The Common Kings spent years working on an album, but one session changed their direction.
Working with prolific producer and songwriter Poo Bear, something clicked for the reggae-pop group from Orange County, California. Songs started coming quickly, and three or four months later they had their first album, “Lost in Paradise.” After five years of working on one album, bass player Lui “Ivan” Kirimaua said they had a totally different one.
“All the songs are brand new,” Kirimaua said. “We basically wrote brand new songs on this album.”
The debut album, released this February, spawned a tour that spans the West Coast, including Alaska for three shows. The final show in the state will be July 3 at Juneau’s Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall.
Quite a bit has changed since the last time the Common Kings played in Juneau. The venue they played at a couple years ago, Suite 907, no longer exists. The band members themselves have lost weight, becoming more health conscious now that they’re on tour so much. They’ve been all over the world, from touring Australia with Justin Timberlake to playing in Guam with CeeLo Green to roaming the country with artists such as Meghan Trainor and Fergie.
Though it’s been an eventful couple of years, Kirimaua said he and his bandmates still have vivid memories of being in Juneau and said it’s one of their favorite places to visit.
“It just seems different,” Kirimaua said of Juneau. “Flying in, that big old mountain that’s right there, it shoots up and makes you feel really small and gives off the realest experience of Alaska. It feels like you’re walking right into the wild frontier.”
Their music, which combines elements of reggae, rock, hip hop, R&B and more, has taken them all over the world, but it all starts in the South Pacific. The four band members all have roots in Polynesian countries — Hawaii, Fiji, Samoa and Tonga — and that shared culture brought them together years ago.
Initially bonding over a love of music and Polynesian food, the Common Kings era began at a jam session at Kirimaua’s house about six years ago. They had already been friends for years, but became convinced that they could actually find success as a band during that session. Their name comes from their roots, as Polynesian cultures traditionally have royal lineage.
“Common Kings just seemed like a fitting name that pays tribute to our heritage but also to who we are today,” Kirimaua said. “We’re just common people.”
The music they’ve released since 2011 is characterized by its upbeat, carefree attitude. Lead singer Sasualei “Jr King” Maliga’s emotional voice floats over heavy beats and energetic trumpet blasts, with the content of the songs never getting too serious. Speaking over the phone, Kirimaua repeated numerous times that the Common Kings are finding success in part because they don’t take themselves too seriously.
While some musical artists put pressure on themselves to act a certain way or make music in a certain way, the Common Kings are staying true to their style — making music that suits a backyard barbecue or an outdoor concert on a hot California day.
The new album is full of songs that fit that bill, including the title track that focuses on sitting poolside and enjoying “the good vibes.” The 10-song album is characterized by that carefree feeling, but also includes touches from other successful artists. One song, “Before You Go,” was co-written with Meghan Trainor. Another song on the album, “Stretch,” was originally written for Justin Bieber.
When Common Kings began working with Poo Bear (who works with Bieber quite a bit), Poo Bear thought that the song fit the persona of Common Kings much more than it fit Bieber’s vibe. He then talked with Bieber and they both decided that it would fit better with Common Kings.
Through working with artists such as Poo Bear, Bieber, Trainor and Timberlake, the band has picked up tips along the way. Touring with Timberlake, Kirimaua said, was eye-opening in seeing how down-to-earth and humble Timberlake was despite being one of the world’s biggest pop stars.
Though they’ve learned and evolved as a band, the Common Kings are still essentially the same band that played in Juneau two years ago, Kirimaua said. A little success and a new album haven’t changed the fact that the Common Kings are just looking to have fun.
“If they’ve been to our show, they know what to expect,” Kirimaua said. “It’s gonna be a good time. If they’ve been listening to our songs, they’re gonna be singing along with every song that we play. …If you haven’t been to our show, be prepared to have a good time.”