Meet Lepani, the singer-songwriter who went from rugby fields to recording studios [Q&A]

Fijian-born, singer-songwriter Lepani has always been unafraid to dive into complex emotions, from exploring young love on his debut album 'In The Moment', to delving into his insecurities in his latest EP ‘The Morning’. Though only being in the music scene for the last couple of years 27-year-old Lepani has shown a profound understanding of life and the human experience, constantly pushing himself to evolve and grow. With his exceptional skills as a singer, lyricist, and producer, he is one to watch closely. With blending influences ranging from Elvis to Justin Bieber and even some Disney soundtracks, Lepani seamlessly weaves together different music styles. After his latest performance at Ones to Watch, Jorja Parmentier had the chance to sit down with Lepani to get a glimpse into his more personal and what the next chapter of his career looks like.

So, Lepani, how would you describe/ introduce yourself and your music to someone who's never heard of you before?

I’d describe my music as an eclectic mix of all types of pop music that I have fallen in love with. It ranges from upbeat dance tracks to intimate ballads.

Okay, now tell us all about your amazing latest album ‘The Morning’! What does it mean to you?

This album was written throughout COVID and is a reflective project. It means so much to me because it’s a reflection on how I’ve grown not just an artist but as a man, and helped to understand what’s important in my life.

Which song from this EP is your personal favourite and why?

The song ‘Teddy’ is my personal favourite. It was written for my niece and would have to have been the easiest one to write. The words, chords and melodies just fell onto the page and came from the hearts of not just myself but every member of her family from both sides, as we’ve all had this beautiful girl change all our lives.

What song would you say was the most difficult for you to write this time round? 

Like ‘Teddy’ all my songs from this EP seemed to almost create themselves naturally, but I’d say the most difficult would’ve been the last song I wrote, ‘Tell You Something’. Showing just a little part of my insecurities to my listeners is something I never thought I’d do, so it was a struggle to decide whether or not I wanted to write about it.

Now, what musical heavyweights past or present inspire you?

Elvis, ‘MJ’, Nickelback, Chance the Rapper, Eagles, Zedd, Justin Bieber, every Disney soundtrack and a whole lot of musicals are what helped me fall in love with music. But Jon Bellion more than anyone else was the biggest inspiration in terms of actually making music! He’s the reason I decided that being a singer/songwriter would be the platform for me. The way his mind works when it comes to stringing together songs are some of the most beautiful pieces of art I’ve ever witnessed.

Who would you say your all-time favourite Kiwi artist would be?

Most definitely Nesian Mystik. They take me back to my childhood, to a time where nothing else mattered other than making it to school on time, beating my friends at handball, and running to the nearest diary and spending loose change on lollies with my cousins.

Do you have any pre-show rituals by yourself or with your crew? 

Just a big feed and a good prayer with the boys before we go on and jam.

What is your favourite song to perform?

I’m not a fan of performing so none of them haha

What would you say was the best advice someone gave you when you were starting as a musician? 

My graphics teacher in year 10 told me that “If it looks good, it is good”. That has stuck with me going into every creative pursuit. When I make music, I learn as much of the rules/theory as I need without letting it hinder the creative process and feel. I try not to cloud my mind with technicalities and let the project flow.

What was the worst advice someone gave you when you were starting as a musician? 

“You need to find your lane”. As a songwriter, I’ve learnt that experimenting and being open to creating different music brings out the best. I like to think of music as an open road and the only limitation is the vehicle, which in music are the tools which you create with. The most important thing is that you reach the destination and create something beautiful and impactful, doesn’t matter what it is.

Take us inside your songwriting process – You write all your songs yourself, how do you deal with creative blocks?

Getting through a block basically begins by listening to whatever I love. I’ve been listening to a lot of Japanese Pop-rock lately because I love Anime so a lot of my new stuff is very much inspired by that. I’ll just create what’s in my head and hope for the best.

Who in your life pushed you the most to pursue music the most? 

In terms of periods of my life, during high school, it would definitely have been my music teacher Mr Weeks who was there in a time when I was choosing between pursuing Rugby or Music and told me that no matter what I chose I would eventually find myself coming back to music at some stage in life, which I have. Since I left school, my best mate Rohan has been a huge push, as he began building his own career and opening up his own cafe in Howick called Rombus with his brother, we’ve both been on the path of creating a name for ourselves. My partner Kirsty, from the day we met has been a non-stop encouragement and support, she’s been by my side from day one and I love her to bits.

Family is a big part of your life as well, who inspires you the most musically and non-musically?

My family has been a big encouragement and help, most family gatherings consists of singing old Fijian hymns. My sister always has harsh but fair criticism of my music, and my dad always gives practical inputs in life. But most importantly, the biggest inspiration has to be my mum. She’s been a nurse for over 20 years dealing with all the ups and downs of the job, but still loves every second of what she does, and the joy of caring for and helping people. She’s encouraged and inspired me for as long as I can remember to follow my heart, from the little 8-year-old wanting to be a comic book writer, to the high schooler hoping to make Super Rugby, to the Young adult pursuing a career in filmmaking, and to now being a professional singer/songwriter. She has pushed me to follow every endeavour, even through the failures. I wouldn’t be here without the unwavering love of my mother.

What’s next for you, anything we should keep our eye out for?

More shows, and definitely more music!

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