Laurie Z is one of an inspiring group of artists who is clearly in control of her career. She runs her own record label, Zebra Productions, and has released three albums to date. An energetic and upbeat person, Laurie's music covers a full spectrum of moods and messages. Citing influences as diverse as Mozart, Beethoven, The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Stevie Wonder, Carole King - and especially Elton John - it is no wonder that Laurie Z's music is so varied, and yet so personal. Well-earned recognition is coming her way, and the future looks very promising!
KP: How did you get started in music?
Laurie: I started piano lessons at four, and took lessons consistently for approximately thirteen years. It was relatively easy for me to hear songs on the radio and play them, and without encouragement from my teachers, I started improvising and creating new arrangements of the songs that I heard. I was about sixteen when I started composing. One of my earliest songs is included in my newest album, Roots; it became the title song, and sort of spoke to my beginnings as a writer and as a tortured teen. I played in rock bands all through high school and college, although I didn't major in music. As a matter of fact, I didn't take ANY music classes while I was at Cal State Northridge because I had no faith in my abilities as a musician - I didn't believe that I had "what it takes." I was still in college when I had my first sessions in a recording studio as a backup musician. My major was Speech Communication, which turned out to be an excellent major since I use my speaking and writing skills every day both in running my label and in concert. I feel very comfortable in front of large audiences, which I attribute partially to my major (I was also pre-law!). My first job in the music industry was at Kawai - I worked in marketing for their keyboard division, and then started doing clinics and trade show performances for them. Since then, I've performed and/or consulted for many of the leading equipment manufacturers, including my most recent performances for Alesis at the Winter NAMM show.
KP: How did your first album, Window to the World come into being?
Laurie: Larry Kimbell, who was the head of the Economic Forecasting unit at UCLA (and a part-time musician) heard me play and decided to give me the opportunity to record an album for his conference. Before I knew it, it was the beginning of my recording career. It surprised me, probably, more than anyone else!
KP: You do a lot of live performances. What have you been doing recently?
Laurie: This past year I've mostly been performing solo to promote Roots, including some wonderful concerts for Yamaha on the Disklavier. However, my band performed for several events last year, including two huge public concerts in Southern California. I've mostly focused the band on large outdoor shows, and performed solo in more intimate settings. There's a different energy when you play with other musicians which I miss when I don't get to do it for awhile. However, there are things I can do solo that I can't do with the band, like improvise songs in concert and have closer contact with the audience. I guess I'd like to continue to do both!
KP: Will your next album be solo piano?
Laurie: No! I'm not sure when I'll do another solo piano album. I like to make each album its own entity, and I try not to repeat myself in my releases. I'm hoping to release not one but two CDs this year, and both of them will be quite different, although very compatible, with my current releases.
KP: It's incredible that Roots was done with no overdubbing or editing. That's very rare, isn't it?
It isn't that amazing to me, but it seems to amaze others. What I've discovered since my first days in the studio is that usually my first take is my best, and if it takes more than a few, I need to come back to it later. I also seem to work well under pressure - I added even MORE pressure to myself when we recorded Roots
because I had to write about half of the material in the five evenings that we had use of the recording studio, and we consumed most of the first evening with technical things and set-up. Paul Grupp, my engineer and co-producer on Roots
, supplied a creative environment by turning down the lights, lighting candles, and giving me an extremely supportive atmosphere where I could let the inspiration happen. I suppose the most amazing thing to me is that those songs created in the studio seem to be ones which reviewers mention the most - especially the ones I wrote and recorded in just one take. Something incredible happens when a song is created - I don't know that I understand it, but I've read other artists' discussions of it. It's as if the music is already there, and you just have to grab it and let it create itself. I've been improvising for so long that it's pretty much second nature, and creating a song live has become a natural thing to do.
KP: Do you plan to continue to record on your own label and stay completely independent?
Laurie: I run my label by myself, and have made all the important decisions, but I have had a great deal of help from a large support group of friends and fans. The last couple of years, some really important milestones have occurred - I've been able to get management, two of my fans created a fan club and help keep in touch with the 5,000 people on my mailing list, and Roots was considered for eight Grammy nominations. I also picked up US distribution through Valley, and European distribution through Aquarius International this past year. These all have contributed to my being looked at seriously by major labels, and the moment of truth is rapidly approaching.
KP: It seems that many artists are leaving the larger labels as the labels become more mainstream or commercial. Some are doing well, but others seem to be kind of lost in the atmosphere right now.
Laurie: There are many questions that need to be asked when it's time to consider moving to a major label. I've been very successful thus far, but certainly, running the label takes a preponderance of time that could be spent recording or touring. My instincts have served me well so far, and I have a strong network of people guiding me through this period of growth, so I'm sure that the right decisions will be made. At this point, I would like to either expand the label to allow it to take on other artists, or to involve a larger entity such as a major label. It would have to be the right deal, though, so that I wouldn't get "lost in the shuffle", and so that my instincts can continue to be utilized.
KP: How do you go about writing your music?
Laurie: In many different ways, but one common one for me is probably the most unusual. Since I improvise so much, I've created some of my favorite compositions live in concert or while the tape is rolling during recording sessions. I seem to like composing under pressure! I've also written songs in my sleep - two of the songs I'm most proud of were written in this manner. I will go to sleep with a thought or a phrase lodged in my subconscious, and I'll wake up in the middle of the night (or early morning, since I'm a night owl) with the song completely formed. I'll stumble over to the piano, hit the record button, and somehow, miraculously, the song unfolds itself in its entirety. Both "My Perfect Love" (from Life Between The Lines) and "The River" (from Roots) were written this way, and I wouldn't change a thing about them. I also compose spontaneously when I find a new sound that inspires me ("The Mayan Wavelength" and "It's a Jungle In Here") or when a life experience has a profound effect on me. "Life Between The Lines" was composed after my mom's death, and the song pounded in my brain until I acknowledged its presence. I kept hearing two recurrent themes in my head, and didn't realize immediately that they were meant to be together in the same song!
KP: Your three albums to date are so different from each other. Do you plan to continue in several different directions, or do you see one particular path being the way to go?
Laurie: I love that each album has its own personality. I also love new challenges, and hate repeating myself - I have no desire to do Roots 2! My next three albums are already planned, titled, and ready to record, and each one has elements that are new, and, hopefully, fresh and interesting to the audience.
KP: Do you divulge what the "Z" stands for?
Laurie: Nope - it keeps that "air of mystery" around me!
Very sadly, Laurie Z., a non-smoker, passed away in 2006 from lung cancer. She left us with some wonderful music and her warm and positive personality will live on!