By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Jun 29, 2016 at 4:56 PM

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Hawaii may be thousands of miles – not mention most of an ocean – away from the Cream City, but local pop/hip-hop performer Corey Pieper is doing his best to bring some flavor from the shores of Maui to the only-slightly chillier shores of Milwaukee.

Throughout his young career, Pieper has harmoniously mashed together his Milwaukee origins – he’s a Brew City native through and through, growing up in West Allis and going to school at Nathan Hale and UWM – and Hawaiian family roots, both in his music and his persona. His song "One More Time" shouts out both Hawaii and the 414, while his EP combines the name "Aloha" with a shot of the pop singer surveying the MKE skyline. 

His music is equally a mash-up, combining pop, hip-hop and island music inspirations into Top 40-ready summer jams. And he’ll bring those breezy beats to the Big Gig on Thursday, opening up for pop music and social-media sensations Jack & Jack at the Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard at 8 p.m.

Before that, OnMilwaukee caught up with Corey to talk about life in Milwaukee and Hawaii, having a foot in multiple music genres and, considering the season, his best Summerfest memories.  

OnMilwaukee: You’ve said that you’ve got some new material to premiere at Summerfest. Is that all from the last two years or more recently?

Corey Pieper: I would say probably over the course of this last year. We put out some songs and some remixes and stuff. I’ve just been stacking up the material, trying to get that song. Everybody says it’s all about that one song. The songwriting’s getting good, and we’ve been working with some other producers.

Is it hard to work in that mindset of "the one big song"?

I don’t think so because I genuinely enjoy what I do. So even if it’s not the one song, it might still do other things for me; I might just like to listen to it and send it to friends. Consistent, good music is what I’m trying to do. I’d rather have all my music be really good than just all subpar music with one banger, the one-hit wonder.

Who’ve you been listening to and inspired by over this last chunk of recording time?

I listen to so many different types of genres. I listen to a lot of island and reggae music from some artists in Hawaii, like J Boog and Rebel Souljahz. I listen to a lot of their music, and I listen to a lot of Drake and some of the relevant hip-hop music now. I like a lot of Top 40 music, like Travie McCoy and Sean Kingston, Maroon 5.

I kind of just listen to them all and blend them all into my own style. Because I like to sing a little bit, but I like to rap a little bit too. When I first started out doing music, I was primarily just rap, but then I started working in singing and some island vibes and perfecting the sound. So I’m excited for the new stuff.

Has there been any pressure to go one way or the other? Rap or sing?

Yeah, I mean, people make comments to me. The majority of the people like that I do both, but I have some people who are like, "You should just rap," and some people, the girls, are like, "You should just sing."

We actually got some feedback from Def Jam and Atlantic, and both of them were kind of saying, "We love your pop stuff; we love your rap stuff. But we want to see you pick a lane and brand yourself more." But it’s hard because I feel like the fact that I can do both is what makes me me, so I want to hang on to that.

But I get what they’re saying. You have to brand your sound so people know what to expect, and once you develop that foundation, you can start branching out and doing different things. That way, if it doesn’t work, you always have that foundation to come back on. So I get what they’re saying, but I still kinda continue to dabble in both lanes.

Not to put you on the spot, but if you had to choose just one?

I think rapping comes easier to me, but I think I enjoy a polished product with melodies better than just straight rap. I don’t know; it’s hard to decide. But I like melodies. When I hear beats, right away, melodies pop into my head, and then I fill it in with the rap music after that. So I’d probably say pop. If I had to pick one, I’d go that way.

How is that trying to blend all of those different flavors – rap, pop, island – together?

It’s kind of hard from a production standpoint, because I feel like a lot of people either make rap beats or they make pop beats or they make island beats. It’s hard to find producers that can make a nice balance between them. Sometimes, we try to maybe add island-y vocals to kind of mix it in there if the beat’s not as island or just make sure there’s enough melodies.

But when you find those beats that are nice, it’s fun, because I’m just like, "All right, cool, bread and butter; I can sing on the hooks, rap on the verses." It all comes into place nicely.

Obviously Wisconsin is very far from Hawaii and islander culture. Is it hard to find people who really get the genre and the music here?

I think the good thing about island and reggae music is when you play it, everybody just (rhythmically bobs head) vibes to it. Even if you’re not familiar with the culture, it just has that feel-good, good vibes, everybody just love each other and singalong feel.

I’m actually supposed to go out to Hawaii in September, so I’m definitely looking forward to seeing my family. Just over the last couple years, I haven’t been there in a while, but my Instagram has grown a lot with a lot of Hawaiian people and clothing companies and promoters and radio-personality people that want to link up. So I’m excited to go back there and run around the city and say what’s up to everybody.

How often do you get to go back out to Hawaii?

Not as often as I would like. The last time I was there was probably three years ago, but before then I was there two years in a row. But I’m excited; I’m going to probably stay there for a couple of weeks. We have a huge family too; every time I’m out there, there’s just more family that I didn’t even know we had (laughs).

For novices going out there, what’s the number one thing people have to do in Hawaii?

Nowadays, I think the biggest thing people need to do is actually enjoy it and not be on their phones and their laptops the whole time. I mean, I get it; I’m the worst. My phone never leaves my hand – literally. But that’s one thing. If you’re going there for vacation, chances are you’re probably only there for a week or a couple of days, so if the whole time you’re trying to document it for everybody else’s lives on social media – you just have to enjoy it.

The island of Oahu is pretty small, but there’s a bunch of other islands that are really lovely. There’s still tropical areas, but then there’s the city vibe, so you get a little bit of everything. And the people out there are so nice, and it’s just a more laid-back lifestyle. People aren’t so giddy. It’s relaxing to be out there.

Do you have any particular Summerfest memories that stick out, either as a performer or as just an attendee?

To be honest, that first show that I did, man, that feeling of being on stage? You can’t re-create the feeling. There’s nothing else that I’ve ever done in my life this far that’s given me that sort of a rush – 4,000 people screaming and doing the "wave your hands side to side!" and getting them to do the crowd aloha. It’s nuts.

When I got the call that I was doing it again this year, I was instantly pumped. Like all right, let’s go.

I saw that’s still your Facebook cover photo.

Oh yeah. I’m going to have to replace it this year with a new one!

That was definitely the proudest moment of my career, I would say. And it just makes it even better that it was in Milwaukee. Not only is it the world’s largest music festival and the biggest show I’ve ever done, it’s in my hometown.

How do you feel about the Milwaukee music scene?

I think it’s definitely a diamond in the rough, man. There’s so many talented videographers, producers, photographers, musicians. And I think the good thing about it that I’ve noticed over the last few years is it seems like everybody’s finally not trying to compete against each other.

I feel like a few years ago, when I first kind of got into the scene, nobody really wanted to work with each other outside of their group. You wanted to be better than the next person. But now, I feel like everybody is looking at it as, "Hey, it’s not just us against each other; we’re trying to compete with national artists."

So now everybody – rappers, R&B, pop people – is just joining the movement of teaming together and doing the strength-in-numbers thing. Trying to put the city in general on the map. So I think it’s good. There’s a lot good stuff going on right now. 

Matt Mueller Culture Editor

As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.

When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.