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George Inai is like "a Model T built by Toyota in a Mexican factory." At least that's the closest the singer-songwriter says he has come to describing his unique cross-cultural blend of gothic Americana and Mexican folk music.
"I think the Japanese culture tends to take other ideas and pull them apart, scrutinize them and put them together in a different way," Inai points out. "I think that's kind of what I do. I don't have much Japanese folk music, a direct influence from that. But it's something about the mental process. The architecture, I think, is in there. I thought the whole Toyota thing represents that in an immediate way that people could understand."
While it may be a fitting parallel now, twenty years ago, the analogy would've been driven by a souped-up Camaro with "Back in Black" pouring out the windows. "I just heard that riff, and that was it," Inai exclaims. "I was just like, 'I wanna know how to make that sound.'"
After graduating from Manual High School in 1986, Inai headed to L.A. to play with a Mexican-American metal band. Shortly after moving out there, however, he enrolled in the Guitar Institute of Technology and heard some blues and rockabilly players, which prompted him to shed his shredder inclinations. "I realized just how that was becoming a dead end," he recalls. "Even back then I knew. You saw Guns N' Roses come and go, and you knew that the hair thing wasn't going be around much longer. I wanted to move on. I started broadening my horizons before that, and then continued after playing in a metal band."
Nearly a decade later, Inai moved back to Denver, where he met his Mexico-born wife through a mutual friend. She turned him on to old Mexican trios such as Los Ponchos, whose vocal harmonies — along with those from groups like the Sons of the Pioneers — began to have a big influence on his music. He cut his performing teeth at coffee shops and open stages before eventually forming a band. After playing country and bluegrass numbers on the guitarrón, an acoustic bass prevalent in marachi music, Inai discovered the inherent similarities between the two genres, which helped him craft his sound.
"That made see that all this stuff can sort of fit together in an interesting way," he explains. "That gave me the place to kind of put that together."
The results of the seemingly unlikely merger can be heard on Inai's latest effort, This Foolish Music, in which he takes previously stripped-down versions of his songs and embellishes them with full orchestration and arrangements. "Basically, I was able to flesh out the ideas and add what I really wanted," he says. "Bongos, pedal steel, vocal harmonies. This needs to be done in order for the music to achieve its full realization, to come to life."