Talk Story with Rachel Lasky

  • Contributed photo

    Kauai singer Rachel Lasky performs during a production she participated in while in college.

If there’s one thing that’s been a constant in Rachel Lasky’s life, it’s music.

At a young age, Lasky began studying viola, piano and voice and even attended a performing arts high school for a year in Australia, where she’s a dual citizen. After 10 years of studying music at the college level, Lasky earned her bachelor’s of music in contemporary music as well as a master’s of music with an emphasis in jazz.

Though she studied music and sang in competitions during high school, Lasky wasn’t always a music major in college. She started out studying French, history and liberal arts, but something was missing. When she realized it was music, she made the switch.

Lasky started out studying opera, but eventually decided to study rock and roll instead and eventually jazz.

About a year ago, Lasky moved to Kauai with her husband, who is also a musician, to work at her family’s business.

Since moving here, she’s kept herself busy. She’s opened a studio called the Green Room, where she teaches voice and beginning piano, sings with the vocal ensemble Kauai Voices, where she’s also a board member. She also sings with Chamber Music Kauai.

Lasky performs regularly with her husband, Nick, in their group Beauty and the Bass, at Paco’s Tacos in Poipu. Most recently, she’s been working with students at the Kauai Performing Arts Center, conducting workshops.

Musically, her favorite styles are funk and jazz, because she likes the groove.

Why is music and music education important?

There’s a lot of aspects to it. We hear music all the time, wherever we go there’s usually music happening. We go to the mall, there’s music; we go to the store, there’s music. The radio in your car, at home, church, all these aspects of your life has music in it. For me, it was always a way that I could — not that I was super shy — it helped me be more out of my shell. You can act, you can try on these different masks, like acting, can try these different things, you get to explore when you sing. You can emote and share emotions or even if it’s an emotion you don’t normally feel, “Oh I love that song, it’s sad, I can try that on for a little bit,” you know and you don’t have to feel sad all of the time, or the opposite, you’re having a bad day, you sing a happy song, it makes you feel good, or you’re sad and you sing a sad song and it’s cathartic. It can be a relief, where you can get a relief out of it. Music was my favorite class in school. I had some really great teachers, some inspiring teachers and I’d love to inspire other people the way I was inspired. My parents were always behind me. Always cheering for me. They never made me feel like, “Maybe you shouldn’t do that, maybe you won’t make very much money,” my parents didn’t care. They figure if you do something that makes you happy, everything else will figure itself out.

Where do you think you’ll go from here?

I work in the family business, I teach lessons, I teach lots of lessons, I go to lots of rehearsals, I gig often with my husband in Beauty and the Bass. It’s vocals, me, I’m “Beauty” apparently and Nick is the “Bass.” So Nick plays a six- string bass and it’s electric, so he does walking bass lines like standard swing jazz, but because he has strings, he can also play chords and he likes to play different textures, but it’s really different, because he’s at the bottom of the spectrum and I’m at the top because I’m a mezzo-soprano and it’s a really different texture, so we get to play around and find different ways to play songs and usually you have a chordal instrument and he plays chords, but it’s a little different, so it’s really fun. We do a lot of pop, funk, R&B, soul, some standards, some jazz standards. I love blues, blues is fun, but my absolute favorite is funk and soul.

What is it about funk and jazz that you like so much?

What I love the most about funk is the groove. When you hear Stevie Wonder, it’s totally groove based. You feel it in your every fiber. My favorite part about jazz is I like the standards, when you think Frank Sinatra, it’s just so smooth. It’s just smooth. That’s what I like about it. I like swing. I prefer swing to hard bop. I like it if it’s easier for me to connect with. Hard bop is harder for me to connect with, but swing, the way it feels, it’s another groove thing. So it’s a feel and I like that.

So you’re a very kinesthetic individual?

