Laila Biali: ‘The point is to reach people’

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LeonardoMascaro/Two Sheps That Pass

Laila Biali is a rare gem. Gliding effortlessly between the subculture of being a jazz musician and the pop roots of her latest album House of Many Rooms, she navigates the best of contemporary music theory, utilizing it to write and perform songs that push the boundaries of both genres, and giving your soul a song when it simply doesn’t know what to say.

An established musician, Laila has released three jazz albums, toured with Sting (with an impressive recommendation to boot!) and has been nominated for a JUNO Award, which is akin to the American Grammys. So how did this new sound come about for the Canadian songstress?

“People have mostly known me as a jazz musician, although even my “jazz” material crosses over into other genres,” she shares. “House of Many Rooms began to take shape in 2005 when I started exploring song writing in the wake of a difficult breakup. The songs that were emerging didn’t neatly fit into a “jazz box,” so I set them aside.”

It was only later upon touring with the likes of Paula Cole, Suzanne Vega and Sting that she created more material for the project. “I began to muster the courage to release this material, even though I didn’t know how it would be received by my existing audience. It ultimately took a firm and loving push from my husband and co-producer, Ben Wittman, to actually flush out the songs – which we did together – and go into the studio to record them.”

This courage and a dash of quirkiness can be found in the lead single titled “You.” It is an ode to the days of being a ‘fool in love,’ yet references this with a boldness that addresses her ex-lover with a tongue-in-cheek attitude. The honesty and raw nature of the song reflects the themes of House of Many Rooms.

“The title is taken from a scriptural reference I heard in church a few years ago,” she says. “I liked the poetry and inclusivity of the phrase, which had personal spiritual significance but also spoke to the expansion of our home and family with the arrival of our son, as well as the desire I had to explore new territory, musically.”

Within this, Biali wants her audience to be encouraged whenever they hear her music. “The album explores themes of love and loss that cover a good breadth of our human experience; but, fundamentally, my aim has been to bring people joy, to express my belief that hope can be found in all circumstances.”

While Laila has had many pinnacles in her career so far, her time working with Sting stands out. “[He] has been a major influence and musical hero of mine through the years,” she notes.  Yet the release of her first indie/pop record in House of Many Rooms also resounds with her. “Releasing this album has carried equal significance for me,” she says.  “I had to slay a lot of dragons over the years to get this one out, and it feels momentous to have done so.”

Her husband is also a freelance musician, and they are learning to balance tour life with being present for their son Josh. “We often take turns going on the road. We also try not to go out for longer than two weeks at a time. Skype dates have become an essential way of staying connected, which we try to do at bedtime as often as possible, reading stories together over the computer.”

The challenge of prioritizing family has also led them to bring the two worlds together. “We’ve also been experimenting with bringing Josh on tour, which is our ultimate goal. That said, it’s hard work and we are trying to figure out the best way to make family touring sustainable for all of us.”

There are many new adventures ahead for Biali. She is headed on a US tour this fall, and is also set to record another album to be released early 2016. This time it will be jazz based, recorded with her trio.

Through the ups and downs that come with balancing being a musician and a mother, it is the love of performance that drives the talented singer. “I love the experience of spontaneous interaction and creative play that happens live on stage with my fellow musicians, as well as connectivity with the audience,” she shares. “If a connection isn’t being made, I don’t feel much purpose in what I am doing. The point is to reach people – not just to entertain and impress them, but to touch them.”

FDRMX Eyes: Check out “You,” the latest video from Laila Biali & The Radiance Project, and enjoy the quirkiness in the storytelling elements of the clip. Watch it here.
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