Interview: Maryanne Ito “I’m ready to spread my wings and take flight.”

I sometimes get asked about current soul music from Hawaii. Spending so much of my time focusing on a very particular era of soul music from the islands, I admit find myself caught off-guard when faced with such an inquiry.

Thanks to several tips, namely from my buddy JBMbeatz, prominent Honolulu DJ Bennie James, and my fiancé, I picked up Maryanne Ito’s debut album Waking Up from Hungry Ear Records.

Dear lord is it good.

A week or so later, Bennie and I chatted on the phone. Bennie’s taken on the role of manager for Maryanne and has successfully arranged her to go on tour in Europe this month with soul singer Carol Riddick, hitting Paris, Amsterdam, London, Manchester and more.

Bennie and I hit it off well, not surprisingly since we both dig soul music. Unlike me, Bennie is up-to-date with all of today’s latest offerings, whereas my head’s been in the bins of the ever-so-specific slice of Hawaiian soul. I was so glad to connect with him.

I interviewed Maryanne the day after she won a prized Na Hoku Hanohano Award for R&B Album of the year. She was ecstatic; the first thing she said to me over the phone was, “I am sitting on cloud nine right now. Like, wow!”

Waking Up is an outstanding collection of original neo-soul songs with a voice so smooth, lush, incredible. You’ll get chicken skin when Maryanne serenades. With a busy month ahead—two gigs in town before she’s of to New Zealand for another award nomination, then she flies to Europe for a five-city tour—Maryanne graciously gave me her time for this interview.

maryanne ito 2

[An edited version of our interview appears in my column for Metro Honolulu this week. Here it is in full.]

Congratulations! How does it feel?

Everything is still setting in for me. I’m still in shock. It’s so surreal. But it’s also such a good feeling to be recognized for your talent. I’m super thankful.

How was the performance with Streetlight Cadence?

It was different. I was so nervous about it. We’ve never performed together, but we’ve had gigs where we’ve been on the same bill. I’m glad HARA paired me up with them because we already know each other and are fans of each other’s work, although our music is so different. I think it went very well. It’s different from something I would normally do. But it was a good experience, I learned something from it.

Can I ask what you learned?

I wouldn’t consider myself a musician, although I consider my voice as my instrument. I’m not professionally trained. Sitting in rehearsal with them and listening to the musician’s jargon they use, I picked up on that. It was very motivational for me to want to learn more music theory. Especially because I want to pursue more as a full-time thing. Right now it’s a second job for me. I gotta go back to school and step up my music theory knowledge.

June is a very busy month for you. The Republik (June 3), Atherton Studio (June 6), off to New Zealand for the Pacific Music Awards (June 13), and then you tour Europe (June 19-29).

June’s going to be a very busy month for me. I’m excited. I’m ready to spread my wings and take flight. I think this [Na Hoku] award just opened so many doors, I feel like it’s starting to open up a new chapter.

Bennie James has been a big support for your music. How did he help propel your music?

Bennie’s always been a fan of mine since I sent him Sureshot Love in 2013. Last year I felt very discouraged. I had all this material but I lacked the push to put it out. I seriously considered hanging it up. So I called Big Dave and told him about it. Big Dave calls Bennie, and Bennie’s like, “What is this I’m hearing?” Bennie proposed the whole manager relationship deal with me, and I accepted. He’s helped me push my music out so much. He really does go hard for me. Love that guy.

What will your set at the Intra Island Music Tour at The Republik be like?

I’m doing an acoustic set, something very simple. Gonna show up and do my thing.

What can we expect from your performance at the Atherton?

[Hawaii Public Radio] gave me creative control to put the whole show together. It’s going to be an evening of intimate soul. I’m going to share some original songs from my album, and some covers of music that’s inspired me with a full band of well-rounded musicians.

What do you hope to take home from New Zealand? Aside from the International Artist of the Year award?

I’m stoked to meet some of the artists and musicians in NZ. I want to experience more than just the awards. I’ll be there for 3 days, and the I fly out to London.

You’re going to be in Paris, Amsterdam, London and a few other places.

I can’t wait to experience the food, the music, the culture. Carol Riddick, she’s headlining the tour, I’m a supporting act. I’ve been a fan of her since I heard her on Musiq Soulchild’s album, Soulstar. I finally get to meet to the voice behind “Soulstar”!

What do you hope to bring back with you from your travels?

I hope I bring back—well, not hope, because I know for sure it always happens when I travel somewhere: I always bring back a grip of new material that I’ve written because I’m inspired while I’m [traveling]. I hope to bring back some cool connections [with people] I can build with on future projects. We’ll see, the experience will probably change my perception on different things too.

How would you define soul music?

Soul music is honest. Soul music is felt. It’s from the soul.

How has living in Hawaii and the aloha spirit influenced your music?

There’s no place like hawaii, this is paradise for me. The culture, the way of life, the aloha spirit. You can definitely hear that in my first album: it’s all about love.

Find Maryanne’s music at local music stores, iTunes or http://www.maryanneito.com.

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