One of the best parts about starting this column has been discovering artists for myself. While most of the time I’ve been reaching out to musicians whose work I’m familiar with, this week’s artist was recommended by a reader.
Glendal Tautua just released his debut album “Bonnie in Greenwood” on Monday. The album is deeply personal and was released on the 21st of September to commemorate the death of one of his brothers who died just 11 days after another brother. Tautua works in the UW’s admissions office as an admissions counselor but by night he’s in the studio, for him music is a therapeutic outlet.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What bands/projects have you been affiliated with?
Honestly not too many. As far as projects and working with other artists I’ve only been involved with OTOW (Operation Take Over the World) projects. Mic Flont, Khingz, and Cham Ba are all local artists I’ve been able to partner with. I’ve also been able to work a little bit with Sabzi from Blue Scholars as he helped with the album and is on the last song on “Bonnie In Greenwood,” but other than that I’ve really just been working on my own projects.
How long have you lived in Seattle? What neighborhood did you live in?
I’ve lived in Seattle for about 15 years now. I moved to Seattle from Hawaii because of how expensive the island became. Many locals are being pushed out every day as tourism takes over much of Hawaii.
When I moved from Hawaii to Seattle we found a home in White Center which really is a hub for many immigrant families. It’s also a low-income/diverse community and that’s why I rep it so hard. White Center oftentimes gets a negative rep in the media and in Seattle but it really is a beautiful and vibrant community. There’s so much talent and love there that I hope to be able to show the world.
Seattle has changed so much over the years. What has made you stay in the city?
I’m still in Seattle because there’s still so much work left to be done in many of our communities. Music is my hobby, but my passion is supporting young people and helping them try to find their passion through education. At night I’m in the studio, but during the day I’m an admissions counselor at the University of Washington and I partner with non-profit organizations and community-based organizations to promote higher education in low-income communities. I’ll be in Seattle until I feel called to continue this work elsewhere.
Can you give us a brief bio—how’d you get into music and why’d you stick with it?
I started doing music as the middle child of 12 other siblings. I grew up with brothers who played the guitar, drums, piano, etc. and brothers who had crazy good singing voices, so naturally, I started to pick up instruments and started singing as well. What pushed me to start writing though was my connection to hip-hop artists.
My family and I grew up poor and have experienced so much trauma living in White Center. As a teen and I needed a way to express myself. I started listening to rap legends such as Tupac and Biggie and I realized these individuals were the only ones who talked about a reality that I recognized. There were no popular Polynesian artists talking about living in poverty, gun violence, unfair systems (education, justice, etc.) that I could look up to so naturally Black hip-hop and R&B artists became my musical influences. I started writing raps and my family and friends told me I was dope. The rest was history.
Why do you think Seattle’s music scene has always been so vibrant?
To be completely honest I don’t think it’s vibrant enough, especially in the hip hop scene. From my experience, there are artists who just aren’t willing to support each other. Everyone’s kind of just looking after themselves as if there are only two or three spots at the top that we’re all fighting for. It’s why not many hip-hop artists blow up in Seattle. Everyone’s kind of doing their own thing and I’d like to change that. If we could build a better, more supportive hip-hop scene in Seattle more artists would get exposure. Especially if we are all supporting each other.
Favorite local venue you’ve played/favorite local venue you’ve seen a show at?
I’ve only ever performed at Barboza—I’m still relatively new and shows I did have lined up were canceled due to COVID-19. But my favorite place to see a show is the Showbox at the Market. I love the vibe and I’ve seen artists like tech nine perform there. Something about the history of that place gives a great vibe. It’s my goal to headline one of the Showbox venues in the future!
How would you describe your sound? Who are some of your influences?
I grew up in a Christian church and that has a lot of musical influence on the way I sing and stack my vocals. The way that gospel harmonies are sung during worship brings a full, soulful, and emotional feeling to the music. I use the same melodic harmonies in many of my songs.
