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Living an island lifestyle with a father who was a traveling musician, Tini Grey never thought he would evolve into the happy-go-lucky musician he is today. "When I grew up in Samoa, we would sing songs in the morning, evening and at church. Singing was always very prevalent in the family, so I never really considered music as a career," he says.
But the calendar on his website tells a very different tale, with gigs throughout San Diego and LA, regular performances at the Disneyland Hotel, and a weekly residency at Mai Tai Bar in Long Beach. Whatever performance bug he caught later in life is definitely sticking with him.
Relentlessly sunny lyrics and colorful island vibes abound on Grey's first full-length album, Shades of Grey, released on Sept. 25. Not to be confused with the erotic novel 50 Shades of Gray, the album boasts colorful positive messages about friends, family and life.
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"My album has a timeless feel," Grey says. "It has a little bit of everything, but still feels like it's all the same project. I'm a classic guy, and I like the old style of recording."
Though there are diverse messages in his lyrics, his smooth, strong vocals combine elements of Ben Harper and John Mayer to produce a sound that embodies his father's legacy, yet with his own brand of personal storytelling and undeniable pop melodies.
His father, Jerome Grey, was an acclaimed Polynesian musician who performed all over the U.S. "I was actually born in Orange County because my dad was a traveling musician," Grey says. "I was 2 years old when my sister was born in Boise, Idaho, and after that, we went back to the islands."
He spent 11 years on his family's native island of Samoa before moving to Hawaii. The acoustic guitars, harmonicas and, of course, ukulele on songs such as "It's Gonna Be You" echo the laid-back island influences throughout Grey's life and led him to produce his 2011 EP, Better Place.
Despite his passion, Grey was hardly forced to take up his father's mantle. "[Music] was always my dad's way of putting food on the table, and he would encourage us to not be musicians," he says. In fact, the musician studied architecture in LA.
After his father suffered a serious stroke while onstage in 2006, Grey found a new perspective on life and incorporating music into it. Though he used to view songwriting as an "intimidating" process, he soon dedicated his time to honing the craft, going into music stores, picking up books and studying how to write songs.
"There's no one way to write a song, so I started thinking back about life. . . . It was healing for me to write about these things," he says. "Music is healing."
In true islander fashion, Grey keeps his songs positive and upbeat, much like the path his career is taking—and much like the man who came before him.
"I've become my dad, with three sons and one girl on the way," Grey says. "Music has been good to me."
This column appeared in print as "Big Love."