Sarah Aili (eye-lee)
Singer. Songwriter. Artist. Actor. Writer. Sarah Aili has built a career upon her ability to multitask, bridging the gap between different disciplines — especially the worlds of music and theater — along the way. She's a creator of scripts, stories, and songs, often juggling multiple projects at once. She embraces the full spread of her influences with her newest EP, shining a light not only upon her mix of Americana, jazz, and classic pop music, but also the ways in which her artistic interests intersect.
Years before she straddled the line between Nashville's songwriting scene and theater community, Aili grew up in San Jose, California, where she began studying theater and dance at an early age. What started as a childhood hobby quickly turned into a thriving career, with Aili becoming one of the Bay Area's leading ladies in a series of regional shows, including Little Shop of Horrors and The Pajama Game. After moving to Brooklyn and landing roles in off-Broadway productions, she started devoting more and more time to her music, performing at the Birdland jazz club one minute and creating her own black-box-theater show the next. "I loved having the freedom to write my own lyrics and finish my own scripts," says Aili, who decided to leave New York after a five-year stay and head to Nashville in 2014.
Following the release of two EPs and one full-length album, Sessions, Aili tracked her newest record during a string of live sessions at Left Plus Right Studio in East Nashville. "We were all in the room at the same time, capturing a sound that wasn't muddied by production," she says. The goal was to present her music warmly and honestly, drawing attention to the vocal power and storytelling chops of an artist who's spent her adulthood onstage, in the writing room, and in rehearsal. Pulling double-duty as the album's co-producer, Aili also reached out to many of the songwriters she'd met at local gigs, co-writing tracks with a pool of collaborators like Matt Szlachetka, Wilson Harwood, Eric Erdman, Shelly Riff, Michelle LeBlanc, Amy Gerhartz, and Will Pellerin. Also playing an important role was producer Radney Foster, another musician with a strong background in theatrical work. Aili and Foster had previously worked together on "Back to Birmingham," a one-woman stage show stocked with original music written by the two musicians. Working on a different set of tunes together allowed Aili to further connect her musical projects with her theater background.
With its diverse sound, Aili's newest recording puts a modern spin on the music that soundtracked her high-school years, including the vocal jazz of Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holliday; the empowered folk of Joni Mitchell, Carole King, and Sarah McLachlan; the rootsy sounds of Bonnie Raitt and Linda Rondstadt; and the classic, melodic songwriting of the Beatles and Fleetwood Mac. Gluing the mix together is Aili's storytelling and poised vocals, which come together to deliver an album about embracing one's unique sense of self.
Aili's newest recording is the latest chapter in her ongoing artistic story. It's a story that continues to unfold with each new project, including an upcoming album with Radney Foster, an original musical written with Eric Erdman, a recent role in Nashville Repertory Theatre's production of Avenue Q, and a folk/Americana project with co-writer Wilson Harwood. For Aili, those projects represent different sides of the same artist — an artist who's happy to embrace all of her creative interests under the same umbrella.