I also grew up listening to Samoan music and singing with my family and there’s nothing quite like Samoans harmonizing in unison. Singing in key and having the ability to harmonize comes so naturally to Samoans it’s almost genetic. So, I learned how to harmonize with my family and in church and began to use those four-part harmonies in my music. Along with church and my Samoan heritage, I came across hip-hop as a kid in Hawaii. I started listening to Tupac, Biggie, 50 Cent, Eminem, etc and that opened up a whole new world for me.
The best part about rapping and singing though is combining the two to create a more vibrant and melodic expression. What I do is write a rap and record the vocals. After laying down the rap vocals I’ll sing over my rap in the key that the song is in, and then layer those singing vocals with a four-part harmony. I do this throughout the album and it’s strongly influenced by my Samoan Gospel upbringing and my love for rap and R&B. It has allowed me to diversify my sound and you can see that in how different some of the songs on the album are. “Woah,” the first song on the album is very soulful, R&B-ish, but also has a little bit of rapping involved. “One Night” however, is much more R&B and has a Musiq Soulchild kind of feel to it. It’s light-hearted, fun, and more mainstream. People often think of music through a one-dimensional lens by categorizing songs (rock, rap, contemporary, etc) but what’s really happening is someone is taking all of their experiences– cultural, musical, familial– and placing them all together to create a sound. You can’t put that in a box. I hope when people hear the album they can hear the Samoan, Gospel, and hip-hop influences all mixed into one. My influences are J Cole and Chance the rapper. J Cole with his unmatched storytelling and Chance the Rapper for his gospel blend of vocals and rap.
I used music since I was a kid as an outlet but I kept my music, writings, and raps in secret. I grew up with a single mother who worked at both the Taco Bell in White Center and at the Old Albertsons in White Center. She juggled two to three jobs all my life and so I needed a way to express myself and the hurt I and my family was feeling. My brother Lorenzo was a popular musical artist back in the day and I used to follow him around to his shows and performances. My brother Christian Tautua who now teaches at Cascade Middle school was also crazy talented with music and that’s when I started writing and picking up instruments. I kind of just wanted to be like them.
Tell me more about OTOW (Operation Take On the World):
OTOW is a collective of artists from Seattle that I was able to recently join. It’s managed and run by one of my best friends Cham Ba and he was the one who brought me into the fold. I drunk called him one night after I spilled soda on my laptop – losing a 16 song mixtape I had been working on. He picked me up that night and I showed him some of the things I was working on. When I showed him a couple of my songs he was kind of blown away, but I still had to prove I had the work ethic before he took me on fully. After a couple of years of grinding away, we finally decided to work on a project of mine.
Originally, the songs on this album were just songs that I wrote in my head or to beats online. The idea of an album came up after I recorded two or three songs in my bedroom and took them over to Cham so that he could listen. Cham has been a rap artist in Seattle since the 2000s and for a long time went by the name “Massiah.” He has been making music since he was like 12-years-old or something crazy like that and has been THE rapper in White Center who has been the most consistent. He’s also — in my opinion — one of the best engineers in Seattle when it comes to mixing, mastering, and creating music that has clean textures, perfectly blended vocals, and snares & kicks that thump loudly.
The first song I took over was a demo version of “Woah,” (first song on the album). He listened to it and flipped out. He was impressed and told me to show him everything else. Once we started sifting through my written songs, we began recording at his studio and realized that all of this music had a certain theme to it. They were all — in one way or another — songs about my past, songs about our neighborhood, and songs about finding myself. That’s when we decided that these songs needed to be stitched together strategically to create an album. From that point on we began working on this project with the mindset that everything needed to be intentional from our visuals to the tracklist.
What’s behind the name “Bonnie In Greenwood”? What inspired the album?
The album is titled “Bonnie In Greenwood” for a couple of different reasons. When I was a kid (about 12 years old) two of my brothers were killed due to gun violence just 11 days apart. Wayne Molio’o and Michael Miller were their names. Wayne was a teenager that my family took in at the time and he was shot and killed at Southcenter mall. He died on September 10th, 2006. Michael “Mikey” Miller died in my home (and in our room) by an accidental gunshot on September 21st, 2006, so as you can imagine, September is a hard month for my family and me. It’s also why the album is dropping on September 21st. I wanted to add new meaning to one of the hardest days of my life.
