Interview: Lail Arad

by Katherine

Delightfully gutsy London folk-singer Lail Arad has been making quite a splash on the illustrious London folk scene as of late – lauded for her endearing folk ditties as well as her gloriously quirky sense of humour, Lail’s career has already spanned an impromptu performance with Devendra Banhart, a youtube video entirely devoted to her love of Adam Green, and a mischevious cover of Salt n’ Pepa’s ‘Lets Talk About Sex’.

Learn more about this delightfully idiosyncratic lady right HERE.

  • Hello Lail! How are you today?

It’s the first day of March, the sun is shining, I’m feeling very cheerful!

  • When did you first decide you wanted to be a musician? Did you have a particularly musical up-bringing?

I think I used to say I want to be a singer when I was about 12 for a while.. then I came back to the idea seriously when I was finishing high school. I didn’t have a ‘musical upbringing’ as such – there was a lot of music in the house, my dad is a mean fingerpicker on guitar and there was always music. At school there were lots of concerts to take part in, I was always singing, but it wasn’t set out for me in any way that I’d go into music.

  • Are there any particular artists and albums which have had the most influence on you?

I’ll concentrate on ‘albums’ cause if I start talking about all the artists that have influenced me I’ll write an essay!

The albums that have struck me hard, and many times over, include..

Tranformer (Lou Reed), Graceland (Paul Simon), Blue (Joni Mitchell), Is This It (The Strokes), City and Eastern Songs (Jeffrey Lewis).

  • You’ve been recording your debut with Guy Katsav, who has recorded with the likes of Laura Marling and The Gossip. Describe for us the recording process.

We spent three months in Guy’s studio, part of Soho Studios near Goodge Street, below Planet Organic (a very important part of our time there!) As well as being technically and musically talented Guy is extremely patient and open. We had the luxury of time to try out ideas, scrap them, develop them, come full circles, go off on tangents.. With us was Roi Erez, the musician I’ve been performing with for the last 3 years. I’d written the songs before we began and then together we worked on the arrangements and production. I think it worked having three opinions – it often took longer until we were all in agreement, but when all three of us were happy with how something sounded we could usually be confident that it worked. Roi plays many of the instruments that you hear, and we brought in a lot of wonderful musicians for sessions on specific songs. Most of all I’d say that we had a lot of fun, and I hope you can hear that on the album. The time went very fast, I’ve never had an experience like that before, it was amazing.

  • What can we expect from ‘Someone New’ – is it in the same, folky vein as your EP, or can we expect some musical surprises?

Well of course the songwriting is similar to the demos that used to be on myspace, though there are some new songs. And there are some folky numbers for sure, but some of the production is more rock’n’roll, more pop.. I think its very colourful – there are certainly surprises in there!

  • Do you have any favourite moments or tracks you’re particularly proud of from the new album?

This fluctuates a lot. I have days when I hear a track after a while of not listening to it and think: ‘we did that? Cool!’ And of course different songs mean more to me at different moments depending on what I’m going through personally, as they’re all pretty autobiographical.

At the moment I like Over My Head a lot, that’s the first track. I’m proud of the production on there. And I like Someone New a lot – it’s the barest track on the album, voice and guitar, and sounds almost live. I’m glad we left it like that, it didn’t need anything else.

  • You’ve been playing exhaustively around the London circuit at the minute – have you had a best and worst touring moment?  Have audiences been receptive to you?

The audiences have been amazing, and they’re my biggest encouragement – those little shows are where I grew up, and when people get excited so do I..

Of course there have been tough shows – I remember a particularly grueling gig at Café de Paris before understanding that a Friday night West End crowd might not be my target audience… But it’s the hard shows that you grow from! And sometimes you win a few people over and its already worth it..

And best moments.. actually its often the ones you don’t expect. Some of the tiny unplugged shows I’ve played in people’s houses or non-conventional music venues have been amazing. I like playing at The Slaughtered Lamb very much, it’s a great size for intimate shows, we’ve played there lots and those have been some of my favourite gigs. Can’t wait to go back to Secret Garden Party – that was definitely a highlight last year!

  • You seem to be very devoted to your hometown of London, which is obviously such a creative environment – do you think being a Londoner has influenced your music? Are there any must-visit venues or places in London you’d like to advise us to check out?

I think being a Londoner has influenced me as a person, and in turn influenced my music. I’m used to being a big-town girl and having the best exhibitions and concerts on my doorstep, and I try not to take that for granted. Also in its mix of nationalities London fits me well, I love meeting people from all over, and it’s probably the right place to be as a British Citizen who doesn’t feel very English!

Places to visit? There are some still-fun-though-not-so-secret-anymore venues like Shunt or Passing Clouds to go out at night and see crazy shows and equally crazy people..  Having spent a lot of time in Soho when we were recording the album I rediscovered the area.. Charlotte Street Blues is a great new music venue, and then you can end up in Troy Bar when everything else closes… Sundays starting in Colombia Rd Flower market and moving round to Brick Lane is still the place to be if you ask me.

  • Have you any brilliant local bands or artists you’d like to tip off our readers about?

Many! If you haven’t already you should get to know Lulu and the Lampshades, Tristram.. recently I fell for Treetop Flyers. If you want amazing performances and music outside the folk genre go and see A.Human and La Shark.. I love them! Oh also Connan Mockasin though I’m not sure if he counts as local.

I’m really interested as to how you write your lyrics – all your lyrics are really very sincere, but they’re kind of interwoven with flashes of your wonderful sense of humour. Your song to Adam Green really did make me laugh out loud – maybe you should consider a career in musical comedy, like Flight of The Conchords! Do you set out to write humorous lyrics, or is humour something that comes naturally to you?

I love Flight of the Conchords but I’m not a comedian. The only thing I set out to do consciously is be honest. As it turns out, life can be quite funny.. or at least people seem to find my observations quite funny – I don’t know whether that’s because I see it in my own skewed way or I’m just saying it as it is! I don’t often sit down and say: now I’m going to write a song. Things happen and it gives me an idea and it ends up as a song, but I never try to make something funny for the sake of it. Except maybe the Adam Green song, that one’s different!

  • Are your lyrics mainly autobiographical, or do you assume personas in your songs?

Mainly autobiographical for sure. Who Am I became a bit of a persona and in a couple of other songs I’m talking as different characters, but generally they’re very close to home.

  • I really love your song ‘Winter’ – it’s the sweetest thing I’ve heard in a long time! My mum likes it too, which is nice. Is there a story behind ‘Winter’?

My mum likes it too! The story behind the song is very much the story it tells.. I think a lot of us have been there at one point or another. Maybe people living in the UK particularly relate to it, climate-wise! But that song has had an interesting life since it was born.. its first ever outing into the world was at Devendra Banhart’s show when it didn’t know it was going to be sung at all…

  • What are your favourite books, films and albums of all time?

Books..The Human Stain by Philip Roth and Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer – those are the two I often give as presents!

Films… Bagdad Café, Singing In The Rain! and more recently Milk, I really loved that film, and Unmade Beds by an Argentinian director called Alexis Dos Santos.

Albums I told you earlier !

  • Thanks so much for the interview, and the very best of luck in the future!

Thank You !