Love is in the Air

Songstress Irie Love is back and feeling elation thanks to a fresh sound, a forthcoming album and book, and “a new sense of confidence” in her art.

It’s difficult to imagine Irie Love, the longtime queen of Hawaiian-reggae music, ever willingly walking away from the spotlight as a professional singer and recording artist. But that’s what she did following a rather rough patch in her personal life — she simply unplugged from it all.

As Love explains, “I needed to take a break from music because of the way my very public divorce (in 2017) had affected me … Everyone was kind of involved in the divorce, and being a singer and a public figure, it was traumatizing.”

Aside from choosing to leave her career behind, she also decided to pack up and move to Seattle five years ago, hoping that a fresh start in the Pacific Northwest would do wonders for her sanity.

It did. Love found joy again by losing herself in a former passion of hers — fitness — and quickly became a certified spin instructor, yoga teacher and personal trainer.

Still, the allure of her first love was always there, beckoning her to come back. After fortuitously running into an old business acquaintance and slowly rekindling her fire for the long-absent riddims in her days and nights, the stage was set for Love’s return — this time with a fresh musical direction that reflected her evolution as a person and artist.

Now, Love is entering an exciting new chapter of her life and, naturally, walking on air. On the horizon is her forthcoming vinyl album — yes, vinyl — scheduled to be out in late summer/early fall, and the release of her self-help book Trauma to Triumph, which should be available for purchase in early 2025.

Her yet-to-be-named album has already spawned its first single, Sugah, and a second track, To Be Free, is expected out next month.

Photo courtesy April Amelia

Love believes music fans will adore the 15-song LP once it’s released in its entirety.

“It won’t be just a regular reggae album — it will be an all-encompassing album featuring all of who Irie Love is,” vows the musician, who can be seen in this week’s season finale of NCIS: Hawai‘i doing what comes naturally to her — singing, of course.

In recounting her path back to music, Love notes that it was paramount she attach herself to a producer who shared her vision for her evolved sound.
“I had grown so much from what I had been doing and I wanted to expand my sound, so I was really looking for someone who not only knew reggae really well but could also create more cross-genre music with R&B elements, soul, afro beats as well as indigenous African and (Native) American sounds,” she says.

Love found that person in Matthieu Bost — one half of the former French dancehall reggae duo Bost & Bim. He had previously helped Love record her “most successful song” to date — In Another Life, which has been streamed more than 2 million times on Spotify (Love’s catalog of songs has over 100 million streams on multiple platforms, including Spotify, Apple and YouTube) — and she believed their reunion could lead to a magical opus.

Once she settled on Bost, Love ditched the Emerald City and joined the producer in the City of Light. For six weeks last fall, she rented a small place in Paris and labored long hours in a studio penning compositions and laying down tracks.

She describes that period in France as “a beautiful experience when the music just flowed,” and credits Bost with making the recording process “easy.”
“He’s an incredible producer who made a lot of big reggae hits with artists like Peetah Morgan and Chronixx, and he’s done some really pivotal things in the reggae world overall. So, to be able to complete a whole album with him was really special for me and also just really exciting,” says the statuesque vocalist who, during her college days, cut her teeth as a backup singer for Pink, Dave Hollister and Chaka Khan.

Part of Love’s enthusiasm can be attributed to this being her initial experience participating in a full-length album. Previously, the albums she had appeared on were all compilation projects.

“I never actually sat down in this way and created a whole body of work, so this was a first for me,” she says proudly.

Love pauses briefly to consider her latest professional accomplishment before jokingly adding, “Feels like I’m a real artist now.”

Love’s ability to make music sound delicious to the ears is somewhat baked into her background. Her biological father is John Taylor, a former NFL linebacker and avid reggae music lover who named her after the Third World ditty, Irie Ites. The song was released in 1980, just two years before Love was born.

Meanwhile, her maternal great-great-great grandfather is Robert Love Sr., who, although he had no known musical abilities, was quite adept at making the masses sing for his dough. He founded Love’s Bakery in 1851.

While her connection to the creator of the iconic island business didn’t result in enjoying free loaves of bread — “I wish!” she says with a chuckle — her famous relative and his descendants remind her of the importance of leaving a rich heritage for kin.

“Unfortunately, a lot of the people in my family sold all of their businesses and properties before my mom, Sharon, was even born, and for some reason, they didn’t think of legacy so they didn’t leave anything to us,” Love explains. “At the same time, I look at that contrast as sort of an inspiration for me to do that — to build businesses and properties and leave something for my nieces and nephews, and kind of build that foundation once again.”

Love’s parents divorced when she was still a toddler and her mom soon after remarried Troy Richards, a Honolulu Police Department officer. While she continues to enjoy a healthy father-daughter relationship with Taylor, her bond with Richards — whom she credits with lovingly integrating her and her younger sister into his blended family — has always been unique and special.

Richards passed away in November, but not before counseling his stepdaughter against prematurely leaving France in the middle of her recordings. She had expressed her desire to be with him in Hawai‘i during his illness, but his concern was that she stay the course and lay the foundation for a successful musical comeback.

“He kept encouraging me to not leave and to finish what I started. I was kind of torn internally in my heart space because I felt like I should be with my dad,” Love recalls. “And my dad, of course, was always my biggest cheerleader and came to all my shows and he was like, ‘You have to finish this album.’”

Although she still laments the loss of her stepfather, Love is appreciative of the times they shared and the lessons she learned at his feet. If anything, the experience of mourning from afar and capturing those feelings in her music has given her greater clarity on what her purpose is moving forward.

“Grief is such a beautiful thing when you think about the opposite side of the duality of it: You can’t really grieve something or someone that you didn’t love deeply … He really was my dad day to day, grew up with him in the household and he raised me,” says the Kailua native who graduated from Kalāheo High School, which is where she first gained musical recognition as a finalist in the “Brown Bags to Stardom” talent competition in 1999.

“Sure, I would see my biological father, who lived in California, on summer and spring breaks and things like that. But to have the ability to go through such a deep moment of grief while also having this experience as an artist to create in this way in France was such a dream come true. I think it really deepened my foundation of understanding about what my purpose is in this life and how beautiful it can be to also have the experience of pain … to put that into art and still have something that I can share and utilize as a way of healing and sharing with others.”

When Love began considering a comeback, she hesitated at first. The world had changed so much over the past decade as far as how people interacted with one another — particularly online — and Love was uncomfortable “putting myself out there” and dealing with the negativity.

Fortunately, this social media reality wasn’t enough to dissuade her from returning.

“This world is just really strange to me and I really felt vulnerable coming back in,” she confesses. “But now that I’ve completed the album, I’m proud of it, and it’s almost completely ready to be released (once the tracks are mixed and mastered) and I have a new sense of confidence in my art.”

Part of this confidence stems from her team, which includes her creative director and photographer April Amelia. But part of it also resides in her growing sense of kuleana for kin, friends and her fan base.

“Celebrity culture in itself has really destroyed humanity in a lot of ways, and it’s really insidious. Along with social media, the damage has been exponentially done to our youth and even to adults,” opines Love, an exotic mixture of Hawaiian, Jamaican, English, Dutch and Native American ethnicities.

By choosing to return to her first love, the musician — a frequent volunteer for organizations such as Boys & Girls Club of Hawai‘i and Mana Maoli, programs such as Mana Mele and pop-ups like Neko: A Cat Café — sees an opportunity to help create “a new culture where people are celebrated for their art and what they truly have to offer.”

“I want people to feel inspired by what I do, and not hate themselves and wish they can be like me — that’s never been my goal,” she says. “What I want is to inspire people to be the greatest version of themselves.”