Dec/Jan 2010-11 — Born with congenital visual impairment, musician Lachi brings sweet sounds to the masses. Lachi’s band, which shares her name, is made up entirely of musician’s with vision-related disabilities.
Melissa Ulachi Ulanma Offoha might be a mouthful of a name, but under the stage persona Lachi, this talented musician has no trouble making herself remembered. For two years, Lachi has been touring the East Coast and lighting up venues like The Knitting Factory, Ella Lounge, and New York University, where she received her Master’s degree in music technology. Lachi spoke via telephone with ABILITY’s Molly Mackin about her musical influences, band chemistry, and personal challenges.
Molly Mackin: How long have you been performing?
Lachi: Oh, I’ve been doing music forever. I started playing the piano somewhere between the ages of four or five. I got my first keyboard at, like, eight. Ever since then I’ve just been writing songs. (laughs) I have a million songs.
Mackin: Who were some of your musical influences?
Lachi: I listened to a lot of The Beatles?and Radiohead while I was growing up, as well as to Bjork, and a lot of?the alternative, avant-garde rock. Lauryn Hill, Fiona Apple, Yanni, Mozart. All kinds of music.
Mackin: Tell me a little about your most recent project.
Lachi: We released an album called Lachi on?July 22nd, and right now we’re busy recording our next album. We were doing a bunch of shows in the northeast while Lachi circulated. We hit up Boston, we hit up Jersey, we hit up New York and Philly. It was kind of a crazy tour.
Mackin: What kinds of venues does Lachi usually play?
Lachi: Well, we generally hit up two different types. Our band is able to play hard rock—I’ll call it acoustic rock—but we can also play an acoustic folk setting in which we’re not all plugged in. We do those folk settings a lot. We do a lot of acoustic shows at smaller venues that tend to be pretty packed, but we play rock venues as well.?
Mackin: When you say “unplugged”, you mean completely acoustic? I assume you have a drummer??
Lachi: Yes. We have a drummer that plays with a full kit when we play our full setup. But when we play acoustic, sometimes he’ll play a thing called the cajon. It’s a hollowed-out box. He sits on top of it and plays the box beneath him. It sounds really cool.
Mackin: Are all of the songs you perform original works?
Lachi: Every once in a while we’ll throw in a cover, but generally we play original songs, yeah. We’ll do some?female-fronted rock covers: Imogen Heap, No Doubt. But we do some Beatles covers, too. Everyone in my band is into The Beatles. But we’re also pretty into Zeppelin, Guns n’ Roses, Lynyrd Skynard.?I personally listen to a lot of weird piano chicks. I don’t know if you’ve heard of the?Dresden Dolls??We have a big array of?influences, I guess.
Mackin: How many band members are in Lachi?
Lachi: Including me, there are four of us. I do piano and vocals, and the guys are drums, bass, and guitar. And everyone sings backup vocals.
Mackin: And there’s good chemistry between all of you?
Lachi: We’re like best friends. We hang out at each others’ houses, and we get up in each others’ faces all the time. The three guys all met when they were younger, and I think they tried to put a band together, but it kind of fell apart. Then they all went and each did his own thing. I came in and got them all back together. So it’s a tight dynamic.
Mackin: How did you get involved with your management group, Inherent Artists?
Lachi: Basically they had put a bunch of ads out, looking for female artists. I had just gotten out of a management contract, and I wanted to do my own thing. I thought managers were just out for my money, you know? But then I saw the ad from Inherent and we hooked up, and I’m glad we did. The funny thing, though, is that hundreds of women had responded to the ad, and apparently Inherent didn’t like any of them except for me. And by signing me, they ended up with three dudes as well. (laughs)?
So I’m the only chick on their roster, even though they wanted to only represent females. In the New York scene, it’s rare to find females who rock hard. A lot of booking agencies will put me in an all-female lineup, and I don’t fit because, first of all, my band is a bunch of dudes, and second of all, we’re doing alternative rock while a lot of other women here in New York tend to stick to singer-songwriter material.
Mackin: And everyone in your band is legally blind?
Lachi: Yeah. We all have different degrees of sight. One of the members is totally blind, and the rest of us have partial blindness.
Mackin: Were you born with your visual impairment?
Lachi: Yes. It’s congenital. I’ve always had the same level of acuity, since the day I was born. My bandmate who is?totally blind once had perfect vision and went blind when he was very young. Another bandmate was blind and then had a surgery, but his sight is still really bad. Another guy, I think his is congenital.
Mackin: Are you able to read Braille?
Lachi: I do understand Braille, but I can also read text, so obviously I usually just do that. If I’m in a situation in which there’s only Braille available—like, if we go to one of those blind conventions, then I’m fine. But I actually prefer text, just because everything is in text, most of the time.
I can’t really read Braille music very well because I can’t coordinate putting my hand on the paper and playing the notes at the same time. I don’t know how people do it. It leaves me with one hand to read and one hand to play a two-handed song, so it’s not going to work. (laughs) But I can read standard printed music because I studied music theory in college. I have to be very close to the page to be able to read it, though, so It slows me down so much that it’s almost ineffective. It’s easier for me just to learn by ear.
Mackin: What’s ahead for your band, in terms of touring and exposure?
Lachi: Right now we’re working with producers who have collaborated with Akon, Mary J. Blige—people who are out there and who have made some rounds. I think it would be interesting to take our weird style and mix it with some mainstream producers and see how acceptable the result becomes to the everyday listener. We’re also planning a West Coast tour. Hopefully that will happen next year.?
As soon as we get some demos out, we’re going to try to sign up with another label. I think we need something bigger. We’ve pretty much outgrown the place we’re at now, and I want to get our music into movies and commercials. Once you get placed, the checks just come in. My long-term goal is to be able to live comfortably off of music alone. A couple of us in the band have day jobs, and we don’t want to have those any more. (laughs)
Mackin: Do you have a day job?
Lachi: I do. It’s funny, because I’ll go into work and somebody will be like, “My friend just heard your song on the radio in California! That’s weird that we just sit next to each other and you annoy me.”?
I’m like, “Thanks!” (laughs) So yeah. I’m hoping to quit this day job.