” he said. “Then, the rest of my day goes pretty good.”

He’s not done chasing dreams. Far from it.

There are more songs to write. More stories to tell. More aloha to share.

“See your dream and work on it every day until that dream is realized, and that’s how you basically create an awesome experience and get to do the things you want to do.”

Electric Garden is $10 and available from several sources, including iTunes, Amazon and some local retailers like the Hawaiian Music Store in Princeville and Coconut MarketPlace.

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