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Brandon "Taz" Niederauer: New Kid on the Block

You mentioned that you’re headlining some shows, but you do a lot of sit-ins too. How do you approach a sit-in differently than headlining a show?

Approaching a sit-in is just being thankful to all of the people that let you sit-in. It’s really overall just about listening and paying attention and trying your hardest. Sometimes it’s really hard, because the sit-ins will be at like 4 a.m. or 6 a.m. But I love just going up there and sometimes not knowing what they’re going to do. That’s an adventure through my brain, just trying to figure out what key the song is in. Some people hate that, but I’m addicted to that process—where you don’t know the song, and you have to go up there. Especially when the song is really hard—that’s fun for me, when I get to discover things on the spot.

Playing with them during soundcheck makes that a little easier. But it took me a long time to be able to just go up there from scratch and be able to play with some of these amazing musicians who I’m honored to be able to sit-in with. Like Soulive…I’ve sat in with them five or six times, and we play this song “Manic Depression.” It’s a Jimi Hendrix song, but they do it a little more jammy, so I have fun with that. Just the different genres—they all get infused into my playing. So it’s really fun to do sit-ins.

When you sat in with Twiddle at the Capitol Theater, did you know you were going to play “Shakedown Street,” or was that one of those surprises?

That was a surprise! We invited Mihali, the guitarist from Twiddle, to Thanksgiving dinner the night before. And he came, and he was like, “What do you want to do tomorrow?” And I was like, “The song ‘Milk’ could be good.” And he was like, “Yeah, but we gotta do something where you can sing.” I would’ve played any of Twiddle’s songs—I love their songs—but he was like, “Why don’t we do ‘Shakedown Street?’”

Right after he left, I went in my room and learned the song. We ran it once or twice during soundcheck, and then we just got up there and it felt so natural. They’re a jammy group, but they also have a reggae feel to everything they do. It was different than any other “Shakedown Street” that I’ve heard, but I loved it; it was really fun. That was one of my favorite sit-ins that I’ve done, because I sang too, which is new.

I was going to ask you about that.

I’m getting more comfortable singing. I used to not be comfortable at all getting onstage and singing. But my parents have been encouraging me, and telling me my voice is good enough that I could sing with people. So I’ve been trying it; it’s a new thing. It’s a step in the right direction, I think.

Is that how you see yourself eventually? Center stage doing lead vocals? Or do you see yourself more like a Derek Trucks, where you’re leading with your guitar?

I see myself as a guitarist first. But I could also see myself singing and playing guitar at the same time, and leading a band with the songs I’ve written. Just playing with my band and rocking out for as many people as I can at a time.

Talking about singing, was your experience on Broadway doing School of Rock: The Musical, another step in the right direction for you? Where you were able to try out singing but also acting too?

Definitely, yeah. Before School of Rock, I was just an okay singer. I never sang at all. But going through School of Rock, it was more singing, dancing, and acting. So I had to learn how to act and sing and dance, while I was learning the new material. It got very stressful at some points, but by the time we’d done the first show I was completely comfortable singing, acting, dancing, and playing the guitar at the same time. And I have to thank the people at School of Rock the adults that helped me learn. Because if they didn’t, I would’ve been very rough up onstange.

Before and after, I think my voice has gotten a lot better. Some people have been telling me that my voice is getting really good now. That’s what I’m hoping is happening. I’m writing songs now with lyrics in them that are in my singing range. I really feel like being a singer and a guitarist—like someone like Warren Haynes—is a step in the right direction.

You mentioned that you’re writing songs with lyrics. Do you see an album on the horizon for you? Do you have plans in terms of releasing original music?

I see myself releasing a bunch of original songs. I’ve been writing constantly. Whether in school or out of school, just writing lyrics down. I’m thinking of coming out with an EP maybe later next year. But an album—I think that’s a little further in the future. I don’t want it to be premature. Maybe when I’m 16 or 17. I’m only 14 now, and my voice hasn’t fully developed—so once that happens, it’s totally fair game. I’ll definitely release an album at some point.

You’re 14, but you’ve accomplished some amazing things. Is there anyone you haven’t played with that’s on your bucket list? Or are there any festivals or venues you haven’t played yet that you’re itching to perform at?

I would like to play Red Rocks. That’s been on my bucket list. I think I’m going to play there next summer, so I’m super psyched. I would love to play with Tedeschi Trucks Band. That hasn’t happened yet. I’d love to play with Joe Russo’s Almost Dead. I’d like to play at Madison Square Garden. I mean, if I really want to go crazy, I could name a bunch of places that are on my bucket list.

The goal is to make that bucket list smaller every time I play—scratch off one, and then go to the next one, and so on. That’s really the goal. I’ve been so fortunate to have scratched off a large portion of my bucket list. As it keeps going, my future as a singer-songwriter and guitarist becomes less impossible. Because it used to be just a dream, but now it’s getting closer to a reality. And I’m super thankful for that.

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