I witnessed the death of Mikey and it took a toll on my emotional and mental health. Wayne is buried at Bonney Watson Memorial cemetery in SeaTac, and Mikey is buried at Greenwood memorial, hence the name “Bonney in Greenwood.” The album name makes it sound as if it was about a girl and a place, but it is really about my two brothers. This entire album and everything I do through music are dedicated to them. They taught me how to be strong, how to stand up for myself, and how to be fearless. I NEED their memory to live on forever.
How does your Samoan culture influence your music?
It really influences the way I write and sing. Samoan music is filled with harmonies and I use that a bunch in my music, but also, it influences the way I write about community. We are a collectivist society and so most of my music is about community and finding contentment in community, regardless of your situation. If anything though it influences who I am as a person. Most people who know me, know that I’d give a stranger the shirt off of my back if I needed to. All I care about is making my community stronger and caring for others, and that comes straight from my Samoan background. I honestly think that my involvement in the community and my Samoan culture is why I’ve received some attention in music. I mean, I think the music is good, but it has been my involvement in the Samoan community that really allowed people to give my music a chance.
One thing you’d like to highlight about your community/White Center?
I’d like people to know the struggle that happens in our communities but also the diversity in White Center. People in White Center really do rally together to support each other. We see it every day as BLM is plastered everywhere and community leaders continue to mobilize young people.
But also, there’s still a lot of work to be done. Especially in our schools and with our young people. While I’ve had great ones, my school teachers at the time couldn’t tell me everything was going to be alright because most of them didn’t know what my experiences were like and weren’t actually from my neighborhood. Sometimes it felt like school and White Center were two completely different places. I felt this way especially after losing Wayne and Mikey to gun violence.
Most people don’t know what it is like to lose a sibling in your own bedroom and then have to sleep in that same room every night. Or what it’s like to get jumped on your way home from school. Or what it feels like when your power and water get cut because minimum wage is NOT a liveable wage. There are also individuals who are totally oblivious to the fact that kids in our neighborhoods are STILL EXPERIENCING THESE THINGS.
I’m in our high schools and in our communities and I see it every day. It’s hard to accept, but in White Center, Burien, SeaTac, Tukwila, Tacoma, etc. there are still young people who are experiencing that same kind of trauma. That’s why so many of us turn to hip-hop, rap, and R&B and are judged for listening to songs with “crazy” lyrics about violence, guns, fighting back etc. Why hate on someone’s music choice when it’s the only place that mentions a reality that matches ours? I never understood that.
How has COVID-19 impacted your music?
OTOW had some opportunities to go back to Oahu to perform and to do a Hawaii tour with the Pharcyde but that got canceled because of COVID-19. Other than booked shows being canceled COVID honestly gave me more flexibility to work on music. It also made it easier for people to tune in because, for the most part, people are at home looking for new ways to be entertained. It didn’t slow production down for me as I’m still working on singles/mixtapes to be put out after this album has been released, so be on the lookout for more new music!
COVID has been tough but it’s not slowing me down. What’s been most difficult during these times is managing my mental health. My Godmother and a very close friend of mine both passed away in 2020 and we could barely attend the funerals. That coupled with feelings of loneliness and anxiety is hard to deal with in quarantine, so I’ve really had to make a conscious effort to write how I feel, get some fresh air, and love on myself the best way I can.
Where can you find your music?
My album “Bonnie In Greenwood” and my recent singles can be found on pretty much every digital music platform. It’s on Spotify, Apple Music, SoundCloud, Youtube, etc. If you’d like to support then you can purchase it on Bandcamp or Apple Music, but it’s intentionally free for the most part so feel free to stream it!
Favorite song from other Seattle artists?
Right now I’ve been listening to Travis Thompson a little more. He’s from Burien and I’m from White Center which is pretty much the same neighborhood, so it’s dope to see an artist like him doing his thing and representing the town. I’ve also just been in tune with OTOW’s musicians and artists just bumping them. A friend of mine Lake Stovall is also a crazy talent who is about to put out dope music so he’s another one!