lay zhang interview
photo courtesy of Zhang Yixing Studio

Lay Zhang

An awe-inspiring epitome of someone who has bolstered their unending well of natural talent with sheer passion and hard work, international sensation LAY – aka Lay Zhang – has pushed his artistic boundaries once again on his latest collaboration with veteran DJ/producer R3HAB, on a remix of track “BOOM,” taken from Lay’s recent record-breaking album LIT.

Furthering the Chinese multihyphenate’s career-long goal of bridging cultural gaps through music, the track takes traditional Chinese sounds, seamlessly blending it with R3HAB’s expert touches of tropical, hip-hop, and electro house beats, to offer a cross-cultural celebration of heritage and artistry.

With an ever-evolving career path that glitters with diamonds as much as it pricks with thorns, Lay establishes himself not only as a conscious role model– with his single-minded focus on achieving his dreams- but also as a supportive friend with the endless kindness he imbues in his every word and action.

Lay delves into “BOOM,” and how the collaboration with R3HAB came about, what he hopes listeners will take away from his music, the most surreal moment of his career so far, and the challenge of expressing himself effectively despite language barriers, among other things.

One of your major goals with your music has always been to bridge cultural gaps. In recent times when did you feel like you’d managed to achieve that?
With M-POP, mixed-mandarin pop, my goal was to create a genre that adds and mixes in different sounds, instruments, and languages from all over the world with Chinese culture. NAMANANA began that journey of bridging cultural gaps, and we took M-POP even further with LIT. My latest album LIT, we took traditional Chinese sounds and instruments and added them in with other genres like hip-hop, trap, and reggaeton.

Now, collaborating with R3HAB for the BOOM remix, I feel together we got to mix our culture and sounds into one. I feel proud and happy that I get to showcase the M-POP movement to even more people who haven’t been exposed to it. As an artist, there is no better feeling than my music pushing artistic and cultural boundaries to unite people from all over the world.

When you collaborate with artists who have different music styles and cultural backgrounds to you, what’s the biggest lesson you tend to take away from the experience?
For me, collaborating with different artists from different backgrounds allows me to update my sound.   These collaborations help me grow as an artist and I love the creative challenges that come when I work with different artists and DJs. I feel like it’s a way for me to reach out to a whole new audience while also connecting with my fans to give them a sound that is new and exciting. I am always reminded that music can overcome any language barrier or problems and it always inspires me.

Speaking of collaborations, how did the collaboration with R3HAB come about? What’s your fondest memory of working with him on the remix of “Boom”?
I wanted to do something new and give my fans some more music to listen to during this pandemic. It had to be upbeat and energetic to cancel the negative energy in 2020. I knew of R3HAB and thought it would be great to work with him on remixing BOOM.  R3HAB brings a lot of energy to the table. I’m really proud of the artistic blending of M-POP with his electronic/progressive dance sound and I think BOOM was the perfect song to do that. It is unfortunate that we could not work together in person. We had to send remix versions back and forth online. I’m glad we could make it work out!

If listeners could take one overarching message from your music in general, what would you want that to be?
It would be inspiring others to work hard to chase their dreams. With each album and single I have released; I have been working on different ways to inspire and encourage people to chase their dreams.  When people listen to my music, I hope they can overcome the criticism and difficulties in their life. I feel grateful that I have been able to accomplish a lot of my dreams and goals. My goal is to promote a message of endless kindness with no boundaries and I hope to inspire others to do the same. I want to be an example to fans that you can work hard, and your dreams can come true.

You are constantly involved in several projects and done so much in various fields of entertainment, is there something in particular that you’ve yet to do that you’re keen to experiment with?
I want to perform at the GRAMMYs. I would love to showcase to the world the talent Chinese artists have and show what we can do.

What’s the most memorable/surreal moment of your career so far? What’s next for you?
From my achievements with EXO to evolving artistically through my own solo career, I have had so many surreal moments. I have had the amazing opportunity to work with extremely talented producers, from Scott Storch to Murda Beatz on this album, and they have taught me so many things. This has helped me refine my skills as a producer on my own albums and I’m really proud of that. As for what’s next, I want to continue to experiment with new sounds and instruments from many different countries and cultures. I also want to collaborate with so many different artists and producers like Timbaland.

What’s one question no one has asked you in an interview that you wish to be asked now?
I feel like I have had some experiences of communication issues with my crossover into Western culture and music scene. Sometimes, people often do not understand me because of cultural differences or because I act/talk in a certain way. I simply want to clear things up for everyone so I can truly tell the world about Chinese culture and our hard work and capabilities.