Chad Lawson

Composer and Pianist

Author

About

For me, music is a healer. It has the ability to stop the world around us and embrace us from daily toils. Whether the toils be large or insignificant, music has the ability to refocus our mind, our body, into a returned state of peace.

Steinway artist & composer, Chad Lawson, has been featured on CBS Sunday Morning, NPR's All Things Considered and Performance Today. With numerous #1 releases, his latest recording, re:piano, pushes the envelope with elements of looping piano and effects. His Chopin Variations brought new interpretations to the poet of the piano as well as his work with the hit television series and podcast.His music has been used in countless films and commercials such as The Walking Dead, Chevrolet, IBM, Microsoft, Delta Airlines and many others.

Sheets

Interview

What does music mean to you personally?

For me, music is a healer. It has the ability to stop the world around us and embrace us from daily toils. Whether the toils be large or insignificant, music has the ability to refocus our mind, our body, into a returned state of peace.

I receive so many emails describing the difficult times a person is having. “A loved one has passed, I’m going through a divorce, the stress of my work is too much” the emails read. “I go home, lay on the floor and listen to your music and for a window of time all of that goes away.” These words are so incredibly powerful. As a composer, this is the other side of the composition we do not see before us while sitting at the piano. So, to create something and for it to have such an impact on others is something I will never (1) completely understand and (2) take for granted.

Do you agree that music is all about fantasy?

To be honest, I’ve never thought about it in that perspective. But you’re right. It can be an escape, a transport of the mind. Last night I was performing in Oostend, Belgium and someone from the audience said “I closed my eyes and imagined driving through the Alps, a most beautiful journey.”

I don’t know if all music is about fantasy. I suppose it depends on the composer and their composition. Personally I do not compose from experiences. I wish I had the ability but it is very rare for me to enjoy a sunset or a moment in time and then write about it. My approach is simply to wait until I feel my mind is ready to compose, that it has something to say, and I sit down with pencil and paper and begin to compose. But I think for the listener in particular music would be a fantasy, yes.

If you were not a professional musician, would would you have been?

This is a great question! And truth be told, I’ve been playing the piano since I was 5 years of age so it is difficult to imagine anything else. So much so I never planned to do anything BUT music. I was told “Don’t create a backup plan. If you create a backup plan that’s eventually the direction you will take, the backup.” So for me, this is all I have ever know.

The classical music audience is getting old, are you worried about your future?

Honestly, I’m not. But there are many layers to this conversation. I believe classical music is in a resurgence, a ‘new-territory’ than it ever has been. The idea of what classical music “is” is changing. And while it may be difficult for the traditionalist to accept, it’s the upcoming generation that is excited with today’s landscape. With neoclassical/minimalist becoming more and more popular, I think we will see tremendous growth in this genre not only for composers but also with the audience. Today’s minimalist artists are finding our place in more films and television scores, greater opportunities to perform unique concert venues and curated streaming playlist all have their role in writing the new chapter of classical music. I’m incredibly encouraged and excited as to what’s to come.

What do you envision the role of classical music to be in the 21 century? Do you see that there is a transformation of this role?

Similar to what I just mentioned, I think the idea of labeling a sound by a genre is eventually going to end. There are so many cross-over styles that the question isn’t “do you like classical music” but rather “have you heard this artist?!” And that I am excited about. Losing the idea that an artist has to be defined by an antiquated system is so encouraging. The person at a coffee shop listening to Adele isn’t concerned with her genre-labeling. They just enjoy listening to Adele. So, I see classical music becoming more prominent but without the classical “box” being selected.

When I say that classical music is searching for new ways or that the classical music is getting a new face, what would come to your mind?

So many things come to mind. Particularly the avenue. Look at the recent films/tv scores. I’m the composer for the Amazon TV series, Lore (created by producers of The Walking Dead & X-Files), look at the film-scores Max Richter is doing, the late Johann Johannsson, tv work that Olafur Arnalds is doing. All of these are telling signs how this music is becoming more public. The audience hears these pieces while viewing the film/tv piece and are introduced and then interest begins.

