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Eli Smart Interview: His Grandmother “Tutu” and “The Big Return” Tour with Declan McKenna

Prior to Declan McKenna’s recent Providence show, we had the pleasure of sitting down with his opener, singer-songwriter Eli Smart.



Eli Smart, photo by Kenzie Magnan

Prior to Declan McKenna’s recent Providence show, I had the pleasure of sitting down with his opener, Eli Smart. Eli Smart is a young singer-songwriter from Kaua’i who describes his music as “surf rock.” After hearing his music, I think it’s best described as The Beatles with a bit of an island touch.

Eli is based in London, so this was his first major tour in the United States. He was joined on tour by his long-time friends, Jordan Paul (backup vocals) and Hamster (drums), as well as his grandmother (bass), who he affectionately calls “Tutu.” I was happy to ask Eli some questions about his growing career and background. Find more info on Smart online here:

What are you most looking forward to during this tour?

Eli Smart: “I’m looking to play with my closest friends and family and connect with Declan’s audience, who has been so warm, welcoming, and engaged- it’s been really cool to see them see his set. So, just to be part of it is really cool!”

What is it like having your grandmother on tour with you?

“It’s wicked! I never thought I’d get that experience, but it just kind of worked out that way. We didn’t plan on it, but we needed a bass player last minute, and she was around. It’s hilarious!”

What kind of influence has she had on you?

“She came up playing music in the San Francisco area in the 60s, her and her band opened for Jimi Hendrix and loads of other fantastic artists for generations, so she has definitely showed me a lot of that. She has nice insight into psychedelic rock and roll.”

How old were you when you started expressing interest in music?

“I was very little when I started messing around with music because my whole family has a passion for it. I really remember getting into guitar when I was like eight years old and started writing songs at like ten or eleven. My family has been very supportive, and I’m grateful for that.”

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given as a musician?

“There’s a singer named David Lindley, who just passed away recently—I got to meet him at a show back home in Kauai, and he told me, “Don’t ever let anybody tell you how you should sound.” That was quite a raw thing, and I’ve always remembered that in any context. So, just do your thing and don’t let anybody tell you what you should do or what you should be.”

What do you hope people take away from your music?

“I just want people to have a good time. Music that I love always finds a way to make sense in my world, and it feels like a very personal thing, so I hope that my music can do that to somebody else—just find a way to soundtrack a moment in their life. At the shows, I just hope that everybody has a good time. I mean, we have a good time playing music and that’s what it’s all about.”

Which artists are some of your biggest influences?

“I love The Beatles, I love Bobby Womack, Curtis Mayfield, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Alabama Shakes, Brazilian music- a band from the sixties called Os Mutantes, and I love João Gilberto.”

Eli Smart played a fantastic set following our sit-down. He has a new single, “Fiesta 99.9FM,” out now and will be touring with Declan McKenna through August. There’s still plenty of time to catch this up-and-coming artist on the road.

I’m a concert photographer based out of New England. I love all music and venues, big and small! I cover all genres. It’s all music to my eyes!