Introducing Tia Carrere: Hawaiian Songstress and Fan of B on Hawaii

Introducing Tia Carrere: Hawaiian Songstress and Fan of B on Hawaii

While scripting the ideal rock n' roll fantasy girlfriend movie sometime in the early 1990's, Mike Myers pictured a sassy, exotic crooner who not only turned heads but could carry a tune. The vixen who filled the role was exactly that, and more: Ms. Tia Carrere.

While the inner teen in most of you probably instinctively utters a Canadian-twanged "Schwing!" after hearing her name, Carrere anything but another pretty face.

Here are three things you didn't know about Tia Carrere: First, her voice has not only been her focus from the time she was 15, but has carried her through an impressive Hollywood career since Wayne's World aired in 1992. Second, she played the role of the voice of Nani in Lilo & Stitch, as well as starred in he own adventure series, Relic Hunter, ("Bad name, great show," said Carrere) and will be a reoccurring character in the upcoming season of HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm. And third: She's a local Oahu wahine who likes to hang five at Makaha, suck down greasy breakfasts at Liliha Bakery and sip Sundowners at Duke's.

Carrere called us here at B on Hawaii HQ with some super exciting news: She and two-time Grammy Award winner Daniel Ho (see the "Lifestyle" section at www.BonHawaii.com for a full feature on Ho) have cut a brand new album, currently being mastered by Ho in his Los Angeles studio. Each tune features Ho on ukulele, guitar or piano, and Carrere on vocals. After she forwarded us a few MP3 clips to sample, we were immediately struck by the simple orchestration of classic Hawaiiana tunes, juxtaposed with the soft yet dynamic vocal instrumentation provided by Carrere. In other words, she sounded fantastic. The songs, broken down to their bare essentials by Ho, are layered with hauntingly soft accompaniment from Carrere, who's emotional connection to Hawaii becomes immediately apparent.

Read on to hear our conversation with Carrere, and her thoughts on returning full circle to not only the career she began at 15 years of age, but to the place where it all began.

B on Hawaii: Tia Carrere, calling me, for B on Hawaii. Who would have thought"

Tia Carrere: You realize you're thinking out loud?

B: Sorry! To business...

Tia Carrere: Just messing. Daniel said you have a great newsletter, I'm happy to be a part of it.

B: Wonderful. So tell me, where did you and Daniel first link up? In L.A.?

Tia Carrere: Hardly! When I was 15 years old and attending Sacred Hearts Academy on Waialae, I was all about becoming a world-class singer. Daniel, who was across the street at St. Louis, came over and did all the orchestration for our jazz band. I started singing all these torch songs, and he was right behind me, doing all the instrumentation. He was amazing, even back then! So we got a few gigs doing officer's clubs, and even the "Brown Bags to Stardom" event. It was a blast.

B: So, where did the acting thing cut in to your burgeoning singing career?

Tia Carrere: I'll tell you exactly where: At the Waikiki Food Pantry. Swear! A producer saw me and cast me on the spot for a role in a small independent movie called "Aloha Summer". I played a shy, local Hawaiian girl. At least he got one of those right!

B: And that was it, you were off...

Tia Carrere: You said it. Before I even knew what SAG [the Screen Actor's Guild] was, I had my card. I moved to Hollywood, got an agent, began doing some soap opera work.

B: Yet somehow you managed to squeeze in guest roles on what I consider the "Holy Triad" of any 15 year old's favorite TV shows -- in 1987: The A-Team, Airwolf and MacGyver. Unreal. Now...I'm officially star struck. And that's hard to do! And then, Wayne's World. Tell me about it.

Tia Carrere: Well, the funny thing is that aside from what that did from my career, it's so far from who I am. That screaming rock and roller. Not my style. But I didn't totally realize it back then. I got to sing in that movie, and one song for "Showdown In Little Tokyo. And I did a record for Warner Bros., called "Dreams". But none of those singing efforts really encapsulated me, per say. I had 3 different producers and 3 different styles. None were my own. But acting got in the way. When you act, you become someone else. I wanted to figure out who I was; and in singing, you are no one but yourself.

B: It's funny; scrolling through your career resume, it almost looks as if you sought roles that would bring you back to singing. Was this a conscious decision for you? Or were you just rolling with the Hollywood tide?

Tia Carrere: I'll tell you, I always wanted to do a Disney feature where I could sing. It had been my life long dream. And I was asked to audition for Mulan, and I was doing a movie in Europe. My agent didn't mention it to me until I got home. I was so mad that he dropped the ball, I immediately fired him. But then Lilo & Stitch came around, and it wasn't even the production company's most heavily promoted film at the time. But it totally took off. And I got to sing. And they let me ad lib some Hawaii stuff. A little flavor and cadence, if you will. Not quite pidgin -- but almost. There's a fine line. It gave the film a more real representation. And the fact that the director was letting me riff, well, I felt so creative.

B: So how did you re-sync with Daniel Ho?

Tia Carrere: I was traveling the world for Relic Hunter. We shot in Paris, Madrid, Toronto, New York... Then I met my husband. We had a baby. Both these two things made me extremely happy. And there, in my "happy place", I realized that in order to be truly happy, I wanted to sing again. My way. Daniel and I always stayed somewhat in touch. So when he presented the idea to me to do a Hawaiian classics album, it just fit perfectly, like a missing puzzle piece. Great husband. Beautiful baby. Singing was the last piece.

B: Did the recordings go smoothly from the start?

Tia Carrere: Well, Daniel picked these real quiet, melodic tunes. I never had the guts to be that raw, you might say, with so little instrumentation behind me. There was no hiding my voice. But the single piano, guitar or ukulele, and the way Daniel strummed these simplistic lines -- which in fact are extremely difficult -- it was amazing. He was so "on", that I really had no choice but to step it up. He is a fantastic producer, player and friend -- and he dragged all of the best out of me. And because of this, the CD is full of my love for Hawaii.

B: Who are some of your influences, vocally?

Tia Carrere: Karen Carpenter is one of my long time favorites. There are no big bombastics -- in her singing nor mine on this album. It's all heart felt and simple and beautiful. Breezy. It captures the feeling of paradise, I think.

B: So on to some fun stuff... When was the last time you were in Hawaii?

Tia Carrere: I was 5 months pregnant, and I went surfing in Makaha.

B: What's the most ridiculous thing you have done on TV or film?

Tia Carrere: I went on Dancing With The Stars -- a month after having my baby. With 40 extra pounds on my body. Good idea, eh" But I'll tell you, it was very inspiring. It was right before I reconnected with Daniel on this album. And I saw all these dancers who were amazing at what they did. It drove me to find what I've always wanted to do. Daniel came to me right afterwards, and it was perfect timing. I was ready for it. It's funny; with everything I've accomplished in Hollywood, I am completely fulfilled. The travel, the experiences. But musically, I feel like I've just found my voice. It's the start down the road to who I am.

B: You read it here. Watch out world.

Tia Carrere will be signing her album "Hawaiiana" at the Borders at Ward Center on Friday, June 8th, at 8 p.m., and at the Pearl City Borders the following evening (June 30th) at 2 p.m. She will perform a concert at the Blaisdale on June 30th, and again at the Flavors of Honolulu on July 1 at 4 p.m.

Look for the album at www.danielho.com

"When you act, you become someone else. I wanted to figure out who I was; and in singing, you are no one but yourself." – Carrere