Jake Shimabukuro's "Peace, Love, Ukulele" matches energetic originals ("Bring Your Adz") with innovative interpretations (Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody"). The Hawaii native gleefully credits Train for recently bringing his instrument widespread attention.
"There was something magical about the way they utilized the ukulele in ‘Hey, Soul Sister,' " Shimabukuro says. "That was a huge turning point. Everyone was singing that song!" The 35-year-old virtuoso performs tonight at One World Theatre.
American-Statesman: How did the new album take shape?
Jake Shimabukuro: It was my first independent release, so I took my time with it a little more. I didn't really have a deadline this time. That was nice. Of course, I still wish that I could go back in the studio and tweak things, but it's a never-ending process.
Explain how you approached interpreting ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.'
My take was to really strip it down to its bare bones and cover it as a solo ukulele piece. I realized that you're never going to be able to make it sound bigger than the original. You're never gonna come close, so why even try? (He laughs.) Listeners have such a strong reference that as I'm performing it as a solo piece, they're gonna fill in the vocal lines and missing parts, the drum lines and bass and guitar solos.
You've suggested that set the tone for your originals.
I (did take) that concept and applied it to my original pieces. I thought, OK, now I have these original pieces. When I perform live, I'm going to perform them solo, so maybe I should record the original songs for the listener to use as a reference.
Do you find a link between arranging and songwriting?
Yeah, a little bit. When I'm writing a song, I always try to find one element, even if it's just a short phrase or chord voicing, that's different from any other song I've written or recorded before. If I'm arranging "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" or "Hallelujah" or "Bohemian Rhapsody," it's finding one element that I can make special or unique.
What continues to intrigue you about the ukulele?
I just love that the instrument is so friendly and not intimidating. For example, my grandmother just started playing the ukulele recently. She's never played an instrument in her life and a couple of her girlfriends were like, "Let's learn how to play the ukulele!" In a matter of weeks, she's playing dozens of songs. She loves it. I can't imagine my grandmother saying one day, "I'm gonna learn how to play the piano or the violin."
Do you feel that the instrument's underappreciated?
A lot of people see it as a toy, (but) I adore that the ukulele makes people feel young. There's something about the ukulele that's magical. It gives everyone the opportunity to make music (and) I believe music should be for everyone. When you pick it up, it brings a lot of joy into this world. That's probably something that we need now more than ever.
Eddie Vedder clearly agrees. Do you like his new ukulele album?
I think it's fantastic. I'm a huge fan. I mean, the day that I heard he was doing a ukulele album, I was jumping for joy (laughs). I'd always known that he loved the instrument, but for him to actually commit to doing a full record of ukulele music I thought was just brilliant. Hearing his iconic, soulful voice wailing over this simple four-stringed instrument is amazing to me. It's an incredible combination.