nz music month 2020

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Lepani: Only One Song Away

Lepani: Only One Song Away

Fiji-born but raised in east Auckland (via some time in Rotorua) as part of a family that would sing together in their free time, music is in Lepani Tuifagaleles blood. Though only two singles into his career, he’s already signed with a major label, has management, and was invited to join this year’s SongHubs at Roundhead Studios with a group of our finest young songwriters. In the light of the release of his new single Breathe, which places somewhere between pop and contemporary RnB, Silke Hartung caught up with him. Made with the support of NZ On Air.

You just participated in SongHubs 2020 – can you give us some intel on how many songs you personally will get out of the work done in that week?

SongHubs was an amazing experience, working with so much talent. I was fortunate enough to work on two songs as the artist, but I won’t spoil whether we’ll be using them or not. You’ll just have to wait and see.

How do you get to be part of it, to begin with? 

I’m not too sure, but my guess would be to just have content. It could be just a song or two released, but as long as you have something to show them what you’re capable of you’ll definitely have a chance.

Anyone involved in Songhubs whose work you didn’t know well before, but who you’ve come to respect as a songwriter?

A few artists I had the pleasure of working with were Chaii and Amila. Both amazing at what they do, such wonderful people! In fact, the majority of the people there were new to me, and I to them, but just finding out how incredible everyone is just increased my experience a hundred times more!

When collaborating do you have an approach that works best for you that you could give us a rundown on?

Not really. If you vibe, then you vibe – and if you don’t, then you learn. Something I’ve learnt from the Swedish writers that joined us in SongHubs. The approach doesn’t matter so much, as long as everyone in the room has the same mindset and is working toward the same goal. Sometimes I start with a melody in my head and we build off it, or a chord progression, or maybe we work with a story from the week. It always changes, but the one thing that should always stay the same is the passion.

What’s the biggest lesson you learned at Songhubs?

You’re one hit song away from being a professional!

What was the biggest challenge?

Accepting that I was good enough to be a part of it. I’m so used to working on my own at home and making my own music, that when it came to collaborating with big groups I was intimidated. I was blessed enough that everyone in the program was reassuring and so supportive.

Your new single Breathe is out now – can you tell us a little about the story behind the song?

I’d love to. Breathe centres around my girlfriend. I was worried about whether I was actually good enough for her. She kept reminding me I was but I’m a stubborn guy, so it took a lot of convincing. I always look back on that night and think to myself how amazingly blessed I am to have her in my life. So I woke up one morning the week after, had this feeling that I just translated into the song, and I finished it that afternoon!

Breathe is only your second single and you’ve already made a name for yourself. How did you manage to get your name out there so quickly? 

I have such a great team. The guys at Sony, and my manager and close friend Rob Smith. But honestly, it wasn’t quick. I left school in 2014, got a part-time job, and started spending all my money on production equipment.

I just produced and wrote till I thought my music was finally good enough to show people. A lot of young kids want to rush into it all. But the best advice I can give, that I’ve followed, which was also reiterated to me at Songhubs, is making sure you’re great at what you do before you share your art.

Accept criticism, and always try to improve. Don’t go begging for people to listen to your music, let them want you. For me, that just happened to take years, but so far it’s definitely paid off.

Who are you working with who looks after your musical career in terms of mentoring, management and publicity?

Sony Music helps me out, Rob manages me, and I have close friends and family that keep me on my toes. In terms of mentoring I would say going on tour with Stan Walker has given me the opportunity to learn so much about performance and stage presence. At SongHubs, working with the Swedish songwriters and producers, Nirob, Sara, Julia, and Anton allowed me the time to learn how to work in a group, and how to write for other people. But before all of that, it was just me and Youtube.

With two awesome singles to date, what are your plans for the rest of the year?

About to start our rugby season which will be fun, also got some coaching to do. My sister is having a baby so I’ll be an uncle soon! Oh and I’ll be making more music, and playing more shows of course. Well, at least that’s the plan…