Instructor supports indie musicians by performing covers of their songs
HFC music instructor Anthony Lai (pronounced “Lie”), a composer/songwriter, recently recorded and released his versions of three singles originally recorded by independent artists based in Michigan.
“When an indie musician comes up with a good song, it’s often a flash in the pan because it doesn’t have a chance to become a big hit. If you hear a song by an indie artist that’s really good, there’s a limited audience for it, and it’s heard for a limited amount of time. I wanted to give these three songs another go. If you cover another song by another songwriter, it’s a great way to lift each other up and get a movement going,” explained Lai, of Dearborn.
“First Paved Street,” “Theory,” and “She’ll Never Know”
Lai has created cover versions of the following songs:
• “First Paved Street”, written by Eric Engblade and originally recorded by the Northern Skies
• “Theory” by Todd Alsup
• “She’ll Never Know” by Dan Jones and originally recorded by the Penumbrae
Lai’s renditions of these songs was detailed in the Dearborn Press & Guide and can be heard on iTunes, Pandora, Spotify, Amazon, as well as his own website.
“The response has been great. People like the idea of independent songwriters covering other indie music. Everybody covers famous songs, but I love the idea of treating indie and local music with the same respect as songs we all know and love. I’m happy it’s been so well received,” he said.
Lai teamed up with freelance photographer/artist Ian Kushnir, a Dearborn native and fellow HFC alumnus, commissioning him to do the artwork for these three singles.
“I met Ian when we were both students at HFC, and we’ve been friends since,” he said. “But I only recently found that in addition to being a fantastic drummer, bagpiper, and photographer, he is a fantastic artist with a Dearborn-centric eye. His Michigan-themed art was an obvious choice for this project.”
HFC turned out to be a fantastic choice
Born in Detroit, Lai lived very briefly in Allen Park before spending the majority of his childhood in Texas. When he returned to Michigan, he lived with his grandparents in Dearborn Heights and attended HFC (then HFCC), which his mother Karen Parsons also attended.
“Attending HFC turned out to be a fantastic choice,” said Lai. “What I learned at HFC in the three years I was there was just as valuable as my five full years at Wayne State University. It was incredibly valuable.”
After graduating from HFC in 2005 with his associate degree in music, Lai transferred to Wayne State. There, he earned his bachelor’s degree in music composition and his master’s degree in music and orchestral conducting. Lai is skilled in playing multiple instruments, including the piano, drums, guitar, mandolin, and ukulele. He has been teaching at HFC since 2008, wanting to give back to his alma mater.
“I wanted to teach at the College 100 percent because I loved my experience there,” he said. “HFC music professors Kevin Dewey, Randall Knight, and Rick Goward taught me so much. I wanted to be just like them. I have a lot of gratitude toward them.”
Inspired by the Fab Four
The top influence on his work is the Beatles, a group that formed in England in 1960 and is regarded as the most influential rock band of all time.
“When The Beatles Anthology aired in 1995, it was like The Ed Sullivan Show to me. It was my Ed Sullivan Show,” said Lai, referring to the Beatles’ first performance in the United States in early 1964 on The Ed Sullivan Show, which was watched by approximately 73 million people across more than 23 million households.
"When I heard the Beatles, I became obsessed with their music. I knew that was what I was gonna do with my life,” he said.
Loving rock music and classical music equally
A multi-faceted musician, Lai is active in both the classical and popular music worlds as a composer, conductor, recording artist, multi-instrumentalist, and singer/songwriter. He has performed in rock groups, jazz bands, and classical ensembles as a vocalist, guitarist, bassist, percussionist, and conductor throughout Michigan and abroad, and he has collaborated with many notable musicians.
With the Henry Ford Big Band, Lai performed at the 2015 Umbria Jazz Festival in Perugia, Italy and also at the 2009 Michigan Democratic Party's inaugural ball for President Barack Obama in Washington, DC. He joined with arranger and conductor Ed Lojeski in 2016 for a Fourth of July performance aboard the Battleship Missouri Memorial in Honolulu. In 2012, he worked with members of the rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd in Nashville to record “Where I Come From,” the first EP by fellow HFC alumna Sarah Sherrard.
He has been nominated as "Outstanding Classical Composer" in the Detroit Music Awards in 2012, 2014, 2015, and 2017. His work has been commissioned by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO), the Detroit Red Wings, musician Luis Resto, and University of Michigan (U-M) professor emeritus Donald Sinta, a leading performer of contemporary classical saxophone repertoire.
In addition to his teaching duties at HFC, Lai is the conductor and music director of the Seaway Chorale and Orchestra in Trenton. He also plays in the Phoenix Theory – a successful local dance band that plays music from the 1960s to today – and the Sarah Sherrard Band.
“I love both types of music – rock and classical. I listen to more classical music than I do rock. In terms of playing in a rock band, there’s this spontaneity and fun when connecting with that audience,” he explained. “However, I find classical music equally musically fulfilling – the intense emotional expression, the precision, the harmony, the different instruments. All the depths of classical music are enjoyable on a very deep, emotional level. A wide palette of emotions can be tapped. I can take it very seriously in one world and have a lot of fun with it in another world. I love both.”