Chad Lawson is a modern-day master of reinvention: From his bold interpretations of the classics (Bach, Chopin) - which topped the iTunes chart - to the piano itself, which he reimagined with an iPad, creating electronic loops and ambient atmospherics that resonated with EDM fans and neoclassical traditionalists alike. Lawson later recreated the soundtrack - historically known as a recording of the music to a motion picture - for podcasts such as the seminal Lore as well as its spinoff, Unobscured, at a time when most people were still discovering Serial. (" ‘Chad Lawson for Lore' is like its own little genre now but we just wanted to create something cool, and we happened to be ahead of the curve," he says with typical humility.) Remarkably, the virtuoso pianist and composer accomplished all of this as an indie artist without the support or resources of a major label, constantly shifting between two keyboards at home - the Steinway for making music and the Mac mini for making connections, marketing and promotion.
Now, with his EP, Stay, due out on May 1, followed by a new album, You Finally Knew, in September - his first collections of solo piano music for Decca Records US - Lawson has concocted a soothing sonic cocktail to take the edge off in this Age of Anxiety. "It's about finding those times that are fleeting but buffer the soul and you think: I don't want this moment to end," Lawson says of the first single and title track "Stay," a paean to inner peace. "That place of stillness where you can heal your wounds and rejuvenate and then go back into the real world." Not surprisingly for these troubling times, stress-reducing playlists have saturated Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube and other streaming services. But Lawson eschews both the trend of ancient instruments and New Age-y electronic clichés commonly heard in today's wellness music, relying only on his faithful piano, his emotional signature sound and eclectic taste for the five original songs on the EP. From the self-reflective "Stay" to the ethereal beauty of "Across the Distance" and "Rain," these melodic, lilting lullabies strike a delicate balance between the intimate and universal. And while they're all instrumental, the song titles were inspired by the poetry of Mary Oliver and Elizabeth Bishop.
This forward-thinking artist's love of music is rooted in a surprising source from the seventies: Sha Na Na. The variety show hosted by a doo-wop group with a rock and roll edge was a favorite in the Lawson household during his childhood. "We would watch it together as a family," he recalls. "And I'll never forget at the age of five seeing Screamin' Scott Simon performing on stage. I said, ‘That's what I want to do.' " Lawson's parents had limited means but they rented a piano and hired a neighbor to give their son lessons. Lawson also honed his craft during weekly church services, which instilled a reverence for music and its transcendent potential.
"It wasn't until my late teens when a local band reached out to me and said, ‘Hey, want to make some cash playing for weddings?' " Lawson says. That was the high school junior's introduction to rock, pop and R&B. "Stevie Wonder. Creedence Clearwater Revival. James Taylor. All of a sudden there was this new color of paint," he says. Lawson further expanded his palette by studying at Boston's Berklee College of Music and pursuing a career as a jazz musician in New York, but he missed the emotional impact of his classical training. "I had the mindset of playing fast and trying to impress people," he admits. In 2007, an opportunity to trade small, smoky clubs for European soccer stadiums presented itself in the form of a world tour with Julio Iglesias. And after it wrapped, Lawson returned home with renewed enthusiasm for making his own music, which would draw upon and distill all of his diverse influences and experiences - but his biggest challenge was yet to come.
Lawson recorded his debut solo piano album in 2009 and the following day he was hospitalized for weeks with ulcerative colitis, a chronic disease that necessitated three extreme surgical procedures over the next four years. "There were times I would break down," he says. "This album really was a healing process because there were times I could barely get out of bed." After his third and final surgery in 2013, Lawson's life returned to normal, but he has never been the same. "I finally became comfortable in my own skin and unapologetic about who I was as a musician from that point on," he says. He also became more mindful of the therapeutic qualities of his compositions: "Every time I sit down at the piano, I think about wrapping my arms around people musically." Lawson says. "I'm trying to impact the heart, not impress the mind - that's my mantra."
Lawson's forthcoming fall release, You Finally Knew, is his most ambitious work to date ("I tried to create an album where people put it on and for 45 minutes, the world stops so they can just exhale - and breathe") and that was reflected in the recording process. For the first time, he traded his modest home studio in North Carolina for Abbey Road in the UK. But the studio made famous by the Beatles only had availability for two days last year, one of which was Thanksgiving, which gave Lawson less than a week to write an entire album. "I've never had a better holiday," he attests. "Those pieces are as new to me as they are to the listener and I love that."
His goal for the project is similarly grand: Uniting younger fans who are part of the Spotify playlist community and the classical crowd from an older generation that grew up listening to vinyl. "I'm trying to bridge those two audiences and gently bring them together," says Lawson. "This album is closer to my classical work without it being flashy. I feel like it's vulnerable - delicate without being fragile - and I'm really proud of that." He's also grateful that his music has helped to soothe so many people at the peak of Coronavirus hysteria in the U.S. "If you listen to any of my albums, they all revolve around the idea of stillness," he says. "I'm just trying to invite people to take a moment and reconnect with who they are. The music I make is meant to create calm." And now more than ever, that's what the world needs to hear.
Composer and pianist Chad Lawson announces the release of his major label solo piano debut, Stay, set for May 1 via Decca Records US. Where minimalism and melody meet, the five track EP and title track "Stay," is a paean to inner peace and a clarion call to just exhale and breathe. You can pre-order the EP and listen to the single here. You can watch the accompanying visualizer here.
A modern-day master of reinvention, Lawson eschews both the trend of ancient instruments and New Age-y electronic clichés commonly heard in today's wellness music, relying only on his faithful piano, his emotional signature sound and eclectic taste for the five original songs on the EP. From the self-reflective "Stay" to the overall theme of the EP, Lawson strikes a delicate balance between the intimate and universal. "I'm just trying to invite people to take a moment and reconnect with who they are" says Lawson. "The music I make is meant to create calm." "It's about finding those times that are fleeting but buffer the soul." The music is both peaceful and transfixing.
"One Day You Finally Knew" is the second single from Chad Lawson's upcoming five-song solo piano EP, Stay. The EP is Chad's debut on the Decca label and will be released on May 1, 2020. Trained in both classical music and jazz, Chad has independently released a fascinating collection of albums that range from his own beautiful compositions to his arrangements of classics by Chopin and Bach. I have seen him play live a couple of times, and it's always a magical experience to hear his velvety piano touch combined with his deeply emotional compositions. On "One Day You Finally Knew," that velvety touch is very much present in the wistful, dreamy melody that soothes away the cares and worries of our present time for a welcome, if brief, respite. The single is available from Amazon, iTunes and some of the streaming sites. Very highly recommended!
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"Stay" is the first single from pianist/composer Chad Lawson's upcoming five-song EP by the same name. His first album on the Decca Records label, Stay will be released in May 1, 2020.
I reviewed Chad's first independent album, Set On a Hill, back in 2009 and immediately became a fan. He released a variety of indie albums over the next several years, from original music to his own arrangements of classics by Chopin and Bach, all amazingly great albums. In 2011, Chad played a house concert in my home with a couple of other Whisperings Artists and I have never heard anyone else play the piano with such a velvety yet incredibly expressive touch. That magical touch is still very apparent in Chad's new music and it's very exciting to see him signed to such a prominent record label so more of the world can experience his music.
Chad explains the inspiration behind "Stay": "It's about finding those times that are fleeting but buffer the soul and you think: I don't want this moment to end." Finding inner peace and calm is something we all need to be able to do in these crazy times, and music like Chad Lawson's can certainly take us several steps closer to peace of mind and healing. "Stay" (the single) is available now from Amazon, iTunes and several streaming sites. Don't miss it!
SEE THE Mainly Piano PAGE