Country music artist and 1999 Yelm High School graduate Nui Aalona had a career highlight on Friday, Dec. 1 at Husky Stadium in Seattle when he sang the national anthem prior to the 3A state championship football contest between Yelm and Bellevue.
Aalona, whose senior twin nephews Damian and Marius and freshman nephew Uriah were members of the 3A runner-up Tornados, said it meant a lot to him to sing in front of the hometown team and fans.
The opportunity to sing in front of kids he coached in past years, like his older nephews and Oregon-bound Brayden Platt, made the opportunity even more special, he said.
“It was a pretty emotional experience for me. The team last year, I coached a lot of those guys. It was a surreal experience being a Yelm alum and being in that big of a venue. It was pretty amazing being able to go down there on that field, feel the energy,” Aalona said. “Being able to showcase our small little town was great. Our team is already on the map, and being able to represent our school and our town was a huge moment of pride for me and my family.”
The experience came about after Aalona approached Yelm Athletic Director Rob Hill after the team defeated Eastside Catholic in the 3A state semifinals. He asked Hill if there was a possibility of singing the anthem pre-game, which Aalona thought would be a nice tribute to the Yelm community and Tornados football team.
“He told (the WIAA) that I’m a local artist, and he said the WIAA really liked the idea. Rob set it up by telling them I’m a Yelm alum with a management contract out of Nashville,” Aalona said. “They loved the idea, and that’s kind of how it came about.”
Prior to his performance, Aalona didn’t get a sound check or an earpiece to hear how he sounded. He was given one chance at singing the national anthem and made the absolute most of it.
“Getting out there and having the opportunity to sing the anthem on that day was so special to do it in front of my hometown. I could tell the hometown crowd was proud that I was able to represent the city of Yelm, Yelm High School in that big of a forum on the biggest stage in high school football,” Aalona said. “Our little town became the center of the high school football world as of the last three years. Anytime someone would talk about Yelm, the first thing they’d do is talk about the football team. This opportunity was so special to me.”
Aalona, who described his genre of music as “Nui Country,” said his sound is a blend between country, reggae and rhythm and blues. He released his first single, “Just Add Summer,” in 2022. Aalona later released singles “Tonight’s on You” and “Up in Smoke” following his initial single.
“Right now, I have recorded six new singles and released three of them on all platforms. One of my songs gets played throughout the country stations on the normal radio in Salt Lake City, Utah,” Aalona said. “What we have going on now is working on this album, which can take quite a bit of time. There’s a lot of different scenarios that come into it before you’re a big star. We have a good enough name in Nashville where we can get in the right studios with the right timing.”
Aalona said prior to recording, he wasn’t a huge fan of “Just Add Summer.” After several weeks of thinking about it, he decided that he could do something with it. After a flight to Nashville, several writing and instrumentation sessions, Aalona and his team came up with the final product.
The single currently has over 285,000 total views on YouTube between its initial release and the music video, which has 283,000 views itself. By bringing a national publicist and social media manager to the team, Aalona is hopeful “Just Add Summer” will continue to gain popularity.
“There could still be another big wave in the future,” Aalona said. “There’s songs that have taken two to three years before they actually hit. ‘Just Add Summer’ still has a lot of power left, and it’s going to be one of those cool, vibey songs to enjoy in the summertime.”
The local artist originally signed his first distribution deal in 2013 with Universal before moving on to Sony Red in 2015. He said distribution deals are great because the labels essentially push and promote music and allow the artist to do what they want with their records. Eventually, in 2018 and 2019, Aalona began writing and playing around with his “Nui Country” sound. Three years later he released “Just Add Summer,” which he believes is a home run.
“It’s been a pretty cool experience thus far. One of my sayings is that it takes 20 years to be an overnight success,” Aalona said. “It’s so cliche, but you just never can give up. It doesn’t matter if you’re coaching or whatever you’re doing in life. My three keys for success are attitude, work ethic and student-mentality or being coachable. If you have those three keys, you can be successful in anything you do.”
Aalona said he was proud while singing the national anthem as he was able to represent the Aalona last name in a different way than to what Tornado fans are accustomed.
“Just being able to sing in a different forum that I was never able to do was special. Performing my own songs is one thing, but performing a cappella in front of several thousand people was a crazy feeling to just have that experience,” Aalona said. “Our family moved here from Hawaii in ’78, and we were raised here in this little town. That was a special feeling for me having my immediate family at the top of the 3A classification. They were defending state champs with the opportunity to do it again. There were definitely nerves involved. I knew it was a pretty big stage and had to just do what I do and knock it out.”
His future plans include releasing three more singles in the next six to 12 months, as well as a full album by the end of next summer.
Aalona said his team will continue to work on publicity and take him to the next level as his music gains mainstream momentum. He noted he may tour and could open for “pretty big artists,” and to stay tuned.
Aalona said his music operation has many Yelm ties, as well. Aalona’s manager is Kenny Lamb, who graduated from Yelm High School in the 1980s. Aalona said he attended YHS with Lamb’s sister, who influenced him to send demos of his music to her older brother.
“(Kenny) took off from Yelm, went to Nashville and tried out as an artist, and that didn’t work out as well as he hoped. He’s a really good songwriter and producer, and his first involvement was with NSYNC in the early 2000s. That’s when he got his foot in the door,” Aalona said. “It kind of went off from there. He’s written for major artists, has a No. 1 Billboard single, he’s produced and developed so many artists in the industry right now. … From 10 years ago to about three years ago, we sporadically worked together here and there. I started writing country three years ago, a country-reggae hybrid. Ever since then, we’ve been developing the sound, which is ‘Nui Country.’ That’s what our brand is. It’s a little bit of all parts in me.”
Aalona said he takes pride in his “Nui Country” brand, which is also branding for his HVAC and plumbing company’s van and designs.
“How many country singers out there are blue collar workers that go out there and fix heat pumps, air conditioners? It gives that blue-collar feel where even a guy that’s working hard — if he has a talent and has a drive, anyone can live out their dream.
“We’re catching on locally and nationally. My manager is in some meetings with some big brands that know who I am and what we’re doing,” Aalona added. “With the right timing, we’ve got some pretty cool things on the horizon.”