This past Thursday, I sat down with the multi-talented and ever genial Laila Biali before her show at Koerner Hall in Toronto. 2016 has been a big year for her but the path to where she is today was far from direct. The pianist/singer/songwriter/arranger grew up in Vancouver and moved to Toronto in 1998 to study at Humber college. But music was not her first academic choice. She originally planned to pursue a career in science and medicine before her life “…took a big left turn into jazz.”
Liala has spent the better part of the year travelling and recording a new album. “I just got back from a tour in Germany, Switzerland, and Poland. And I’m leaving for Australia a few days after this show…and we’re wrapping up a brand new record that will be released in 2017.”
Over the course of her music career, Laila has explored several different musical styles. However, she feels this record is an amalgamation of all the sounds and styles she’s developed over the years. “I finally feel like I have a cohesive piece of music that holistically represents who I am and what I do.” And she does a lot. She’s a classically trained pianist who went into jazz, began writing her own music, and then became known for her covers of other musicians’ works. “…and I kind of became known for that – for being an arranger and a cover artist. [Jonie Mitchel, Leonard Cohen, KD Lang, Bruce Coburn, Fiest] So when I released ‘House of Many Rooms’, my last record that was more indie/art/pop/rock – and it was totally original music… that was my way of breaking out of that mould of being a cover artist.”
During her shows, Laila would often do something she calls a ‘request-o-matic’ where audience members would suggest a song, from any genre, for her to arrange and perform right then and there on stage. Over the past several years, she’s acquired some 50 re-arranged songs from her concerts and some of them have made it onto the new album.
So, while her previous album was all original music, she hopes her new album will showcase her as an artist. “So now we have the original music coexisting alongside cover songs and a sound that is unified but still fully encompasses who I am musically – the arranger, the composer, the singer, the pianist, the improviser. It’s taken a while to really hone in on a singular sound. It’s exciting.” However, possibly the most unique characteristic of her new album is that Laila always intended for it to be consumed and enjoyed as a start-to-finish album – a bold move in an era where the single rules supreme. “We want people to enjoy the album the way they would enjoy a book – from start to finish.”
Laila is a unique talent and a consummate artist who enjoys painting on several canvases at once. Her skills and passion for her music will ensure that the New Year will be even more successful than 2016.
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