Leilani Wolfgramm isn’t home, but she is back in her element.
The singer-songwriter, a native Floridian now living in Southern California, has been making regular visits to Hawaii since 2014. Two years after a tragedy that has pushed her to create some of her strongest music, she’ll be at The Republik on Saturday.
“I’m not a hometown hero in my hometown the way I am here,” she said in an interview at the studios of iHeartRadio after a short performance there. “The way that I’m brought in and the way that I’m shown love and support that I’m shown here, it’s as if I’m coming home. I’d rather come here.”
She has longstanding ties to Hawaii, with her parents having lived in Laie before she was born. They moved to Florida to perform at Disney World — she herself got in the entertainment business early, performing as a child at nearby SeaWorld. Hawaii, however, provided her first real break in show business, taking her out of gigging at bars and busking on the streets.
“I was the person in the corner, playing top 40s for two hours,” she said. “I didn’t get really noticed and accepted until I came to Hawaii. That was my first tour ever, in Hawaii.”
Locals still remember her catchy song “Herbivore,” a clever little ditty that was as much a love song as it was a par-tay tune, though its stop-start, thumping refrain seemed reminiscent of huff-puffing on a bong. “It wasn’t even out yet,” Wolfgramm said. “Somebody leaked it. I think it was my cousin.”
WOLFGRAMM IS a first cousin to the Wolfgramm family that comprised The Jets, a family band of Tongan ancestry that had a considerable following in Hawaii. They were her first inspiration in music — not that she’s trying to mimick their ’80s, pop-funk dance sound, but because they found their own path in music.
“I found that you can do whatever you want, creatively,” she said. “They kind of opened my eyes to that, like you don’t have to box yourself into any kind of label or genre.”
Her recent work, in fact, is a far cry from the sly “Herbivore.”
Wolfgramm’s 2017 album, “Live Wire,” went deep and dark, with its title track describing a beautiful young woman living in the fast lane, yet worried about the time when her looks desert her. Other songs referred to alcohol abuse (“Sinner”), the drug-ridden streets of Orlando, Fla., where she grew up (The Trail”), self-doubt (“Heaven”) and other heavy subjects. The album was written after the death of her father by electrocution.
“He died from a live wire in our backyard,” she said, “so there was a reference that I had to have for the process of writing this and tour this, because now it means something bigger than a record. Now I have to speak the truth and speak from the heart.”
Not surprisingly, she said songwriting for her is “all raw emotion.”
“My emotions get the best of me,” she said. “I’m really bad in social situations. I’m not very articulate until I sit and write it out. Then I can actually sort through my emotions in a way that, ‘OK, now you can understand,’” she said.
She cited her song “Change the World,” a song about love, forgiveness and generosity, which reflects her “frustration with what I was seeing.” The video for the song shows scenes of poverty and destitution, in comparison to her other videos, which usually feature her smoldering good looks.
Wolfgramm takes a hands-on role in the creation and direction of her videos.
NEW SONGS are in the works for Wolfgramm. “Devastation and heartbreak” will still be a part of her music, but more recent material has that “element of hope to it,” she said. “I hope it will sound a little bit wiser. I hope it sounds a bit more grown up.”
Her career path is on the rise as well, with Wolfgramm signing with the Raleigh Music Group label, which produced “Live Wire.” She’s concertized with the likes of Ziggy Marley, Incubus, Dirty Heads, Tribal Seeds and Sublime With Rome.
More importantly, her career is at the point where she does not have to do everything on her own, having built a track record over the years that enables her to tap into “the music business.”
For years, she was somewhat wary of it, a suspicion that comes from her connection to The Jets, who, despite eight Top 10 charting hits, did not reap great rewards. Knowing that history, “it was hard to get my trust,” she said.
“You can be a great artist. You can make great music, but you have to realize that this is ‘the music business,’ ” said Wolfgramm, “so it’s just getting with the right people who know the business well, that speak the business type of language. I speak creative language and then I get someone I trust — manager, management team, agency, publishers, whatever — who speak the business language well.
“When it works out in harmony is when the integrity of the artist isn’t being compromised by the business. You have to be able trust each other. I don’t know all the secrets yet, but I’m getting there.”
Ultimately, Wolfgramm sees herself in the singer-songwriter vein, admiring artists like Bob Dylan, genres such as folk music and country music, and “telling a story.”
“Anything that’s true and speaks to you honestly, I’m inspired by that,” she said.
>> Where: The Republik
>> When: 8 p.m. Saturday
>> Cost: $25-$30
>> Info: 941-7469, jointherepublik.com