Roots Musician Records recording artist Leilani Wolfgramm has been kicking ass and taking names over the last eight months since the release of her debut LP Rebel. The surname Wolfgramm is fittingly connected to a 12th century German epic poet and Leilani translates to “Heavenly Child” as only a divine spirit could undertake her latest tour schedule.
In addition to the new record, the Florida native created five music videos, toured with Tribal Seeds, SOJA, J Boog, Common Kings, The Green, The Movement, and made multiple appearances on the Hawaiian Islands with Incubus, Common Kings, and Island 98.5’s own Melody Jay. Catching Leilani Wolfgramm for an interview is like trying to pin a cloud of sweet sensimilla smoke to the wall and I was almost out of breath by the time we caught up with her at the 6th California Roots Festival in Monterey, CA.
Getting To Know Leilani Wolfgramm
The multi-talented performer has strong family ties and does not shy away from talking about her “Wolfpak”. Leilani’s father emigrated from Tonga to Utah before moving to Orlando, Florida. He found work dancing at a luau in the Disney World Resort where he met his wife, who was also employed at the Magic Kingdom as a waitress. The two moved to Hawai’i and lived in a tent while he finished school in Laie, O’ahu.
The couple would return to Florida where the singer-songwriter was born. The Wolfgramm family crammed into a 2-bedroom apartment with parents, aunts, and uncles in the bedrooms while Leilani, her brothers, and up to twenty cousins shared the living room.
Sibling rivalry and a generous amount of playful taunting is completely natural as the only girl with four brothers. Leilani recalls having her head held under water and being zipped up in sleeping bags. “They taught me how to be tough. I just thought they were picking on me but I’m glad I have brothers.”
Realizing the potential of possible cast members, the parents equipped their children with instruments and trained them in Polynesian song and dance for a kids-only traveling luau group called the Sunshine Kids.
“We did fairs, conventions, and bowling alleys all over Florida. Anyone that would have us.”
Traditional hula is performed with a chant, or oli, with each body movement telling part of the broader story of the song, or mele. The luaus were based on Tahitian, Samoan, and Hawaiian culture including kid-only fire knife dances and choreographed singing numbers. Young Leilani Wolfgramm made her vocal debut singing “Hit Me with Your Best Shot” by Pat Benatar and draws her inspiration from music that has substance.
“I really like Bob Dylan. Some people are drum and bass people, some people just want a sick solo; I could just listen to guitar and a really good melody, voice, and lyrics” including acoustic jams and tunes from punk legends Bad Religion, Rancid, and Against Me!.”
She picked up her first guitar at fourteen or fifteen and became backup vocalist and rhythm guitarist for her brothers’ band Hor!zen as the group landed gigs around Orlando. One venue in particular was a local club called Tanqueray’s where Lovd Ones front man, Benjah was captivated by her powerful voice. He introduced himself and the two became close friends.
Soon after, Leilani ventured on her own: “I have always written songs so after a year in the band it just felt natural to do my own thing,”
“Spread your wings, girl,” encouraged her supportive brothers and the rising star released her debut solo EP I Burn in 2013.
Lovd Ones were working on their album Thicker Than Blood and Benjah knew Leilani was the perfect duet partner for the song “Sail Away” with its mellow, Jawaiian-sounding, acoustic melodies.
“She wrote her part and memorized the lines in the car on the way to the studio. I don’t know anyone that can do that. She is seriously a natural and extremely gifted,” he says of her remarkable abilities.”
It was not long before her talent caught the attention of E.N Young at Roots Musician Records. He appeared surprised when asked why he produced Leilani and replies “She has the ‘It’ factor.”
Leilani Wolfgramm’s Album & Music Videos
Leilani Wolfgramm’s debut album Rebel dropped in August 2014 as she made the bold move to Southern California to pursue her dream and push the new record. She wrote and directed music videos for half of the album’s tracks, all employing different themes and artistic styles based on her own concepts and treatments. With a strong marketing prowess this warrior poet has proven it is only a matter of time before her career is taken to the next level.
“I decided to take it serious and wanted to come up with a real game plan. I thought the best way to really build up the most momentum would be to find who is doing legit videos, quality videos, different every time.”
