Leo Waiau

Web sites: www.myspace.com/leowaiau www.purevolume.com/leowaiau

To state the obvious: Maui has a lot of reggae/roots bands. Black, red, green and yellow are plastered all over our luscious landscapes and draped along our beautiful beaches. I’m pretty sure it’s mandated that, to live on Maui, you have to have memorized at least one Bob Marley song.

I’ve got nothing against reggae, but sometimes skanking just doesn’t cut it. That’s where singer-songwriter Leo Waiau steps in, his indie-folk vibe a refreshing contrast to Maui’s mainly reggae rhythmic thump.

Honestly, I’m having a hard time not using expletives to explain how much I love Waiau’s music. He’s got a voice like heartbreak and lyrics like a punch to the stomach. He takes all those complicated feelings we have in relationships—the highest highs and those sleepless, tear-filled nights—and turns them into beautiful, touching songs as lovely and lonely as a rainy morning.

Waiau is tall, dark and decorated with tattoos. “I wouldn’t trade any of them, but if I had to pick a favorite it would be the one on my arm that says ‘For all my friends,’” he says. He’s got that edgy hipster look down, stating, “I don’t want to say that I’m hipster. But I wear tight pants, flannel and beanies, so…yeah. If I had to describe my personal style, hipster would probably be the closest.”

Leo was born into a musical family, where everyone played at least one instrument and sang. It wasn’t a surprise when he began playing guitar at age 12 and writing his own songs at 14. In addition to vocals and guitar, Leo plays mandolin and “enough bass and drums to embarrass myself.” His musical inspirations include Ryan Adams, Thrice and The Beatles. While you can hear echoes of these influences in his songs, Leo creates a sound that’s all his own.

He does mainly solo work, but has been known to collaborate with Maui-based The Cities Love You. “I’ve played at shows, and if I’ve needed back-up with drums or anything, it’s usually them,” he says.

Leo writes and sings about his own experiences, in such an eloquent and subtle way you’d swear he was writing about your life. “I write about the stuff I go through,” he says. “I have a lot of love songs and break-up songs. I want people to be able to relate to my music, and maybe help them through tough times.”

My favorite song would have to be his “Darling Dear,” which magnificently outlines the pain of falling out of love and trying to get on with your life. Leo’s music grips and twists it in such a way that you’d swear you were a masochist.

When he’s not playing music, Leo can be found surfing, dabbling in photography and reading. Wondering what musically talented philosophy majors (did I mention that he’s a philosophy major?) read? Leo lists two fittingly divergent favorites: C.S. Lewis and Kierkegaard.