Zac Rae has been a fixture on the Los Angeles music scene for nearly two decades. He's toured and recorded with everyone from Alanis Morissette to Lana Del Ray, and he currently plays keyboards in the acclaimed band Death Cab For Cutie. (Did we mention that Rae's gear collection is so legendary that Spectrasonics sampled some of it for their Keyscape virtual instrument)? For all these reasons and more, Zac Rae is our TALENT SCOUT Artist of the Week.
NAME: Zac Rae
HOMETOWN: Los Angeles, CA, after spending my childhood years in London, UK.
MUSICAL TRAINING: I took piano lessons starting around five years old, and then a couple of years at USC Music School before dropping out to work full time. Shockingly, no one has ever passed me over for a gig because I didn't have a degree.
FIRST GIGS: When I was in high school, you could get a gig playing jazz for a couple hours at places like Barnes and Noble. So my friends and I would play in little quartets, and each get paid in $25 gift cards, which translated to about two CDs. Later as a teenager, I spent some time on the Cuban jazz circuit in Los Angeles, which was a lot of fun.
MUSICAL INFLUENCES: One thing I've always thought is how people should be influenced more by other instruments than the one they primarily play. So while I obviously like all the remarkable pianists, organists, and keyboardists you might expect, I'm likely to take as much influence from someone like Marc Ribot, or Nels Cline, or John Coltrane, or Yo Yo Ma. When I was in music school, I used to frustrate everyone by telling them my favorite pianist was [Antonio Carlos] Jobim. But if you actually listen, his contributions to the actual performances on those records are perfectly restrained. There's not a single note more than is necessary.
WHAT I’M LISTENING TO RIGHT NOW: The new album by Arca. He is remarkable. The Chris Thile/Brad Mehldau duo album is gorgeous. For song based stuff, I love the album The Party by the Canadian artist Andy Shauf. I’ve also been on a big Ornette [Coleman] kick.
Photo by Rachel Demy
MY BIG BREAK: Around the time I dropped out of music school in 1999, I met a group of more active musicians in LA and I started connecting and working with them. Before that, I had really only been playing with people I met at school. I think I had a combination of musical knowledge, sonic diversity and creativity that made me instantly find a natural home in recording studios. One thing led to another and soon I was working full time doing session work, and then I got my first touring break with Alanis Morissette in 2001 when I was 21.
LATEST PROJECT/GIGS: For the last few years, I've been playing as a member of the group Death Cab For Cutie, which has been great because at the end of the day, I really love playing in a band with my friends. I also released the third album from one of my personal projects Early Winters called I Want To Break Your Heart on August 11th. As a sideguy, I contributed a ton of keyboards and other instrumentation to the recent Lana Del Rey album "Lust For Life" which just debuted at Number One.
FAVORITE KEYBOARDS AND WHY: I have a shockingly huge arsenal of keyboards of all shapes and sizes, but I've often said I want to be buried with my 1890's Wing Upright piano. Fortunately, this was one of the instruments that Spectrasonics chose to sample for their Keyscape library and they did an amazing job of it, so now I can take it with me anywhere I go. A close second would be my Hammond Organ, a 1963 church cabinet A105 that Ken Rich restored for me about 15 years ago. Honorable mention goes to the Teenage Engineering OP-1, which in my opinion is the single greatest piece of music technology to have been created in my lifetime. Have I mentioned, I love gear?
WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU? I'm very excited to be heading into the studio with Death Cab later this year to make our next album. Also, I'm scheduled to score my first feature film next year, and it's shaping up to be very moody and dark - just the way I like my soundtracks.
ADVICE TO THE NEXT GENERATION: Put down your phone. Read books. Be on time. Know the music ahead of time. Listen to other people. Listen to the other instruments. Try to make the other people on stage (or in the studio) sound good - don't worry about yourself. Never do something just because people say you "should.” Learn about all the other parts of life besides music.