Common Kings are poised for a major breakout. They just came off a tour with Justin Timberlake–13 dates across Australia and New Zealand–and for their debut LP, Hits and Mrs. (due mid-January), they're in the studio with a team of A-list producers that includes Timberlake's longtime co-songwriter/producer Rob Knox, Grammy winner Supa Dups (Eminem, Drake, Bruno Mars) and Brian Kennedy (Ciara, Rhianna).
"We're praying on it, bro," says lead singer Sasualei "JR King" Maliga, a Samoa-born crooner gifted with a honey-tone three-octave range, a vocal styling that would probably make the final rounds of NBC's The Voice. "We're in the mouths of some big-time people, and I think it's just a matter of time before we get a big break."
Though he has spent most of his life in Orange County, Maliga traces his ancestry back to Polynesian royalty on both sides–Samoan on his father's side, Hawaiian on his mother's; in fact, all four members of the band have ruling-class bloodlines. Guitarist Taumata Grey (Samoa), bassist Ivan Kirimaua (Fiji/Kiribati) and drummer Jerome Taito (Tonga) moved to Orange County in their boyhoods–Irvine, Garden Grove and Costa Mesa, respectively. The four met at a 2002 barbecue at Kirimaua's beachfront home in Newport Beach, each of them having common acquaintances in OC's tight-knit Pacific Islander community.
"Most Polynesian people, somebody knows how to play the guitar, and most people know how to sing," Maliga says. Live music is an intrinsic part of any Islander get-together, and forming the group was a natural extension of hanging out together. They decided to get serious and make music their career around 2012, using the name Common Kings as a tribute to their heritage and their laid-back everyday-dude demeanor.
Their first move was to deliberately "go viral"–a plan that might seem ridiculously obvious, if unattainable, at first blush, but they are built for a YouTube-and-Facebook breakthrough given their connections in the Islander community in the U.S. and South Pacific. They focused on writing singles–R&B songs infused with just enough Island lilt–and producing videos for each tune. Soon, their singles hit the Hawaiian airwaves, and based on that recognition, they were soon able to tour eight and nine months of the year.
"There's been a massive amount of love since then," Maliga says. "Island people really support one another." Common Kings' sound has found them a place all their own in the Island-music scene. "People who are in mainstream pop don't consider us pop, and people in Island music don't consider us Island reggae," Maliga says. "So we're kind of right in the middle. We've caught the attention of the mainstream market, though."
Maliga is hesitant to name-drop the people he's working with. For him, it's all in perspective. "Our people, we know football, we know sports, have a little bit of education, but we aren't taught to go out and seek a better opportunity," he says. "We're taught respect, loyalty and love–those are the three things we build our life on."
The notions of success are just starting to sink in for Maliga. "This all has really encouraged a lot of our people–the ones out there working and touring," he says. "It has really inspired them, and that's enough for me right there."
For more information about Common Kings, visit www.facebook.com/commonkings.