The Hawaiian native and Long Beach based songwriter Lionel Boy has announced that his debut self-titled album will be released on May 14th via Innovative Leisure. To celebrate the announcement, he shares with us new single & video “Kam Highway“.
The synth heavy and ethereal track is the follow up to the laid back “Flower Girl,“ released in March. “Kam Highway” highlights Lionel’s sultry baritone capabilities and is set against a reverb-drenched backdrop of airy synth textures, extra low bass, and a heavy beat laced with trap elements.
“Back home in Hawaii, one of the main highways we have is called Kam Highway.” Lionel Boy shares. “For me, it connected the two places I grew up in—Waialua and Wahiawa. It’s my favorite drive in the whole world. I hadn’t done much previous work on my own with synths or beat making but it was something I’d been wanting to try. When I started working on the song, it sounded a lot like a long, dark road and the first one that came to mine was the one I’d been taking my whole life.”
The visual companion to “Kam Highway” was directed by Joanna Nguyen. “‘Kam Highway’ was shot over a span of three days on my home island of Oahu, Hawaii by my awesome friend Joanna Nguyen. It’s funny – I grew up in “paradise” wanting nothing more than to escape it. I’ve driven many roads looking for an exit only to realize—you can’t run from what’s inside.”
Pre-order / pre-save Lionel Boy via Innovative Leisure HERE.
Native to Hawaii and now living in Long Beach, Lionel Boy’s sound mixes spacey synthesizers, impromptu breakbeats & bedroom pop. “Kam Highway” and “Flower Girl” are the first hints of new music from the Hawaiian native since his debut Who Is Dovey? EP was released last year. The EP served a perfect introduction to Lionel Boy’s sound and included songs “Lately,” “Summer Fun“, “Are You Happy Yet“ and “Lost,” a song which The FADER described as “a detuned slacker-pop song that builds to a satisfyingly down-tempo guitar hook.”
Good vibes are something that the modern world desperately needs. Graciously, such benevolent energy can be found on Lionel Boy, the Innovative Leisure self-titled debut LP from Lionel Boy, the Oahu-bred singer-songwriter.
In the case of Lionel Boy, the native Hawaiian sense of the Mahalo spirit is inextricable from the art. And like the word “Mahalo,” there is a deeper meaning to the music beyond superficial translation. Mahalo literally translates to “thank you,” but it’s an entire approach to life: it encompasses the value of thankfulness, appreciation, and gratitude. While those might easily interpret it as indifference and apathy, it is a product of profound connectivity and three-dimensional perspective. Few things are more difficult than making a work of art appear effortless. The airy, jazz-cracked, electronic pop of Lionel Boy belies a wistful romanticism, a careful observational streak, and a meditative fixation on life and death.
A famous John Keats quote holds that you shouldn’t write poems unless the words come naturally as leaves falling from a tree. In a slightly different sense, you can use this notion to trace the trajectory of Lionel’s career. For most of his life, the apostle of chill born Lionel Deguzman was a skater kid. The pursuit taught him the value of individuality — in the sense that there are myriad ways to ride a skateboard and you find your own way by figuring out your own natural style — a singularity that sets you apart from everyone else who can do a backside 180. It’s this attitude with which Lionel approaches music. Even then, this evolution had a streak of serendipity.
In the summer of 2018, Lionel first entered a studio in Long Beach with two close friends (he’d moved to the West Coast port city several years prior). The recording session started by shouting obscenities into the microphone. But inspiration slowly took root and the Lionel Boy vision began to manifest. That same year, Lionel began working with the celebrated producer Jonny Bell on an unrelated project. The strength of the artistic kinship eventually led him to produce the Lionel’s first single, “Are You Happy Yet,” and the Who Is Dovey? EP, released on Innovative Leisure.
Flash forward, a few years later, and the creative union has led to Lionel Boy, an electric synthesis of Lionel’s sounds — which FADER previously hailed as “slacker pop” (alternate ascription: “liquor store pop.”). It’s a warm and mellow album built to keep you company on long drives. If Lionel’s artist DNA stems from a classic singer-songwriter tradition, it’s been subtly transposed with the influences of the rappers, beatmakers, and R&B singers that dominate his listening habits. “Kam Highway” sounds like a breathless moonlit torch ballad laced with a touch of inspiration derived from Boi-1da’s kicks on “Mob Ties.” With “Tides,” Lionel Boy updates Jack Johnson and Ben Harper for a generation in dire need of expansive and endearing mood music. “Mango Michelada” reimagines the synth sounds often used by Frank Ocean to create a song that comes off as refreshing and tropically chill as its namesake.
Despite being recorded during the pandemic, Lionel and Bell somehow managed to create an antidote for the anxiety. They’d visit each other several times a week, slowly fleshing out the demos that Lionel recorded at home, aided by a squadron of highly gifted virtuosos (Fred Garbutt, synthesizers; Bell, Nic Gonzales, Andrew Pham and Sam Wilkes, bass; Brett Kramer, drums; Sarah Hinesly, keys, and Andres Renteria on percussion). Lionel Boy is soulful and easy-going, both introspective and laissez faire. Extremely mellow but never soft-headed.
For a moment fraught with stress and chaos, this album is a relaxed exhale of joy. Yet it refuses delusion. These are real-life circumstances that play out with thought and concern. After all, there is a subtlety to the art of the vibe. Lionel Boy isn’t just playing a series of chords to create a serene mood. It’s at the essence of his being. Something that can’t be forced or faked. A timeless cool apart from momentary trends, eternal as the tides rolling in and out.