It's another talented Arad, with her own grand designs

Ron Arad’s bedtime songs inspired his little girl, Lail, to take up music. Now she’s got a record contract.

By Nick Johnstone, August 12, 2010
Lail Arad has been encouraged by her father Ron Arad to work on her music

Lail Arad has been encouraged by her father Ron Arad to work on her music

When London based, British-Israeli singer-songwriter Lail Arad was a child, her father, the acclaimed designer Ron Arad, used to sing her to sleep.

"My dad plays guitar nicely," says Arad sipping mint tea in a cafe behind Oxford street. "And he used to change words to Leonard Cohen songs to be about me and my teddy bears and I was sure he wrote them all."

Twenty or so years later, those lullabies turned out to be incredibly formative, since Lail Arad, now 26, is today a hotly tipped singer/songwriter in the Leonard Cohen/Joni Mitchell vein, enjoying the 100,000th hit on her MySpace page and serious blog buzz for her just released, charmingly heart-on-sleeve, debut album, Someone New.

"A lot of the songs are about being in a long-distance relationship," says Arad. "To most people, they sound like they're about a break-up, but really they're about distance, about being in one specific relationship and then being single afterwards."

Arad was born in London in 1983. Both her father and her psychologist mother, Alma, love music and Arad has early childhood memories of piles of vinyl albums and cassette tapes strewn about the family home in Belsize Park, north London. She was also exposed to music through her father's brother, Atar Arad, a US-based classical composer and musician. When she was eight, she started taking piano lessons but did not discover her voice as a singer until a random moment at a school summer camp when she was 11.

My dad's advice? Don't think about money. Focus on making good work

Lail Arad

"I heard a teacher singing Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell and they couldn't remember the words and I slowly joined in and then was singing the whole thing because I knew it off by heart. And then when we came back to school, they said: 'Why don't you sing it in assembly?' And I did and from then on, I was doing every little concert that there was at school."

Arad attended King Alfred school in north London. "There were lots of little folk nights and rock concerts and opportunities to do covers."

Out of school, she took jazz singing lessons and taught herself to play her favourite songs on piano. "I had lots of songbooks - Carole King, The Beatles, Incredible String Band."

She grew up with an extended family dominated by artist friends of her parents, as well as fellow ex-pat Israelis. The Arad family spoke Hebrew at home, always ate dinner together and enjoyed Israeli food. Lail and her younger sister, Dara, were raised without religion.

"I grew up in a completely atheist family, my grandparents as well. Faith has never come into it."

During her gap year, she learned guitar and wrote her first songs. A degree in theatre studies at Warwick University followed, after which she moved back to London to dedicate herself to music. Were her parents enthusiastic about pursuing such a path?

"They were absolutely supportive. They came to all my first shows and still come. My dad's advice to me was, don't think about career, don't think about money, just concentrate on making good work.

"At the beginning, I'd be like: 'What do I do, do I need to make a demo? And he said: 'Just write lots of songs and work on your craft and then if it's good, people will be interested'. And that was so liberating, to have your parents say that to you."

Arad quickly earned a reputation on the London gig circuit for her new folk/1970s singer-songwriter inspired songs, which drew comparisons with Martha Wainwright. Then, in 2008, a musician friend introduced her to Cathy Bitton, a music manager in France, who in turn, secured Arad a deal with a new record label, set up by French fashion house, Notify.

A stint in a London studio during 2009, with producer Guy Natsav, delivered her debut album, Someone New.

"The album is quite mixed in mood and style, because the most important thing was to be true to the songs. If one song wants trumpets and a big pop orchestra to make it the best it can be, then great. And if another really doesn't need very much, then leave it as voice and guitar."

This intuitive approach gives the stage to her entertaining lyrics which offer an emotionally panoramic snapshot of Arad's life across a two-year era. "What I was trying to capture is an experience or a moment or a story or I'm-in-this-mood-now."

With its many moods and textures, the album sees Arad shake off the early new folk tag in favour of blazing
her own unique trail as a singer/songwriter.

"There is no place I'm really accepted as a native. Both in England and in Israel, people ask me within a few seconds, where I come from and often don't believe me because of my accent, the way I look, the way I act. Musically, it's the same - no scene quite wants to claim or accept me. The folk purists don't know what to make of me and I'm always a bit too colourful for the singer-songwriter circuit and not commercial enough for the pop world. It doesn't bother me, I quite like being a little bit of an outsider. I find it funny."

'Someone New' is out on Notify Records.

Last updated: 11:11am, August 12 2010