Compositionally, obligatory structure and harmonies have given way to a more exploratory nature. Art galleries and pop-up performances are more common place than traditional halls and stage. Many performances lately have been in bars that we have transformed into a listening room which allows me to walk on stage with a beer. This allows me to then invite the audience to feel comfortable in leaving their seat during the show for a drink if they choose to do so. You would be amazed how the atmosphere changes when this happens. People are less tense, less concerned with formalities. They can actually enjoy themselves and see a performance without wondering when they should applaud or sit without the slightest movement. Accessible is the word that continues to come to mind. We are beginning to see this sound becoming more and more accessible. And that’s a great thing.

Do you think that the classical musician today needs to be more creative? Whats the role of creativity in the musical process for you?

I think that’s really up to the creator and to the listener. What I may find creative interest in could be someone’s “less interested”. For me, I want to push myself in areas I’ve never approached. My new release, re:piano, for instance. I envisioned other ways to hear the piano. We all know what a piano ‘sounds’ like but what if we saw the piano in a new light, a new dimension. I created the album using only a piano and loops/effects/layers. For me, this was the most difficult album I’ve created to date because I had to think everything differently but I feel it is one of the most creative recordings I’ve released. The Chopin Variations and Bach Interpreted were both incredibly successful releases and I could spend the rest of my life ‘re-interpreting’ classical composers but I have no desire in releasing similar material year after year. So, I began to think about the approach of using an iPad for re:piano and then I waited. I waited for my mind to create the pieces in my head and once I felt as though my mind was ready, I locked myself away in the studio until I was finished.

Do you think we musicians can do something to attract young generation into the classical music concerts? How will you proceed?

This has been my approach for a number of years now. Starting with The Chopin Variations, I wanted to introduce Chopin to audiences that perhaps have never heard the Poet of the Piano. Along with violinist Judy Kang (Lady Gaga, Ryuichi Sakamoto) and cellist Rubin Kodheli (Kanye West, Meredith Monk, Norah Jones) the approach was to take Chopin’s music and transform it into a new direction. Still Chopin yet with a minimalist approach. The result was astounding. The album went to #1 iTunes Classical Chart twice, as well as #1 Billboard Classical and #1 Amazon Classical. I had countless emails saying “I’ve never listened to Chopin before and now I’m curious what the original pieces sound like.”. THIS was exactly the outcome I was dreaming.

The same with this new release, re:piano. I’m seeing fewer pianos on stage and more iPads. It’s the age of technology, I completely understand. So the approach was to re-introduce an instrument that may be overlooked by today’s younger audience; the piano. By marrying the piano with the iPad, my hope is to bring a great exposure to the 88 keys.

I think early education is key with anything, particularly music. But even more is to make it enjoyable for ANY age. Rather than it be an activity a student feels as if they MUST learn, placing the focus on an interesting approach. An approach where they can be curious and explore rather than strict formalities in the beginning. The time for scales, technique, etc will come. But allow interest to flourish first.

Tell us about your creative process. Do you have your favourite piece (written by you) How did you start working on it?

For me, I never start an album unless it’s written first in my mind. When I begin to hear the pieces over and over in my head, I know it’s time to record. For instance, the opening piece on The Space Between titled I Know a Love so True and Fair. I could not get that melody out of my head for weeks. So, on a Saturday morning, I sat down and wrote the entire album of The Space Between that day (with the exception of 1 song which I wrote the following day). I wrote the album on a Saturday and recorded the entire album the following day (Sunday). That’s usually how I work. Most albums I record in 1-2 days with the exception of re:piano. That album is an exception because I wanted to explore all of the effects that I had before me. The album was less about hearing melodies and more about finding textures. To be honest, the opening track to re:piano Tell Me a Story is probably my favorite piece on the album.

