HANALEI — With the support of his ‘ohana, Hanalei resident Eli Smart, now 21, left Kaua‘i four years ago after graduating high school to attend Paul McCartney’s Liverpool Institution for Performing Arts in London.
On Thursday, he released his first extended play disc, “Boonie Town,” on online music platforms, after signing a record deal with Polydor Records Ltd., a company that operates as part of Universal Music Group.
“It was crazy,” Smart said. “I mean, it was like, Liverpool’s a relatively, a small, manageable city in northern England. But for me, it was like the big crazy city that I didn’t know. Everything about it was so foreign. But you know, that’s kind of exactly what I needed. I needed that kind of that extra stimulus coming fresh out of high school, and I thought I would just go as far as I can, the craziest thing I can think of, and see what happens.”
Smart’s musical journey started when he wrote his first song at age 11. Smart said his parents Tora and Kirk Smart have taught him everything he knows.
“My mom sat me down and helped me kind of get this on my first songs and I was really young,” Smart said. “And, often, my dad plays in the band, too. It’s always been a very supportive environment here with my family. I felt truly just grateful for all that support, like all the way along, and I’ve just been able to find friends who are really into that, too. We just click and make music.”
Smart said his grandparents Denise Kaufman and Noel Jewkes are incredible musicians and are the reasons he does what he does today.
As Smart grew up, he worked at Hanalei Strings at Ching Young Village Shopping Center in Hanalei. There, he played many nights with his friends, just jamming, and creating more music.
After graduating from college, Smart moved back to Kaua‘i in 2020 and started preparing his first album during the pandemic. There are only four tracks on it, including “Highschool Steady,” a song he wrote when he got back from the United Kingdom. The song was inspired by the feelings of the “good ‘ole days” that flooded back when he got home.
“No Destination” is the second track on the album, which Smart said was inspired by “that feeling you get when you’re on a date and there is no final destination or expectation, just enjoying that moment.”
Smart said his main inspiration behind his music is Kaua‘i.
“I know music is such a beautiful, deep part of Hawaiian culture here,” Smart said.
“And it’s definitely affected me growing up. And I guess I feel it coming out in my own way through the music I make. And then that’s why I call it ‘aloha soul;’ my way of paying homage to this culture, which very much made me make the music I make.”
The next step for Smart after last week’s release to create and record more songs or single tracks by the end of this year.
“So the plans for this year are to kind of follow up the release album with kind of singles every few months throughout the rest of this year,” Smart said.
“And then compile all the singles together with the ‘Boonie Town’ EP, and it’ll be like probably nine or 10 tracks for that point and make it a ‘Boonie Town’ mix tape that we’re going to put out, reissue, as like a full body of work at the end of this year.”
While he is on Kaua‘i, Smart said he is showing support to his band members and friends, who include Maluhia Castillo, Chris Whiteroot aka Hamster, and Jordan Paul, who is putting out his debut single, “Elsewhere,” on Friday, April 16 and, according to Smart, Paul can be found playing music every Friday at WB’s Restaurant &Grill in Lihu‘e.
Smart offered aspiring Kaua‘i artists some words of encouragement: “Kaua‘i is such a special place, like everybody knows everybody, and everybody has the tools here to find their musical team of people or creative team. But it doesn’t have to be just music. I think finding your creative voice is so important, too, now more than ever, and we have all the tools we need to do that right here, and dream big.”
Getting back to the music, he said, “It would be so cool if the Hawaiian islands could become more of a vibrant music ecosystem,” Smart said. “Because all the magic is already here. And there’s already so much beautiful stuff going on. And, of course, we could be all be connected.”
Smart said he is appreciative of his family, friends and girlfriend Sophie Valdez, also a musician.