Rai Thistlethwayte is one tough keyboardist. He's sold hundreds of thousands of albums with the Australian band Thirsty Merc, toured the world shredding synths with artists like KNOWER and Oz Noy, and he continues to make noise as a solo artist. Get to know our TALENT SCOUT Artist of the Week.
NAME: Rai Thistlethwayte
HOMETOWN: Sydney, Australia (currently based between there and Los Angeles, CA).
MUSICAL TRAINING: My mother taught me piano since age 5 and I studied primarily with her. Early on, I studied classical piano, and then I got into blues and jazz. After high school, I was awarded a full scholarship to the Sydney Conservatorium of Music to start a Bachelor of Music in Jazz Piano. I left after one year when I was signed to an early record deal in USA.
FIRST GIGS: My first gigs were with my dad, who is a bass player, guitarist and school teacher. Also, with a band called The Box in my teens, playing keyboards and synth bass. I also played gigs often on the northern beaches of Sydney. Later I played jazz trio, wine bars and wedding gigs, etc. before starting the Aussie pop/rock band Thirsty Merc in 2002.
MUSICAL INFLUENCES: Classical piano composers like Claude Debussy and Chopin. Jazz piano players like Oscar Peterson, Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea. Blues/rock bands, quite a few British bands i.e. Cream, Deep Purple, and the classic metal band Iron Maiden. Also AC/DC and other pub rock bands, Midnight Oil, Baby Animals. a little later, singer songwriters such as Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Prince, Joni Mitchell, plus crooners and '60s melodic pop singers like Bobby Darin, Buddy Holly and Frank Sinatra.
WHAT I’M LISTENING TO RIGHT NOW: I've been hearing a lot of neo-fusions of jazz/electronics/throwback stuff in a DIY sort of way. The internet has it all. Digging lots of things, including funk again. Last night I saw Deantoni Parks. That was pretty brutal, beautiful, minimal and amazing all at the same time!
MY BIG BREAK: I don't think there's a big break. I think a life in music is a whole series of breaks, good and bad, up and down, along the way. I truly believe, as cheesy as it sounds, if you keep the journey in your head more than the destination, you'll end up at all these sorts of great destinations without needing to find them. But looking back, things like being in a band that got to a well-known status in my home country has helped open doors. Writing a few songs that connect and having one featured on a TV show helped to build a network. Getting a record deal back in the day helped me learn about the crazy business this is. That was a break of sorts, because it gave me insight and encouragement, and helped me have some challenges to overcome. Being able to move to the U.S. when I saw a 'break in the clouds' at an age where I wasn't too tied-down by adult responsibilities has been somewhat of a break too, because it led to meeting people like Louis Cole from KNOWER and getting to play with them. Gigging with Oz Noy - they are all mini breaks. This is all part of a life in music. My Mum still plays piano every night, she's 72, she doesn't do to 'be good,' she just uses it as meditation, as a routine. She reads through pieces again and again and revisits them. It's simply part of her heart. My biggest break actually, looking back, might have been when my mother was loving enough to teach me some of the early knowledge: How to hold your hands on the piano, how to place a scale. It's been something I'll always cherish.
LATEST PROJECTS: I'm playing with KNOWER at moment and working on end of year touring in Australia with Thirsty Merc. I'm also going to put out some new solo material too. I've been mangling some tunes together which has been super fun. Funk is back in my life, I think!
FAVORITE KEYBOARDS AND WHY? I love the synth action on my Roland Alpha Juno 2. That jog wheel is a bit hard to edit with, but it's a Ninja machine! The Moog Little Phatty for me is the best bang-for-buck "phat" analogue monosynth for gigging. I also love the Nord stuff, I've got three of them - all different, but all part of the kit. One is based in Australia and two are in the USA. They have the strong chassis - the build quality is fantastic and the action is solid for pretty much anything electro mechanical. Plus the piano sounds have come a long way. They are truly awesome. Even the synth sounds are great these days, and the on-board editing language is very intuitive with all the knobs and buttons right there. FX are killer. They are super pro keyboards for touring. I also have a sparkle top Rhodes Piano Bass that I also love. It's a fun one. And now, I'm getting into Apple MainStage. I was also honored to be given Keyscape after doing a session with the legendary Eric Persing at Spectrasonics in Hollywood. I used the Wurly sound on an Oz Noy record. He was into it, and he's pretty particular. It has incredible;e samples, and awesome flexibility once you get on the laptop. My favorite keyboards are workhorses. I do have a C. Bechstein upright at my Mum's place which is a very nice instrument, too. I just wish I could get over there to play it more often!
WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU: I'll be touring with KNOWER in Europe in July and then recording with Ozone Squeeze (Oz Noy, Darren Stanley and myself). Then I'll be trying to also get my life admin up to date and spend some time with my girl over the next few months!
ADVICE TO THE NEXT GENERATION: Stay passionate. Do what you love (you're already doing it, did you know that)? You can learn as much, if not more, from the next generation, as they can learn from your generation. So let's hang-out and jam!
For more information visit www.raithis.com