We, Moving Classics TV, love the combination of classical music with different disciplines: music and painting, music and cinematography, music and digital art, music and poetry. What do you think about these combinations?

There’s a phrase “one hand washes the other” and I believe that is the case in art. I find it difficult to love music and not love poetry. Or how the impact of a film can be so defined by its score or even the score impacted by a film. These avenues work in concert (no pun intended) because they are outlets. Creative outlets, ideas that needed to be birthed into being by the stoke of a brush or vibration of a note. They’re all part of the circle of creativity.

Can you give some advice for young people who want to discover classical music for themselves?

If I were to give any advice I would say two things. (1) Be curious. (2) Divorce the idea that the music has to be “exactly what people should tell you it should be.” I adore Bach’s French Suites. Not a week goes by where I don’t listen to pianist Murray Perahai performing them. But, you may hate them. So then hate them. The first note of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 may captivate your soul like nothing else. Let it be captivated. Like what you like. But I will say, the more you listen, the more you’ll explore. The more you explore, the less prejudice in your listening you’ll become. The less prejudice in your listening the more inclusive for new sounds, new textures. Perhaps ten years from now you may share the same love for Perahia as I do. But have fun with it. There’s WAY too much music out there to NOT find something that will touch your soul.

Now it is a common practice in the media to talk that the classical music is getting into the consumption business, do you agree? We are speaking about the supply and demand rules and how to sell your “product” in your case your compositions. How do you see it?

I like this question. I’ve never been asked this before. In order to survive, it has to be fed. A plant, a person, a business and of course, a career. While some have a romantic notion the certain things should somehow exist without mass appeal, I have a different view. I compose and have licensed an enormous amount of music for television, particularly commercial ads. Be it car commercials such as Chevrolet to IBM, Microsoft, Delta Airlines, etc etc. What I want to point out are two very important things.

(1) These commercial placements financially benefit me to create without concern of the outcome. It enables me to take risks, to try new things (hence re:piano). If it weren’t for film/tv and streaming music such as Spotify, I would not be able to devote the time I presently do for music.

(2) More importantly, I spoke earlier about the exposure of this style of music. Finding new ways to engage in an audience where ‘classical music’ is not on their radar. If the mass public begins hearing a new sound, a new style of music much more frequently via ad placements, would that audience not eventually become accustomed to this ‘new sound’? When an advertisement is presented, there are no captions saying “this is a CLASSICAL piece in the background.” No. But was it something the listener enjoyed? Was it a piece of music that is heard more than 1-2 times a day now? Exposure. Everything survives on exposure, why should classical music be considered different or exempt? It shouldn’t. Without an audience, there is no music. No music, no audience. The two are dependent upon each other.

Do you have expectations what regards your listeners, your audience?

No, not necessarily. I think as any artist creates from authenticity they will find their audience. It’s very easy for artist to create a sound that is favored to the present trend styles but that is not sustainable. As a composer I can only produce what is from within. Otherwise, the music sounds shallow and fake. But if I create a piece of work because I absolutely HAVE to record this or else my mind will explode, then I know I have something I will relish for years to come.

What projects are coming up? Do you experiment in your projects?

My latest release re:piano. :) My most experimental recording to date. I’m touring with this release so I do hope to share this album in a live performance setting.

Thank you, Anna. I am truly humbled you would ask me to be a part of this. Thank you very much.

If you would like to see/hear more of re:piano I have some links below. Thank you so much for sharing.

Why I created re:piano www.chadlawson.com/repiano

iTunes Link - https://geo.itunes.apple.com/us/album/re-piano/1357538737?app=itunes

Spotify Link - https://open.spotify.com/album/4edvoE4IHJoa62sj3gFmMP?si=Mu6cO8WGT6an6iBisUHTxQ

YouTube - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dj6m6EbGtFg