about making instruments—that’s Kamaka’s area of
expertise, so whenever they ask me what I want for
my next ukulele, I just let them surprise me. And
every time they make a new instrument, it’s truly
amazing and exceeds my wildest expectations. It’s
important to me to have a working relationship with
a luthier, because there’s a certain kind of energy
that goes into building an instrument. If that energy
is intended for a specific player, then he or she will
have a special bond with the instrument, and the
music that comes out of it will be enhanced.
For strings, I use D’Addario’s J71 tenor uke set,
the clear nylons with normal tension. I love those—
they sound fantastic every time. They’re so consistent and very expressive, great for playing really soft
or strumming hard. They are very sensitive, and
that’s a really big deal because if I’m going for more
of a piano sound, I need the strings to respond to
the subtle things that I’m doing to shape the tone.
There are some great original tunes on Peace
Love Ukulele. Can you describe your compositional process?
I’m a very simple person and I play a very simple
instrument, so I normally start with one simple
idea and turn that into several minute, even just
one-minute expressions. The idea could be something I experienced in childhood, or it could be
something that inspired me recently, or maybe
even a chord voicing that I just discovered. Then,
I’ll work around that one idea. I know it sounds
so basic, but there have been instances when I’ve
had a handful of ideas and tried to cram them all
into one song. That’s tended to not work for me.
The covers are remarkable, too. How do you
I don’t just pick up my ukulele and arrange a
tune. It would be easy enough to put together
a melody line and some chords, but whenever I
do an arrangement it’s not just about making a
tune recognizable—it’s about doing something
that makes it unique to the ukulele. It wouldn’t
make sense for me to make an arrangement that
could be replicated on any other instrument. A
lot of my arranging strategy has to do with using
the high 4th string—perhaps making an unusual
cluster chord or playing the melody by bouncing
back and forth between the 1st and 4th strings
so they kind of ring over each other. Basically, in
arranging I try to find the least obvious way to
do the most obvious thing.
Arranging “Bohemian Rhapsody” must have
been quite difficult due to its complexity.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” is such an epic tune. It
was really tough, because it’s multilayered—
and, with the ukulele, I’ve only got four strings
and two octaves to work with. There are certain
sections where the harmony gets very complicated, and there’s a lot of contrary motion
going on. So trying to scale everything down
to four strings was definitely an undertaking.
In making the arrangement, there were many
moments when I wished I had a couple more
strings. But then I realized that, since the ukulele is such a simple instrument, I just needed
to take the song and strip it down to its bones.
So, I started by thinking about how the song
might be played from beginning to end on
a monophonic instrument, like a saxophone