This extended interview accompanies our entry on singer-songwriter Rachelle Lynn in the November 2012 issue's "6 of the Best: Keyboard Heroes to Watch" feature on hot new players. Interview by Stephen Fortner. --Ed.
How would you describe the music you make?
Pop, Soul, Alternative Rock. I’m big into melody, probably because of my Jazz/Classical background and I’ve been told my music sounds like movie music. That makes sense since I have a passion for film scores and would love to write music for film one day.
From our previous conversations, I recall that you come from a very musical family. What can you say about their influence on your musical development?
I come from an extremely musical family! Both my parents are professional musicians. My dad is a brilliant electric guitarist and multi instrumentalist; he toured with Bryan Adams in the band Sweeney Todd. One of their hit songs was “Roxy Roller”. He also had a Rock band in the ‘70s called Holy Smoke and they were the West Coast Rush then. He taught me how to rock out on the piano at a very early age. By the time I was 8yrs old I was hammering out serious blues chops to songs such as “Taking It to the Streets” by the Doobie Brothers. My pipes come from my mom who is a phenomenal vocalist. She grew up in LA and moved to Vancouver to sing with the “Sample Stearns Band” and they had a really big following. Actually, when I was just 6 weeks old she flew back to LA with me to sing on Star Search. She’s also worked with David Foster. My younger brother Bryan is a really talented drummer and it made a huge difference growing up with him playing music together. He drummed on my whole record “Green Lights”. I pretty much was raised in a recording studio and there were always great musicians coming over to jam and I loved being a part of it. I got mentored by some of the best in the in the music biz. My parents have always wanted to foster my talent since I started making music at 4yrs old. It’s pretty fantastic to have parents who are just as passionate about music and are super supportive of my career.
What lessons and formal training are in your background?
I started learning piano at the age of 4 and had private lessons from the age of 5 -17yrs old. I studied classical but dominantly jazz for about 6 of those years. My favourite piano teacher was George Essihos who introduced me to the world of jazz voicings and improv. He’d tell me “There’s no such thing as a bad note, only better ones” and that gave me the freedom I needed to create music. I also had a couple informal lessons from people like Al Mckenzie (Music Director for Martha Reeves, The Temptations).
In leading up to the musician you are now, what was the importance of formal training versus, well...everything but?
I have a deep appreciation for Classical music and the formal training has opened up many doors for having the skills to sight read charts for a last minute gig. However, learning to groove and jam with other artists did not come from a book. All those early years of playing with other musicians were invaluable and I feel comfortable sitting and jamming with anyone because of it.
It’s obvious you’re passionate about writing songs; you also mentioned you’d like to compose for film in the future
Absolutely! I’m fascinated with film scoring. I have a few compositions I’d love to hear on the big screen one day. I’m obsessed with IMAX films; I would love to write a soundtrack in the future. I also like playing with jazz voicings and embellishing classic melodies, creating fresh renditions of timeless songs. I just recently did a really romantic version of “Here Comes the Bride-The Wedding March” for a friend’s wedding. It’s quite a popular request I get for weddings!
Was there an “Aha” moment that caused you to identify with keyboard instruments as your means of expressing yourself and creating?
I don’t know if there was particularly an “Aha” moment as I grew up with keyboards around me my whole life and I loved playing them. However, when I experienced a great string patch on the Yamaha S80 keyboard for the first time I was ecstatic! I was just starting to write songs and the string patch had me hooked. I love strings and big, epic orchestral sounds.
Who are your top musical heroes and influences?
From my R&B perspective: Stevie Wonder
From my Rock perspective: Led Zepplin
From my Pop perspective: Alanis Morissette, Chantal Kreviazuk & Sarah McLachlan
From my Jazz perspective: Bill Evans
I had to squeeze one more name in there! There’s definitely more than five!
If you could put together a dream band of musicians – living or deceased, but that you haven’t in fact played with- who would they be?
That’s an awesome question! And a tough one to answer! Hmm...
Stevie Wonder with me on keys and backup vocals
It’s a tie between my dad, Jeff Beck and Johnny Lang on electric guitar...maybe have all of them!
Bonnie Raitt on slide guitar and backup vocals
My brother on the drums...and let’s revive Jon Bonham
Victor Wooten and Steven Taddei (my extremely talented friend from Victoria ) on Bass
What keyboard(s) is/are in your rig now, and why did you choose them?
I grew up playing a Yamaha G2 baby grand, so having a keyboard that could emulate a rich and dynamic acoustic piano sound was paramount to me. I had a Yamaha S80 then a S90 and I loved having a balance of piano and synth. I was big into sequencing sounds, layering different instruments was a big part of my personal sound. Certain tracks on my record “Green Lights” such as my song “Innocence” I used the S80 arpeggiator with organ along with one of the awesome string patches. Writing with these keyboards made the process so much fun! I’ve been using the Motif ES8 for the last few years and was extremely excited about the polyphony being doubled from the S80 as well as its plethora of other great sounds. I’ve always been a fan of Yamaha; they make great products.
What current and future projects are you really excited about?
I’ve been collaborating with some great song writers in Nashville over the last year. Two writing teams in particular Daryl and Lee Ann Burgess and Jon and Sally Tiven. Collaboration is relatively new to me as I’ve always written on my own but I love the process and I’m very excited about the songs we’ve written. I can hardly wait to get back into the recording studio! I have lots of coals on the fire right now, which is why I’m moving from my lovely little city Victoria, BC on Vancouver Island to Los Angeles where the action and opportunities are bursting at the seams. I’ve been invited on board a new publishing company “The Committee” founded by Morris Hayes (Keyboard Player/Music Director for Prince) and Nicholas O’Toole (Open Labs Staff Writer/ Film Composer) as a song writer which I’m very excited about. I’ve also been invited on a big music documentary with the potential of touring in Europe next year. I’m pretty stoked.
What have been some key highlights in your career so far?
Nelly Furtado chose me to be her opening act in our hometown Victoria, BC, Canada when I was only 15. I received a standing ovation; that performance was a significant milestone for me. In 2007 she asked me to open up for her again on her “Loose” tour at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, BC. That was an amazing experience. I had less than 15hrs notice before the performance and to say the least it was a huge rush! I was the first international artist to perform for Iceland’s Independence Day in 2004 for tens of thousands of people. That too was pretty exhilarating! Just last month, my friends Conrad Jay, Toby Emerson and I were Top 2 pick to open for party rocker group “LMFAO” on the popular TV show Opening Act which aired on E! for the electronic remix we did to my song “Rain”