Right as Rain
Paula Fuga gets ready to shower fans with a hot new project, Rain on Sunday, her first full-length album in more than a decade.
Few things make Paula Fuga as uncomfortable as the heat. It’s why she carries soap, extra clothes and a towel just about everywhere she goes, and why she’s always ready to shower at a moment’s notice.
“I’m just a very hot person,” the musician acknowledges. “I did a gig once and people were greeting me every few feet and wanting to take a picture, wanting a hug. But in my head I was thinking, ‘I’m so hot — please, stop touching me!’”
To her credit, Fuga chose to stick around despite the sticky situation.
“I just told myself, ‘Calm yourself down, Mary!” recalls Fuga, chuckling at her moment of self-reproach. “‘You’re going to be in the shower in 10 minutes. Just be nice. You’re fine.’”
Truth is, she’s always been this way. Even as a child, her temperature ran uncomfortably hot.
Born in Fort Polk South, Louisiana, in the winter of 1978 (her birthday is Dec. 30), she soon found herself in warmer-than-ideal conditions after her grandparents moved her into their Waimānalo home.
Reflecting on that first summer in Hawai‘i when round-the-clock efforts by her grandparents to control her fussiness were often in vain, Fuga says, “I’d sleep for a little while but then wake up screaming bloody murder because I was so hot. My grandparents would wipe me down and take me outside in the breeze where I’d fall asleep, but then they’d bring me back in the house and I’d do it all over again.”
Now, 42 summers later, Fuga is doing something else all over again — that is, taking hot lyrics and putting them to oh, so cool melodies. Following a decade long pause in album releases, her long-awaited project, Rain on Sunday, was finally released last week. It features not only her soulful vocal stylings and elegant ‘ukulele playing, but the notable voices and instrumentation of Jack Johnson, Ben Harper, J Boog and Natural Vibrations as well. In addition, the deft production work of Mike Love, whose leadership Fuga credits in bringing the project to fruition, is on full display.
Like a proud mama, Fuga glows when talking about birthing her latest compositions. Many of the album’s 12 tracks promote ideals of love, hope, freedom, progress and perseverance, and the songstress believes the wisdom in the lyrics — along with the album’s standout musician-ship — will strike a familiar chord with her listeners.
“I think that this album really shows my growth and maturity in the songwriting process,” says Fuga.
Among the tracks she showers fans with on Rain on Sunday are the reverse lullaby Too Hot Mama, in which she croons about her aversion to heat and how she was “born in the winter … made for the cold”; the ultra hopeful ditty Just A Little Bit, which was written for her nieces caught in the middle of a parental battle, and who she encourages to “sing just a little bit sweeter, close your eyes it gets a little easier”; the smooth empowerment anthem You Got This Girl, in which Fuga reminds those caught in an abusive relationship that “you’re strong, you’re beautiful … and I believe in you”; and the album’s lead single If Ever, a bittersweet duet with John-son in which he muses about the loss of his father while both he and Fuga (whose father passed away in 2019) cry out to “hang on every word, hang on every moment … if ever I could see you again.” Not surprisingly, the song has already been streamed more than 3 million times.
Aside from reflecting Fuga’s maturation as a singer and storyteller, Rain on Sunday also represents her first body of work since her 2010 EP Misery’s End. In explaining the long delay between studio albums, the singer simply says, “It sort of just happened that way.” In her world, there’s no such thing as compulsory songwriting, and no project is ever finalized until the signs in the heavens say so.
“For me, things have to happen naturally, organically,” explains the never-in-ahurry Fuga, who took eight years to gather the right songs for her debut album, Liliko‘i — a 2005 project that ultimately netted her the Nā Hōkū Hanohano Award for Most Promising Artist.
“I never force myself to write anything; I’m not that kind of person. I feel like there have been times where I tried to force things and it just doesn’t come out right.
“But here’s the thing: My whole life I’ve always followed the signs. I believe in divine timing. Everything happens for a reason.”
Nothing illustrates her reliance on timing and the divine better than her decision to release Rain on Sunday on Brushfire Records, which is owned by Johnson. Although the two have a longtime friendship and have performed together many times over the years, Fuga did not want to take advantage of that relationship. From her perspective, any potential business partnership with Johnson would have to happen naturally or not at all.
Fortunately for Fuga, the signs for a union with Mr. Upside Down-Better Together-Flake were clearly there.
“I knew that if I recorded a good album and did my best with it, I would be able to say, ‘Yo, Jack, you wanna sign me to your label?’” Fuga explains. “But lucky me it didn’t have to happen that way. Jack heard that my album was being mixed and asked to hear it himself. After listening to it, he asked me to sign with his label.”
The duo then went on to record the album’s final track, If Ever, and everything in Fuga’s divinely timed world was right as rain.
Fuga first turned up the heat on national audiences by demanding they pay attention to her in 2003, when she unsuccessfully auditioned for American Idol. Eight years earlier as a junior in high school, she entered Brown Bags to Stardom and sang Dionne Warwick’s Walk On By, yet failed to even place.
Despite the outcome of these and other talent competitions, Fuga remained undeterred about her life’s mission. As raw as she may have been as a vocalist and live performer back then, she was always crystal clear when it came to envisioning her destiny.
“I know I have a gift. I know it’s rare. I know I have a bigger purpose on Earth and it’s not just to sing for people,”
states the confident performer, whose voice is often compared to Sade and Lauryn Hill. “Singing is a big part of it, but my real purpose on Earth is to heal people through my music.
“I’ve always known I was meant for something great,” continues Fuga. “But I’ve also known that to get there, there are steps to it. You gotta learn to sing. You gotta become confident on the stage, and you have to align yourself with like-minded musicians who are able to elevate with you.”
Which is precisely what she’s done with Rain on Sunday — surround herself with a bevy of talented individuals like John-son and Love who are guiding her toward an eventual goal that cannot always be measured by traditional music standards.
“There’s no clear path to the top when you’re pursuing a musical career,” opines Fuga, who’s performed at notable events and venues around the globe — including the Alma Surf Festival in Sao Paulo, Brazil, the Sydney Opera House Forecourt, Madison Square Garden — and even at the White House. “Everybody’s top looks a little bit different. Like my top is not Beyoncé’s top — my top is something else.
“For me, I’m not just thinking about how can I sell records, how can I sell albums, how many charts can I top? I’m thinking of who is this music going to affect, will it affect a community for a long time, and how can I inspire people?” Fuga continues.
“Words are so valuable. Words are power.”
And it’s her words that will be reverberating in listeners’ ears in the coming days — all of which makes her a bit anxious.
“I’m excited. I’m already planning some shows throughout the islands,” says Fuga, who will be performing both new and old material at Blue Note Hawai‘i in Honolulu July 30 and 31, with shows scheduled for 6:30 and 9 each night, “and I’ll eventually make my way over to the mainland in the fall.
“I’m looking forward to seeing how people react to my music. I’ve had these songs for so long, so I can’t wait to see it out in the open — see what songs will resonate with the people.”