Until the end of my undergrad, I didn’t realize that. All the songs I picked for every recital, my first degree I did two recitals, my second degree I did two recitals, my masters, I did one. So I’ve done five and the first three, I picked pretty much all my own music and they’d always be like, “Your recitals always so different,” and by the end of the second one, the teacher was like, “Oh, it’s because it’s all groove based.”

What’s something you’ve learned from doing all of these live performances since you graduated?

Real life is not like school. Some of school is like real life, but the things I worried about the most about grad school are not so big a deal outside of school.

You’re always really self-critical during grad school because you’re trying to work towards this level and it’s very difficult, it’s long hours and all those things and it’s hard to feel like what you’re doing is making a difference or worth doing all those sorts of things, but being in Beauty and the Bass and having people come up and tell you, “I really liked these songs,” or “What was that song you did?” or actually wanting to come talk to you. “Oh, somebody was listening and somebody did enjoy what we were doing and somebody liked it.”

That was harder in grad school because everybody’s supporting each other, but everybody has to do it. “Oh that was great, that was wonderful,” but in the real world, they’re eating their meal, they don’t have to come talk to you. You’re getting paid by the venue, they don’t have to come and do anything. You’re just there, you’re the background, you’re the entertainment. It’s just really validating, when somebody comes and tells you, “Oh, I really liked that Portuguese song you sang,” or, “I really liked all the Beatles you did,” whatever it is they liked, or “When are you playing next?”

Who are your fans?

My mom. Hardcore. My mom. She has almost always been able to come to every concert I’ve ever been in. She came even when she lived in Australia and I lived here, as in the United States as in Mainland. Everything she came to, especially solo stuff. Some group stuff she wasn’t able to make it to, but she would enlist an aunt or an uncle to film my solo, so she could see them. My mom and dad both tried to come to everything. They’re very supportive.

What’s next for you?

My studio is slowly growing and I work for my parents still and help them a lot with their business. I’ve been really enjoying learning and working on the Kauai Voices Board. It’s like way brand new for me, but it’s been really interesting and really fascinating. I’m really interested in the behind the scenes and how to make it work, since it’s a non-profit. I think it’s really cool, really interesting. Who knows, maybe in the far off future, maybe a teaching license.

If somebody’s interested in going into the field of music professionally, how would you encourage them?

Most musicians have a day job. You have to love it. If you love it enough, it won’t matter that it may be hard sometimes to make money solely from music. You have to be a multi-tasker, multiple streams of income, but if you decided to jump that hurdle, you don’t have to go to school, it helps, school’s not for everyone.

I think of a musicians triangle. If somebody asks me, “Hey can you do this?” whether it’s a gig, or to transcribe something, I think about these three things, when you’re just starting out, it’s just one thing, hopefully.

Once you get more experience it turns into two things, if you’re really lucky, it turns into three things on the triangle, so one is good money, which is hard to find, and you’ve got good music, which, there’s more of that and then good people. So sometimes, you pick something because it’s good money, good people, but maybe you don’t like the music, but the other two help you get through until you find something else that’s maybe good music, good money, or good music, good people.

It’s figuring out that combination and trying to prioritize, so maybe the next two months I only have two things that are good money, good music, but maybe not good people, which has never happened to me. Usually it’s always good people. Maybe for two months and it drains me. The next gigs, I really have to think to myself, “Do I really want to do this, is this going to fulfill me?” If you just start to try to balance, finding balance, everybody’s got to find balance.

TGI: Through all your years in music, what’s one lesson or theme that’s stuck out to you the most through preforming?

LASKY: For me personally, while I learned a lot in school, going through school and getting my master’s, the more school I did, the more I felt I wasn’t myself as a singer, vocally, and if I could tell people to try and still remember what they love about it and keep doing that, even if they decide to go to school, keep that in mind and keep practicing those things, it would help them to remember why they love it. Sometimes school can get in the way and I did school to learn more and I did learn more, but I didn’t really feel like me all of the time. I had to be reminded by the people who support me. I would tell people, you need to remind yourself why you like to do it and which parts of it are fun and do it all the time. Don’t forget.


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