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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, April 16, 2001

Singer reshapes her image with solo album

 •  Gilliom's new image presents opportunity for Island Heritage

By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Editor

It's Amy without Willie these days.

Real name: Amy Hanaiali'i Rene Gilliom

Age: 32; born June 16, 1968 in Lakewood, Calif.

Education: Baldwin High, Maui, Class of '86; School of Performing and Visual Arts, USIU (San Diego), '87-'91

Hobbies: Hiking, fishing

Career influences: Grandmother Jennie Napua Hanaiali'i Woodd and Baldwin drama teacher Sue Anne Loudon

Most embarrassing moment: "I was playing Dolly Levi in 'Hello, Dolly!' in San Diego, and my left heel got stuck on the stage; I did the whole scene with the shoe stuck, and oh, yeah, the audience knew!"

Notable quotable: "Why am I performer? It's all I do. I've done it so long, it's first nature for me. I'm more comfortable on stage than off in real life."

Besides going solo with a new CD on her own label, due this summer, the reinvented Amy Hanaiali'i Gilliom also is putting out a calendar, launching a high-end fragrance, even a line of holoku bearing her name.

"It's an exciting time for me," said Gilliom, 32, whose "Pu'uhonua" CD is expected June 5 on Hanaiali'i Records.

It could be the "event" that the local music industry needs, to overcome the cash-register doldrums since last season's Ten Feet biggie.

Her surprising independence — apart from Willie K, her former partner in song and in life for the past few years — means that there will be no more Amy and Willie K bookings. Though they remain friends, Willie is out of the loop and out of the picture, even on her premiere disc on her 10-year-old label, through which she had done only music publishing until now.

"This new freedom is offering me a lot more opportunity to work with other people, especially in the studio," she said. "I have Uncle Ledward Ka'apana playing on the album, and Uncle Cyril Pahinui, too. And Barry Flanagan of Hapa. I've always wanted to sing with Fiji, because he has such a great R&B voice, and I finally was able to do that. While this is a Hawaiian album, it also will have the first English song I've ever written. I will have to see how the people react."

Already, those who know about her single status are wondering if Gilliom can cut it. A Na H¿ku Hanohano Award winner, she is revamping her career, which had benefitted from the Willie alliance. She is now in a makeover stage, reshaping her image with a lot of anticipated product tie-ins.

In a sense, she is going to be a commodity as well as a singer, as she shares her favored scents in a new line of colognes and perfumes, kicks off her varied looks in a 2001-2002 calendar boasting photographs by Ronnda Heinrich, and puts her design savvy on the fashion map with a selection of holoku aimed at what she called "Amazonians," women of stature (she's 5-10 herself), but good for all body types.

Dale Madden of Island Heritage will be coordinating the merchandise in a partnership, she said.

"My father says if you want something done right, you do it yourself," said Gilliom of her latest moves. "I've always done my own sound, my lights. I'm the one who picks what everyone's going to eat. So why not do this record myself?

"And I've always enjoyed the marketing end of the business, and I'm pretty much the idea person," she said over lunch at Ruth's Chris Steak House recently. "I figured I might as well do everything on my own."

Jim Linkner, a member of Amy Hanaiali'i Gilliom's management team, talks to her about the mixing of her new CD at the Audio Resource Honolulu Rainforest Studio. She worked with Ledward Ka'apana, Cyril Pahinui, Fiji and Hapa's Barry Flanagan.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

Her CD title, "Pu'uhonua," is the Hawaiian term for a safe haven, "a place where you can go to read, enjoy peace and quiet."

Lately, her real-life pu'uhonua has been Moloka'i, where she has family, and where she is becoming a landowner. "Every weekend, I try to get there; I still have family there and I'm buying more land there. It's kind of my regular huli (retreat); I'm ready for change."

Her freedom already has yielded some unexpected personal pleasures, Gilliom said. "I'm seeing different sides of myself that I've never shown or known. Am I nervous about the independence? No, no, because I love the challenge. I'm very much a take-charge person. I'm having a blast, doing new things, working with new people. I also am surrounding myself with experts who can guide me."

Her co-producer is Ken Makuakane, award-winning performer (he fronts the Pandanus Club) and behind-the-scenes force (he produces Na Leo's albums).

Gilliom is being mentored by the Punahele Productions camp, which molded and marketed kumu hula-turned-local star Keali'i Reichel. Jim Linkner, an award-winning veteran engineer behind Reichel's success, endorses Gilliom's ambitious spurt. "Amy's a bud ready to blossom," Linkner said. "She's working with Punahele but is her own person."

"People have often asked me about cross-merchandising," Gilliom said. "That helps broaden my base of not only being in the record stores, but in other shops, too. In order to do all of this, I had to hustle and do a lot of things myself. So in the end, I get all the credit if it works, or all the blame if it doesn't. But that's the challenge."

The calendar aspect appealed to her. "I will be in a gallery of various looks," she said. "I'm excited about the photos; this is definitely not a hoochie calendar, and there are no bathing suit shots. All very classy, by Ronnda Heinrich."

It turns out that Gilliom — despite her stage-acting past, role-playing shows, collaborations with Willie and solo singing — is mostly a down-home girl. Before she became a recording artist, Gilliom was a theater performer and "more of a glamour queen then than now." She ran for Miss Hawai'i (she didn't win) and only now feels a little queenly, because she has photographer Heinrich, a hair- and makeup stylist (Ejay Maldonado) and creative mentors like Linkner and Madden.

"In the past, it was always go-go-go, gigging, gigging, gigging," she said. "It was so crazy, no time for rest. Now, I can sit back and think and relax. And mainly, enjoy life. That's why I just love Moloka'i, where I go to kick off my shoes, wear no makeup, pound 'opihi. That simple life is what I love."

Indeed, winning all those Hoku Awards and the resulting fame and adoration were somewhat stifling, not that she didn't appreciate the attention. "This is the first time I'm able to breathe, from all the success of the Hoku."

Gilliom, of course, is no stranger to record fans. Her first album, with a jazzy flair, got some attention but none of the hurrahs. Her Hawaiian solo album, and a hapa-haole collection, put her on the map, enabling her to land concert gigs alone and with her then-partner, Willie K.

She said the writing on her new album probably is her most personal endeavor yet, with music linked to her fondness for Moloka'i, home of her great-great grandparents.

"Your greatest expression is to do your own material and expose your soul," Gilliom said. "What was interesting about Moloka'i' is that most of my songs are about the island, though I wasn't raised there. And now that I've been spending time there, I would have dreams and visions, giving me a whole 'nother way of writing my Hawaiian music. I've learned how to hide there; the kauna (hidden meaning) of the song is deeper."

A family reunion last year on the Friendly Isle persuaded her to build a house and spend more time there. ". . . There's something very spiritual there. I'd like to see it kept that way," she said.

To promote the new album, Gilliom will be visible this summer, with a round of appearances. She also anticipates a Japan trek .

"I have toured Japan many times. It was interesting that by my second visit, the girls started looking like me. By the fifth time, they were little clones of me, complete with the red hair, the holoku. It was kinda scary — but funny."