An Interview With The Canadian Songstress LAILA BIALI On Her Forthcoming Self-Titled Album and More!
Posted On 28 Dec 2017
On her upcoming self-titled album, out January 26th via Kobalt, Laila Biali brings her most daring work to date, reflecting on the negative effects of gentrification, the perspective of a privileged mother in the western world, and the challenges of being a mother on the road.
Laila’s dedication to her craft has never wavered and the upcoming album is her most candid and authentic work yet. Listen to Biali’s cinematic take on Coldplay’s “Yellow” here: http://bit.ly/2jyzS2D
And watch this video where Laila discusses the recording process of her new album: http://bit.ly/LAILABIALIEPKMediaOnly
Laila is one of Canada’s foremost Jazz pianists and vocalists, and has toured with the likes of Sting, Chris Botti, Suzanne Vega and Paula Cole. In addition to being a musician, Laila hosts CBC Radio 2’s weekly Saturday Night Jazz radio show, which has consistently ranked as the networks most streamed program.
Learn more about Laila Biali in the following All Access interview:
Thanks for your time today! Where does this interview find you? Is there music playing in the background? If so, what is it? What music gets you instantly out of a bad mood? What is a song you are loving these days?
My pleasure! I’m at my home (for once!) in the Leaside area of Toronto. My student intern is with me here, and we’re working side by side as he plays Field of Void by Fat Jon (never heard of him, but easy music to work to! … like a lava lamp for the ears/brain). J These days, I’m in love with Jack Garratt’s song, Worry.
Growing up, did you always want to be a musician? Can you recall your earliest musical memory? Was there a time where you thought of doing something completely different?
I’ve loved the piano since I climbed up onto the bench at the age of 3 and did envision a life in music. That said, I excelled in sciences at school and actually received a full ride to the University of British Columbia in that field, which I deferred so I could go to school for Jazz. (My parents weren’t too thrilled, at least not initially.) I ended up seeing through a degree in Jazz, never returning to sciences, but I still geek out listening to TED Talks and RadioLab.
One of my earliest musical memories is the feeling I had when I would go to bed at night, listening to cassette tapes of ambitious, gorgeous classical piano pieces. The music would just wash over, and I would envision myself performing songs like that for huge audiences. Ha! I guess the music bug did bite fairly early…
Overall, how do you think 2017 has been for you and music career? What are you most excited about for in 2018? Do you think you will make any New Year’s Resolutions?
2017 has been busy! I’ve been to the ends of the Earth and back a few times, touring North America, Europe, and even Malaysia. The road has always felt like home to me. In 2018, I hope to integrate our 7-year-old son a bit better into our traveling life. We usually keep him home for school and stability, but more and more we feel he needs to be with both his parents. (My husband is a drummer and often tours with me, though we usually divide and conquer for Josh’s sake.)
I always like to ask artists about where they came from and how that city or town has influenced them as an artist now. So how do you think your hometown and current home has affected you and your music today?
I’m from Vancouver originally. All those beautiful vistas – trees, mountain, the sea – I think they’ve contributed to me being a dreamer, which impacts the music, no doubt. Toronto feels utterly different. There’s more hustle bustle, though relative to NYC, where we spent most of our years as a family, it’s quiet. I tend to stay home a lot when I’m in Toronto, incubating and being domestic.
Next month you will be releasing your self-titled album. How do you think this collection shows the growth that you have gone through as an artist?
It really is the most representative work I’ve released to date. It doesn’t weigh too heavily in the direction of any one facet of my artistic persona. I got to express myself holistically in the creation and production of the album, from the writing and arranging to both singing and playing piano/keys. It’s genre-bending, sitting somewhere between Jazz and Alt Pop, but comfortably, I feel; not awkwardly.
What was it like making this collection? Did anything surprise you at all about the overall process? Were there any unexpected challenges?
We ended up tracking 21 songs, and culled the 12 we felt worked best together. The songs that didn’t make the final cut were co-writes, some of them strong, but just not quite the right fit. I felt like I had matured, and rather than try and fit it all onto a double album, I enjoyed the discipline of distilling things down to something that worked as a whole. Less can be more. In the past, I think I would have tried to find a way to include it all – whether as bonus tracks or something similar.
I love your cover of Coldplay’s “Yellow”! Where did the idea to re-imagine that song come from?
Yellow was requested by a fan in Vancouver! I do this thing called the request-o-matic, where I invite listeners to submit song requests without restriction on genre. In 2014 I did a “request-o-matic” tour, and Yellow came in as one of the first requests. I already knew the song and liked it very much, which was/is not always the case. I had to work fairly quickly due to time constraints, but the ideas just flowed. And because of my classical background, I heard this pedal point in the arrangement, Chopin’s Raindrop Prelude. Yellow is an expansive song, and something about that repeated note helped to glue things together, while everything around it continued to expand and build. It was great fun!