Jay Tauzin accepted the challenge of producing all of the videos in a matter of months. The first video for “Herbivore” features Ozzie of We Should Smoke in an urban beach lifestyle setting with over 100,000 views and counting.
A “controversial” side of a revolver-wielding Leilani gets entangled in the “Delay” video with a restrained Gonzo using inauspicious film noir saturated filters and editing techniques.
She challenged Tauzin with her one-take, Godfather-esque concept for “Empty”. After two hours of make-up, it was imperative to perfect one take before the final scene of her face being wiped clean by a lover literally stripping her of everything. After approximately nine takes the video demonstrates Leilani’s creative aptitudes far beyond the recording studio and stage.
“That one was a little hard to convince Jay. We only had the makeup for one shot so anytime any little thing would go wrong we’d cut.”
Leilani hit the heart strings in “Love Is Ours” with a sincere, pure, and melodious approach to the beguiling love song. The video’s beach setting provides a tone of pure serenity to accompany her captivating voice.
“Sunshine” takes Leilani to her Polynesian roots in a knee-weakening and heart-pattering manner. Her Florida dance family opens the video and plays an essential role during the tribal drums at the end of the track.
Performing in Hawai’i
Immediately after filming, editing, and promoting the videos she left on the Roots Musician Records Tour with E.N Young, Gonzo and Beyond I Sight and executed a few Southern California sets. In January, she performed to a packed house at Mulligans on the Blue in Kihei, Maui with radio personality and notorious Island 98.5 deejay, Melody Jay.
“I love that girl!” Leilani says of Melody Jay. “You know how some people have that radio voice? She is like that all the time. It’s a trip, I love that girl.”
Melody recalls many details from that show and refers to Leilani as her “Soul Sistah”.
“I felt like we were best friends from small kid times!” Melody affirms with high regard. “She is a down to Earth girl full of passion and a little tomboy edge. When it was time for her performance she commanded the stage and had everyone’s full attention. Her huge smile, powerful voice, and explosive performance were complimented by a little bit of Tahitian flare and hula dance moves.”
Melody remembers Leilani bringing an audience member on stage to Siva Samoa, a traditional dance that requires constant grace with subtle and delicate movements of the arms. She cannot say enough about Rebel and looks forward to Leilani’s future success.
Wolgramm’s adoration for the islands emanates through her voice when she speaks of Hana on the East side of Maui, “I always want it there just like that every time. I don’t want to come back and have there be a McDonald’s. It’s where my heart is.”
Back on the mainland, Wolfgramm accompanied Tribal Seeds on the Winter Chillin’ Tour and then met up with SOJA, The Green, and Common Kings in the Southeast. She flew to O’ahu in direct support of Incubus for two shows at the Republik in mid-March; a GoPro video of her Nirvana tribute to “Come as You Are” is floating around YouTube.
Leilani and Nassur, her brother and tour manager, were able to spend a couple of days in Laie kicking back with family. It was the first time Nassur had been back to his birthplace in twenty-eight years and she felt good to see him so happy to be home.
Her continental tour continued as she then shared the bill with Tribal Seeds and The Movement on the Spring Roots Tour stateside. Apparently she only sleeps on planes or on a tour bus and still had enough energy for yet another brief Hawaiian island stretch with Common Kings.
“It does feel good to be home,” she told me as we began to walk to the Bowl Stage at the Monterey County Fairgrounds to see Nahko and Medicine for the People’s set. Fans stopped her for pictures and to share how much they love her music. She admits the feeling of getting recognized is still new.
Leilani’s plan after California Roots is to regroup at home and prepare for more studio time to give us new island sounds with a “get out of the fuckin’ way” rebel attitude. Stay tuned for a new music video for “Adrian” and get your tickets for her appearance at Dry Diggings Music Festival September 25-26 in Placerville, CA presented by California Roots by clicking HERE.
We also talked about her writing an original punk song, doing a cover of a Rancid classic, and/or a Bad Religion tune to make her own. Leilani Wolfgramm, the gauntlet has been thrown.
Purchase Rebel on iTunes by clicking HERE!
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Article by: Blake Taylor
Photos by: David Norris
WATCH: Lovd Ones – “Sail Away” (ft Leilani Wolfgramm)