Simon Lai is best known as guitarist for the popular rock band “Cynation” which he co-founded and as singer and writer of songs and instrumental music. He is also known for his acting role in Shin’s music video “One” and appeared in the Nescafé commercial.
Simon Lai was born on March 1985 in Singapore. He is one of the three children of Monica Lai, who is a sales promoter. Simon was primarily raised by his mother after his parents divorced when he was only three years old. Simon fled with his mother to Malaysia to escape from the loansharks, who were after his father. His older sister Veronica Lai had moved to Australia when he was five. At the age of sixteen Simon saved up enough money from working to buy his first guitar and took up lessons. With every penny he earned, he invested to learning music and spent time to perfect his craft.
“Growing up was a tough one for me because my parents are divorced. Since I was very young, my mother had to grab me out of bed in the middle of the night where we had to flee away from our house to go to the neighboring country, Johor Bahru, Malaysia, to run away from the loansharks that my father had gotten himself into trouble with. Thus my childhood was always moving from place to place and seldom seeing my siblings.”
Simon Lai, Cynation Guitarist, Photo by NADGE
It wasn’t an easy life, and music was one of the ways that Simon Lai found escape from some of the hardship. Other children in school loudly teased and taunted him, calling him names, because his parents were divorced. Simon started learning music and practicing guitar to forget his troubles at home. At the age of nine Simon met Josh Mak and Andrew Teo and since then they have had an inseparable bond and brotherhood. The love for music strengthened their friendship and in 1998 the three friends formed a rock band called “Cynical Annihilation”, later renamed “Cynation”.
“In school it was even tougher as I had to go through tease from fellow students about how they never saw my mom or dad and how I was a bastard child. So until the age of 9, I met Josh and Andrew and that’s where the friendship began to grow to the brotherhood began. I think this is the part where all of them do not really know how much they meant to me as friends and as brothers.
Along with joining the Cynation band in 1998, he performed as a frequent collaborator with other artists including Stasis, Prince Band, Velvet Band, Harzaggadah, Audio Breakout, Ridge, Rush Hour, etc. He has achieved commercial success and fame as guitarist for both Cynation and the pop rock band INK which he founded in 2008. INK placed Top 16 in the Band Competition TV Show finals in Singapore. In 2008 Simon Lai placed Top 4 Finalist for the Channel 8 Countdown Show at Vivocity with Superband 2. He is an active member of Fretboard Frenzy, a famous group that aims to provide a platform to showcase local experienced and aspiring instrumental musicians.
In 2002 Simon Lai graduated from St. Andrew’s High School in Singapore and in 2018 he will study Bachelor of Arts in Music at the Australia Institute of Music (AIM) in Melbourne. During his high school years, Simon had a passion for basketball and competed in the nationwide competition in the Semi Pro League. Martial arts were another love and he took up Muay Thai kickboxing to stay fit and balance his mindset.
“As I grew up and after I was opted out of Cynical Annihilation, I dedicated my life into becoming a better musician. Guitar was my obsession, it went beyond passion and now it became a part of me. Martial Arts was also another love I took up, practicing Muay Thai as sports for myself to balance out my lifestyle as I work nights. This was another thing I look forward to as I like to keep fit and have a balanced mindset in everything that I do.”
In 2002, Simon Lai was opted out of “Cynical Annihilation”, but rejoined in 2016. He dedicated his life to becoming a better musician and the guitar became his obsession. Today he has become a phenomenal guitarist in his own right who can play both fast and slow. His solos are incredibly structured, with shape that tell a story. Simon’s sound and technique is inspired by legendary guitarist such as Paul Gilbert for his rock phrasing and picking technique on the guitar, Steve Vai for his phrasing and his legato style, Joe Satriani for his legato and phrasing, and Mateus Asato for his use of harmonies, double stops that Simon has incorporated into his guitar playing.
“My very first guitar was bought by my own hard earned money from waitering at restaurants. It was an Ibanez Gio in the shape of an Gibson SG. I was using Fender Strat as my second guitar that I bought, followed by a series of Ibanez Guitars. When I got into Paul Gilbert, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, John Petrucci, all those guitar virtuoso was my drug, I was addicted to them.
In the end, I landed myself with Suhr Guitars which was the best decision I made. I sold all my pre-existing guitars just to get 3 of the boutique made Suhr guitars that I use up till today, as well as a few fenders: one American standard strat, a Richie Kotzen Telecaster and Nash Guitars T52 Tele, , as well as not forgetting an Ibanez 7 string that has been with till now from my Ibanez crazy days.”
*Cover Photo Credit: NADGE @33rd.prince