By Leon at Lanikai Ukuleles
Tell us a little about yourself and Lanikai…
I’m Leon Lewis, the man behind the “bamboo curtain” at Lanikai Ukuleles! We’re a 15 year old ukulele brand based in Richmond, VA and Honolulu, HI. We do the design and marketing here in RVA (Richmond), and build most of our instruments in Indonesia and China as well as at our own factory in downtown Honolulu.
In the past 6 years we’ve risen to become one of the top ukulele brands in the world, selling hundreds of thousands of ukes for beginners, professional musicians, collectors, and now Sailor Jerry fans!
Outside of the Hawaii connection, what drew you to the idea of working with Sailor Jerry?
Well, we are based in Richmond, VA. – the No. 3 “Most Tattooed City” in the US according to a poll last year. Tattoo culture permeates across all mediums of art here – whether it’s music, design, or street art the culture has made a huge impact in our little city. Some shops in town like River City Tattoo and Salvation focus on the traditional style that Sailor Jerry brought to life and keep taking it to new heights. We’re beyond excited to get to connect our influences in Honolulu with those back home in RVA – despite the 4,000 miles in between.
When we first started chatting with the SJ team it seemed like a perfect fit. We both keep our roots in Hawaii but find inspiration in everything from rock and roll to skateboarding, surfing, street culture, and all things in between. We believe the ukulele is more than a simple instrument made for Hawaiian music, and by giving our trademark uke construction the Sailor Jerry treatment we’re hoping to bring it to a brand new audience.
Who are some of your ukulele influences? Who are the “must hear” ukulele artists out there?
Many people attribute the resurgence of the ukulele to Jake Shimabukuro and his virtuoso level strumming that no one thought possible on the uke. His music is the perfect place to start if you’re new to what the whole “ukulele” thing is all about. We’re happy to call him a friend and his influence all over the world has been instrumental (no pun intended) in bringing the ukulele back into the spotlight. Since then we’ve seen loads of other big names showing off their fondness for these little ukuleles - Eddie Vedder, Zooey Deschanel, Cody Simpson to name just a few. Our buddy Wes Borland of Limp Bizkit has even been opening their sets on ukulele – that’s what I would call a serious crossover, hah!
I come from the world of punk rock and the “folk punk” trend of the early 2000’s is what drew me to the ukulele. It was touring acts like Ghost Mice, Defiance, OH!, Joe Jack Talcum and others that got me into the acoustic sound in general and taught me that you don’t always need a pedal board and a full stack to play your heart out and speak your mind through music.
So what can we expect to see from Lanikai heading into 2015?
More ukes! We’ll be continuing to develop our relationship with Sailor Jerry, increasing capacity at our factory in Honolulu, and pushing the envelope in the music industry with how we present our brand and what we offer our customers. I heard a quote recently which has become our creative mantra here – “if you want to lead the orchestra, you’ve got to turn your back to the crowd”, we’ll be doing just that headed into the new year.
Most recently we’ve partnered with a local tattoo artist and sign-maker here in RVA to hand paint our booth in a Traditional style for the upcoming NAMM Music Trade Show in Los Angeles. Look for us there or follow us online. Aloha!