Interview: Hirie attempts to bridge reggae and pop

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Hirie

Photos: Alessio Neri

NAPA — She may be a well-seasoned traveler, having moved with her family from the Philippines to Italy and then Hawaii before finally calling San Diego home, but reggae singer-songwriter Hirie still found an adventure traversing the streets of Napa on her visit recently, where she performed at BottleRock Napa Valley.

A walk of a few blocks turned into a two-mile trek through various neighborhoods. Like the name of her newest album suggests, Hirie is a Wandering Soul.

Patricia Jetton was born in the Philippines to a mother who was a civil engineer and a British father who was serving in the United Nations.

Hirie

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She discovered her love of reggae music after her family moved to Kaneohe, Hawaii, which she considers her home.

“Living in different places, you realize just how eclectic everything is and how beautiful different cultures are,” she said. “Everything is so diverse. You have to embrace it, and you have to appreciate it to really get by in life and to really fully enjoy it.”

Reggae holds those philosophies dear, and the singer connected with them from a young age. “Hirie” is a combination of the Jamaican patois word “irie” and the abbreviation for Hawaii.

“Irie is like a state of mind of being content and happy and above the influence,” she said.

Still, Hirie the musician did not begin making music until she followed her sister to San Diego several years ago. Like Hawaii, the city is “slow-paced, and the weather is amazing.”

At first, her music was more traditional singer-songwriter fare. Hirie said her influences include the likes of Alanis Morissette, Whitney Houston, Lauren Hill, Celine Dion and Norah Jones, as well as pop bands like the Bee Gees and the Gipsy Kings.

She started her band, which she also called HIRIE, in 2013 after deciding to focus on her first love, reggae. She met her saxophonist, Chris Hampton, online. The rest of the band came together soon after through word of mouth, including trombonist Andrew McKee, bassist Andy Flores, guitarist Blaine Dillinger and drummer Joey Muraoka.

Hirie’s first, self-titled album fused reggae with her influences like pop, ska and dancehall, and grew buzz thanks to tracks like easy-flowing “Sensi Boy.” Followings started in the band’s hometown (winning several local music awards), as well as Hawaii, other Pacific Ocean islands, and American college markets.

“My goal in the reggae scene is to kind of cross over and affect a more mainstream audience,” she said.

That was Hirie’s goal with Wandering Soul, which she released independently last year. The album blends in pop as well as Afro-Caribbean rhythms on tracks like “Good Vibration” and “Melody of a Broken Heart,” which concludes with an ‘80s-inspired sax solo.

Nahko Bear of Nahko and Medicine for the People guests on the funky, subversively political “Renegade.” The album’s other single, “You Won’t Be Alone,” stands out the most, with its heavy pop and ska influences, not unlike early No Doubt.

Lyrically, the song is written to Hirie’s daughter and meant as an inspirational message that she can be anyone she wants as she grows up. Hirie also wanted the song to bridge the gap between reggae music and fans of pop.

Hirie

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Hirie chose to fund the album through the help of fans, crowdfunding about $45,000. Danny Kalb (Ben Harper, Beck) produced.

“He’s incredible, and we got to make the album of our dreams,” she said.

Wandering Soul debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Reggae Chart, which has increased the band’s opportunities and landed Hirie at BottleRock. She is on her first amphitheater tour this summer, opening for Rebelution and Nahko and Medicine for the People.

Hirie is already writing her next songs and is working to bridge the gap between reggae and mainstream pop further.

“It’s eclectic, just like the last one,” she said. “I’m starting to understand that scene a lot more, and I would like to apply my lyrics that I hope are a little more dense and worth reading and listening to.”

Follow Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter and RomiTheWriter.Tumblr.com. Follow photographer Alessio Neri at Instagram.com/windowofcolor and Windowofcolor.com.

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