If you have ever seen Taimane Gardner perform you know what an amazing artist she really is. I say “artist” instead of “musician” because what she does on stage goes far beyond playing an instrument. Instead, she mesmerizes with the way she moves and dances and interacts with the audience. That’s not to negate her incredible musical talent- she’s one of the best ukulele players in the world. All of these qualities combine to make her live performance much more than a treat for the ears: it’s a treat for all of your senses.
GA: You got your first big break when someone who played for Don Ho saw you performing in Waikiki when you were 13 and invited you to perform with Don. But I’m curious to know what happened after that? How did you become a professional musician?
TG: Well, after that I started playing at a lot of luaus and corporate gigs and from there festivals around the world. It blossomed from having a specific place to play where people started to notice me and from then on it just continued to unfold. So I really have to give it up to Don, not only because of this big break he gave me, but also because of his passing, which was such a public thing. His passing gave me a huge stage to play and for people to see me and it went from there on, one thing lead to another.
GA: I don’t know much about your family, is your family into music? Are your parents musicians? How did you get involved with music?
TG: My mom was a singer, and also a dancer, and that’s where I got my artistic side. My dad is the person who helps me with my business side, making sure I have a good work ethic with scheduling and things like that.
GA: On your new album you have a song for every planet in the solar system. What inspired you to write these songs? Does it have anything to do with how you see the universe or your life in general?
TG: I’ve been always interested in the universe, the cosmos, even when I was young I would always do my projects on planets or stars, but that’s not the reason why I wrote this album. It’s funny, I was just talking to a friend about how cool it would be to put on a show about planets, about the universe and from there it just kind of clicked, I thought that was an amazing idea. So the album was actually born from a little show that I put on at Ong King, where I had a song for each planet and from there on I basically just recorded it. But I don’t know, I just had this cool idea that the planets are all connected to all the elements, earth, wind, fire, water, and then from there they are all connected to the astrological signs as well.
GA: What I’m also very curious to know is how did come to incorporate all the other types of music that you play on the ukulele? I mean, you play the ukulele in a very unique way, and that’s a good thing. Was that an influence from your mom? How did this happen?
TG: Well, when I started playing the ukulele I never saw the ukulele as being connected to Hawaiian music, I just saw it as an instrument. I was taught Hawaiian music, but I never connected with it (yet). So it was not until I met Jake (Shimabukuro), who is an amazing ukulele player, and who taught me that the ukulele is just like any other instrument. Just like a guitar, so he’d teach me Spanish strums and he’d teach me classical music on it, and from there I just started playing music that I enjoy listening to on it. Which is classical music, and classic rock. And also I have always been interested in cultural music, and so I incorporated as much of that as I could too. Just to try and broaden the ukulele and show that it is more than just a Hawaiian musical instrument, I can play Japanese music, I can play Native American music, I can play classical music and I really enjoy all those different types of genres. The ukulele is just basically what I grew up playing, you know what I mean? So that’s how I get to connect with music and it just so happens to be through a ukulele.
GA: And would you say that flamenco has a strong influence in the way you play or not necessarily?
TG: Good question. Performance wise flamenco is very influential. I like to play passionately, I am a passionate performer and so flamenco definitely helps me express that passion. But I also understand that I must find a balance to that. And that’s why I enjoy incorporating classical music, to have something softer.
GA: It just seems that you enjoy yourself more when you’re strumming flamenco style, which also leads to you dancing more. It makes me think that you have learned how to dance flamenco too? Or not necessarily? You come from a dancing background as well, right?
TG: Well, I enjoy dancing but I only took ballet for couple of years and I also like yoga and so I incorporate all of that into my ukulele playing. Honestly I think I connect more to dancing than to ukulele because you don’t have to think about dancing. As when I’m playing the ukulele I have to think like “ok, I have to play this chord,” you know what I mean? So dancing has always been fluid for me.
GA: In terms of routine I have a question for you: do you have a structure where you rehearse so many times a week? Do you sit and play just for the sake of training? Or do you only play when you feel inspired to create and write new songs?
TG: Good question. I am pretty strict about playing. I go through different phases though, right now I am in my creative phase, which is really fun, it’s like the best part. But for example, I didn’t allow myself to get into my creative phase until I finished my last album. You need to finish what you started, do it all the way to the end. Regarding practicing I should practice more, I don’t practice enough, however I play a lot, so that’s kind of like my practice. And when it comes to new stuff it just comes into different phases of my life, like I’ll probably write for a month and that’s all I do, I’ll just stay inside, enjoy some brownies, get inspired, and then from there there’s enough “gas” for me to make the next album and from there on it’s all about performing and theatrics and collaborations. So it’s only like little bursts actually.
GA: I imagined that you practiced all the time to be so good. That you’d sit at home practicing and studying scales, but apparently you’re just that good, huh?
TG: Well, I practiced a lot of scales when I was young. That’s all I did, practice, practice, practice. I use to even practice blindfolded. So it would help me to play without being able to look, so later I could focus on looking at the audience or looking at other things while I was playing. But that was from when I was 5 all the way to 10 years old and I was just a “sponge”, learning and practicing all the time. And it’s all muscle memory now.
GA: Besides classical music, rock, Jake Shimabukuro, is there anyone in popular (or not so popular) music that have been an inspiration to you?
TG: Yes! And I have been studying quite a lot about that for my new project. Lindsey Stirling, she’s that violinist who also dances ballet at the same time. I like her because she plays classical, but she also does like dub-step, so I’m getting into the whole “electronic sound” with classical, which I enjoy. I’m trying to figure out how to do that live. And then I love watching Nahko Bear and Medicine for the People. I love what they stand for and their messages. He is definitely an inspirational person. How do you become someone like that? He’s amazing. And do you know Jerome? Jerome James? He is a local drummer. He is really fun and does a lot of crazy stuff on drums and I just enjoy his art as well. Those are like the three people that I have been listening to right now. Oh! And then Xavier Rudd! All of them incorporate some sort of electronic music to what they’re doing, but they also keep the really cultural side and they’re always introducing traditional, cultural sounds to keep it “grounded”.