Following the breakup of The Anthony Lai band approximately five years ago, multi-instrumentalist Anthony Lai started embracing a solo music project. Highly eclectic, Lai walks the line between Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Beatles, Benmont Trench and The Beach Boys. We speak with Lai about his new album Take Me With You, his favourite colours and future plans.
OSR: What drew you to music?
Lai: As far back as I can remember, I was fascinated with music. I would often watch the musicians in church as a kid and took notice of things like chord changes and harmony very early on. But, it was discovering The Beatles that made me serious about becoming a musician.
OSR: What inspires you to make music?
Lai: All sorts of things in life can inspire a piece of music. It’s fairly inconsistent as to when inspiration strikes for me. Usually, a strong emotion will create a need to write, but not always. Sometimes something that I had no idea would be so inspiring will motivate me. Sometimes I write without the intent of ever being heard.
OSR: What can you tell us about your new album Take Me With You?
Lai: This album feels like I’ve finally found my voice. It’s an authentic expression of who I am as a musician. The acoustic/folk starting point is influenced by my work as a choir director and orchestrator as well. There’s moments that are very 1960s, then moments that might sound like part of a contemporary film score. It’s a unique sound and I’m very proud of it.
OSR: If you could change one thing about Take Me With You, what would it be and why?
Lai: Well, like I said, I’m pretty happy with this one, but I suppose if I had to change anything it would be to expand it beyond eight songs. That’s what follow-up albums are for though, right?
OSR: What was the writing and recording process like?
Lai: So, some of these songs are several years old and finally got recorded. Some are as new as being written during the album’s recording process. Most of the recording was done in my home studio, though some sessions – like the string quartet overdub – were done at a larger studio. One thing that makes my process different from most other songwriters is that I do my own orchestrations, so songs like ‘Glide Away’, ‘Daydream’ and ‘One Step Too Far’ were written from the group up with the woodwind or strings parts in mind, rather than being laid over an otherwise already finished songs. So, things like a clarinet part I would score out in notation to give sheet music to the player to read in the recording session.
It’s a long process being the writer, primary recording engineer, producer and arranger, but the result is a very personal sound. Then there are songs like ‘Riverwalking’ where I have a main acoustic part recorded and then experiment with different layers and quite spontaneously record parts like the mellotron flutes and tremolo strings until I have the perfect layer for the moment.
OSR: Is this album significant to you?
Lai: Very much so. It represents my best work as a songwriter and the arrival of my understanding of what my style is. The lyrics are all very real stories and feelings. It’s authentically me.
OSR: What do you hope people take from the album?
Lai: There’s an optimism to the album that I certainly hope comes through. At the same time, there is a crash of realism on the final song that’s also quite important to walk away with. There are issues our society needs to urgently address and quite intentionally the otherwise hopeful album ends with a sobering message.
OSR: What is your favourite colour?
Lai: Orange! Second favourite is cerulean blue.
OSR: If this were your last day on Erath, what would you do?
Lai: Spend it with friends and family.
OSR: Do you have any future plans as a musician?
Lai: Always. I’ve written a piece for choir, piano and brass that is being premiered by Vanguard Voices and Brass in Dearborn, MI, in April 2022. I have the beginnings of songs for a follow-up album. There’s always something cooking.