Eli Smart

SATURDAY 28TH MAY 2022

If Eli Smart’s music sounds hard to pin down then that’s because it comes from two very different places. And not two different places in the abstract, metaphorical sense. But literally two very different places. Smart grew up on the island of Kauai, Hawaii in a family of musicians. His maternal grandmother was in one of LA’s first ever all female rock groups and opened for Jimi Hendrix, while his his grandfather was a jazz composer who worked with Duke Ellington. Smart’s father is also a jazz musician and his parents run a ukulele story on Kauai. Music then, was unsurprisingly a constant presence in Smart’s life; records by The Beatles, Gladys Knight, Prince and Beck drifting through the house and feeding into his musical DNA, almost by osmosis. “My dad was also a Latin literature professor so we had a lot of Latin music playing,” recalls Smart of his rich musical upbringing. “There was this David Byrne compilation of Brazilian music called Beleza Tropical - it’s the most beautiful music. If anyone can hear that in my music then I’d be very, very pleased.” When he first picked up a guitar and began to teach himself to play himself, rather than just studiously plodding through riffs and solos from the usual suspects like countless other bedroom axemen, Smart started to develop his own, unique musical lexicon - pulling at strands from musicians such as JJ Cale, Shuggie Otis, Prince and Jorge Ben, while incorporating the traditional music of the Hawaiian islands. It helped forge that playfully inventive, slip-sliding style that would later be dubbed ‘Aloha Soul’ and still forms the bedrock of Smart’s music to this day. We’re getting ahead of ourselves there though. Having played in high school bands (the waggishly titled OCDC) and making a string of precociously brilliant home recordings of his songs, Smart took a place at university in Liverpool. Only 17-years-old, he packed his bags and said goodbye to the sunny idyll of Hawaii and hello to the wind and rain swept shores of the river Mersey. “The atmosphere was incredibly evocative, as it was at home. Not just visually, but the north of England has such a rich musical history. It felt like this whole world that I’d stumbled on,” Smart remembers. “I mean for the first few months I couldn’t understand what anyone was saying, but that shock to the system felt like a such a fresh stimulus. That drastic change of scenery gets you thinking in all these different ways. I’d always loved British guitar music like The Smiths, The Kinks and The Beatles so walking along the Mersey in the cold, it was like my Mecca.” It was that new creative stimulus that lead to the creation of Smart’s first run of singles - the lolloping slacker pop of Come On, Come On, Come On; the elastic melodies and falsettos on Hope I Don’t Feel In Love; After Shuggie’s joyful guitar shuffle… They’re the sound of an artists sure of their own voice from square one, and winning over fans around the world - including one Sir Elton John - in the process. However, it’s on Boonie Town that the two sides of Smart’s music really coalesce. From Highschool Steady’s light-headed rush of guitar curlicues and fuzzy-headed nostalgia and Come Down’s bleary-eyed lo-fi soul to the ratatat rhythms and liquid melody lines of No Destination and the rough and ready of swoon of latest smash (and Elton favourite) Cruella Deville  - you can hear the glee from Smart as he nails each new song. “I feel like creatively I’ve found my voice and I just want to keep going with it, I’m in this for the long haul.” Now the world is opened back up, he even has plans to add a third geographical source of inspiration “Maybe I could go to Italy,” he thinks. “That's that's where my dad  grew up and we have this little fallen down farm house in northern Italy. There's a little shack that I want to make into a studio there…” On the strength of what he’s put out into it so far, the world is currently Eli Smart’s oyster.