I’m only now discovering the music of Canadian artist Laila Biali, and I’m so glad I had. Her sound is soul-shaking and thought-provoking. If you’re looking for soothing, contemporary Jazz with an emotional edge, Laila Biali and the Radiance Project is perfect for you. It’s an honor to have the singer on EY, so check out our exclusive interview right after watching the eccentric music video for her latest single, “You”, and download House of Many Rooms here:
EY: Tell us, where are you from and at what moment in your life did you realize your passion for music?
I grew up in North Vancouver, B.C. among towering cedars and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. My mother had the radio on constantly – CBC Radio – which mostly played classical music at that time. I don’t recall this moment, but I’m told I climbed up onto the piano bench when I was 3 and plunked out the melody to Sesame Street. That’s when my parents decided to place me in piano lessons, and my love for piano and music blossomed early and quickly.
EY: Why Jazz?
My foray into Jazz was actually a left turn, prompted by an injury in my right arm. I was an aspiring concert pianist in my mid teens, but then we were in a car accident that left my right shoulder and arm injured. Right around that time, I transferred to a new high school with a robust Jazz program. Even though I was still dealing with ongoing pain, the band instructor found out about my classical training and asked if I would play in the jazz ensemble. I was mostly playing with my left hand, but this was my introduction to Jazz. It wasn’t until I heard the music of jazz pianist Keith Jarrett and composer Kenny Wheeler that I really fell in love with the genre and imagined becoming a jazz musician myself.
EY: Who are some of your biggest influences?
My musical tastes and influences run the gamut – from Björk and Radiohead to Maria Schneider and Anton Rubinstein.
EY: What is the Radiance Project and how does it impact your music?
The Radiance Project is what I decided to name this “new” musical side that diverges somewhat from my previous work as a jazz artist. I chose the word radiance because that is what I hope to bring to this world through music. I know it can sound a bit corny, but that is my desire – both as a person and as an artist.
EY: Tell us about your album, House of Many Rooms, in terms of the inspiration behind the title, the concept of the music, collaborations, and what you’d like for listeners to take from this album in particular.
House of Many Rooms is my first album release consisting of entirely original material, so it is quite a milestone project in that sense. The title draws inspiration from a verse I heard in a sermon describing a welcoming place where all would be housed and loved, and I found the idea to be quite compelling. It also represents the various musical “rooms” I’ve wanted to explore, experimenting with different styles and production choices, as well as the various relationships that have come and gone through the years. The net effect, we hope, is one that takes listeners on a journey that feels personal and might even bring some catharsis.
EY: How would you describe the experience of making music with your real life love? Has he always been part of the production?
It’s been wonderful! Ben and I have no doubt that this is just the beginning of our musical collaborations. We work surprisingly well together – perhaps because his wisdom and patience make room for all my intensity and passion.
EY: Love the songs on House of Many Rooms, by the way. Plainclothes Hero is one of my favorites. So beautiful and breathtaking. What’s the story behind the lyrics? Is it pulled from something you’ve been through?
Plainclothes Hero was written for my friend, Tony Clark, in whose memory the album is dedicated. Tony was an exceptional individual, a real leader. He was diagnosed with kidney cancer not long after I met him, and this song was written for his memorial service.
EY: Are there any songs on the album that speak to you more than the others?
Home is one of my favorites. If you listen carefully, you can hear our son’s heartbeat as the primary rhythmic pulse. Listen for it in the beginning. And Little Bird is a tribute to Joshua, telling the story of how he, in many ways, held Ben and I together when we went through some rough patches in our relationship.
EY: How have you evolved as an artist and as a woman since your debut till now?
I suppose I could sum it up as follows: I care a lot more about the things that really matter, and a lot less about the things that don’t. I feel more sure of who I am, as a mother, as a woman, as an artist. Aging can be a beautiful thing.
EY: What’s next for you? Any plans for a tour?
Yes! We will be performing in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco this June, and we intend to hit a few more cities later on this year.
EY: Laila, thanks so much for taking the time. Please leave a message for your fans and any tips you might have for aspiring singers.
My pleasure! My message is this: Our lives and our stories have great significance, no matter how mundane or challenging things might seem. I believe whole-heartedly that without our full participation and engagement in life, something will be lost. And for my singing brothers and sisters, embrace the uniqueness of your instrument and art. Focus not on what you feel you can’t do, but on where your strengths lie. The world is always ready for something new and fresh. Thanks for listening, and I hope to see some of you on the road!