By Dan Williams
It’s been four years since we last checked in with Nalani & Sarina. And they’ve grown.
The energetic, superbly talented twins had just turned 21 and were already road tested with the legendary “10,000 hours” from performing up and down the east coast from NYC to Delaware multiple nights each week.
The Bolton sisters of Flemington, New Jersey have gone from opening act to headliners, including this month’s two-day Ladybug Music Festival in Wilmington, Delaware takes place on July 20 and 21. That’s a big deal. The festival, presented by Chase, features nearly 80 acts on nine stages. The festival is female-driven with a very diverse lineup of musical styles.
There is currently a huge billboard in Wilmington promoting the festival with a large image of the twins front and center. And the headlining act on the main stage is Nalani & Sarina with their hard-rocking band.
We sat down before their recent show at New Jersey’s The Vault (at Victor Records) where they explained that the new album, The Circle, is very personal and observational. Sarina began by saying that they focused on reoccurring themes from being in their twenties. A time when one finds out who they are, the good and bad. “It resonates with all ages, recalling the past and living life without regret,” she explains.
Nalani addressed the meaning of the album’s title track. “It was the last song written for the album. We talk about how divided everyone is. It’s an invitation to be part of the circle, the change.”
Again, the tune is inviting, danceable and lively. But the theme is damn serious.
“No, no I don’t want to be angry anymore / But it’s the same old problem with a different face…”
Then the chorus offers hope and an invitation: “You can be part of the circle, you can be part of the change / You can be part of the circle, hear each other out…”
This album hits all the marks of today with an emphasis on what it feels like to be someone in their 20s: finding jobs, addiction, relationships and the difficulties some feel in fitting in.
But they’re all disarming. The tunes will catch you at the first riff, but also take you on an unexpected journey. Sarina uses “Coming For You” as an example with its growling and near aggressive singing: “Your own secret war / That war with yourself / Praying to God you could be someone else / I’ll be your savior, you bow down to me / I’m all you’ve got, and all you need / You know it’s true, I’m coming for you, I’m coming for you, I’m coming for you…”
The lyrics are sung in the first person as the character of opioids, alcohol or any other form of addiction. Halfway through the song, the tone goes very dark as the protagonist chants “Don’t you want me, need me, need me, need me…”
Nalani & Sarina are currently touring in support of their new album, The Circle. The record’s lead-off single “Young & Inexperienced” is a heavier sounding rocker where they rail against a system where the deck is stacked against members of their generation.
“Can’t get no job with no experience, no experience without no job / Feels like no one takes me serious, working hard ain’t hard enough…”
It’s memorable, has strong hooks, great production with lyrics that smack between the eyes. The twins are serious.
The magic of their continued growth and success is their uncanny ability to write catchy, memorable and singable tunes with observational lyrics that appeal to the widest of audiences. The musicianship of Nalani & Sarina, as well as their studio and touring musicians, is extraordinary.
Their gift comes with many years of study. Not in school, but in musical history. They are virtual historians of blues, funk, pop, rock, and soul. They learned by studying the best, especially their favorite band, The Beatles. If you listen to the melodies and craftsmanship of their work, you’ll see the influence of the masters.
Speaking of one of their influences, they occasionally toss a cover or two into their live shows. In the past, they have done AC/DC, Ben E King, blues legend Sam Moore and maybe a Beatles song or two.
Halfway through their gig at The Vault, they executed a stirring acoustic cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Save My Love.” The audience loved every minute. Afterward, Nalani casually mentioned how nervous they were when they performed it privately for Springsteen himself. Another big moment to add to the 10,000 hours that guarantee success!
When performing in and around NYC, well-known players such as Will Lee of David Letterman fame and keyboardist Tommy Mandel, the preeminent studio and touring player with credits as long as the New Jersey Turnpike, performing in-studio and on-stage with the twins.
Oscar Albis Rodriguez is a well-respected NYC-based guitarist and the ever-present Jim Hines on drums is on record and shares the road. Currently on tour with the band are bassist Mike Klemash and Ryan Swing on guitar. I have seen many iterations of the band over the years and this is the tightest and most charismatic to date.
Completing the recipe are the two friends who manage and record the band. Manager Greg Drew has been deeply immersed as a music business insider for many years as vocal coach to the stars and champion of his artists. He acts as manager, coach, taskmaster, organizational head, and promoter. Julian Herzfeld, recording engineer at NPR, and head of his own sound studios brings the polish to the records. The point is Nalani & Sarina have a team like few others in the industry, virtually guaranteeing success.
I first met Nalani and Sarina when they were about nineteen years old. They had already begun making a mark locally playing live in the smallest of venues. Often opening for equally small acts in showcases. When I first sat down for an interview, they made it clear they were focused and equipped to make their marks. Sites were and still are set to develop into household names. They have already achieved that in the Mid-Atlantic region.
If there ever was an act that should be seen and heard before they explode, this is the one. Most first-time audience members come in expecting little and go out feeling like they witnessed something very special. They have.
Nalani and Sarina offical site!
Photos by Dan Williams