Can you talk about hosting CBC Radio 2’s weekly Saturday Jazz radio show? How much fun do you have hosting it?
I love it! It’s a unique challenge and I get to be on “the other side of the glass” for a change. I’ve also been immersed in a huge range of songs and repertoire I might not have otherwise discovered. What a privilege!
You have toured with so many incredible artists. What touring experiences really stand out the most to you? Who do you think you have learned a lot from?
All of them do, and I learned from each of them. Sting was a dream come true for me, a bucket list item. He’s a real treat to work with. He possesses a very unique combination that I find particularly inspiring – a remarkable work ethic and the spirit of a child when it comes to experimentation and play, musically speaking. He’s very focused, but it’s clear he experiences so much joy in the process.
Do you have any final tour dates to wrap up 2017? Where can people see you play live next?
We have 32 North American dates lined up for 2018, and we continue to add to that number almost daily. Here’s the list, thus far:
January 14 :: New York City :: Rockwood 3
January 17 :: Toronto :: Koerner Hall (Humber 50th!)
January 24 :: Winnipeg :: Kitchen Sync
January 26 :: Regina :: Le Bistro
January 28 :: Calgary :: Ironwood Stage
January 29 or 30 (TBD) :: Saskatoon :: The Bassment
January 31 :: Bellingham :: WJMAC
February 1 :: Vancouver :: Frankie’s Jazz Club
February 2 :: Edmonton :: Giovanni Music
February 5 :: Portland :: Classic Pianos
February 6 & 7 :: Seattle :: Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley
February 9 :: Ottawa :: GigSpace
February 11 :: Waterloo :: The Jazz Room
February 13 :: Toronto :: Jazz Bistro
February 14 :: New York City :: SubCulture
February 15 :: Baltimore :: An Die Musik
February 19 :: Irvine :: Concordia University
February 21 :: Los Angeles :: Upstairs at Vitello’s
February 22 : Denver :: Dazzle
February 27 :: Detroit :: Cliff Bells
March 1 :: London, ON :: Aeolian Hall
March 3 :: Cleveland :: Nighttown
March 4 :: Indianapolis :: Jazz Kitchen
March 5 :: Chicago (Evanston) :: Evanston Space
March 8 :: New York City :: Birdland
March 10 :: Durham :: Sharp 9 Gallery
March 11 :: Washington, DC :: Twins Jazz
March 19 :: Oakland :: Yoshi’s
March 23 :: Brooks, AB :: Griffin Park Theatre
March 24 :: Bragg Creek, AB :: Bragg Creek CC
April 6 & 7 :: Atlanta (Alpharetta) :: The Velvet Note
What do you think of social media today and the importance of it for artists now? Do you find that it’s hard to keep up with it all?
I have a love/hate relationship with social media. I love that it gives artists greater and more consistent access to their community around the world. But it’s also like a child who requires constant babysitting – one that is with you wherever you go, for better or worse. It’s generally the one thing I try and stay on top of, but it worries me when it takes precedence over the creative, as it often does, if I’m honest. And that’s not good!
We are living in a crazy and at times rough world right now so I am curious how you think being a musician gives you the most joy in life today? How do you think that new music being created today is going to reflect these difficult times?
Art is a powerful outlet and vessel. Current events and the cultural zeitgeist are often filtered through creative works. It’s a responsibility and a privilege of the artist, in my opinion, and it gives greater meaning to what we do. It can also provide people with a much-needed escape from reality, or an alternate perspective that increases our feelings of hope and sense of possibility amidst the pain.
Who are some of your favorite artists or rather, what musicians have continued to inspire you and your music? What musicians would you absolutely still love to work with in the future?
Björk, Bobby McFerrin, Sting, Sarah McLachlan, Esperanza Spalding, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Lisa Fischer, Bruce Cockburn, Imogen Heap, Daniel Lanois, Keith Jarrett, Kenny Wheeler, Peter Gabriel, Gregory Porter, Medeski Martin & Wood… and the list goes on. From those named here, all but Leonard are still living and would be a dream to work with! (I’ve already worked with Lisa Fischer and Sting, of course.)
What do you hope your fans take away from your music? Do you think there is a greater music in your songs?
Connection. I hope the music helps the listeners feel more connected – to themselves, to others, to the world around them, to the metaphysical. I hope it brings joy and maybe even healing. That can sound grandiose (the healing part), but it really is one of my goals – that at least some songs would invite people into a place of catharsis and healing, a place where they feel safe, even known and understood.
What advice would you give to a young person who is thinking about becoming a musician one day?
A life in music requires tenacity and grit. It’s a wonderful and rich experience, but expect to work harder than you ever imagined, and to reap the joys of that investment. Remind yourself constantly why you chose music, why you make music. Be sure to write and play songs you LOVE – from the heart, not just the mind. And find your own voice. Emulate, copy, listen, mimic … but ultimately, people want the uniqueness of YOU. That’s what they’re looking for.