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A career in music for RTZ was inevitable. It's in his heart, his soul -- and his very DNA, in fact.
RTZ is Robin Taylor Zander, whose father -- as you might surmise from the name -- is the founding frontman for iconic Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band Cheap Trick. RTZ is now part of the group, too, a utility player (on guitar, bass, drums and backing vocals) who's been dubbed "Cheap Trick's secret weapon" by Rolling Stone. It's a testament to his range and versatility -- and, as RTZ readily acknowledges, it's a pretty great gig.
Rest assured, however, that he is very much an independent artist with his own path and his own sound, all readily evident on his debut album, The Distance.
"This is definitely my own music," RTZ explains. "I don't try to sound like anything. I'm not really going for a sound. A lot of people try to put all sorts of labels on your music, but I feel like my stuff is just whatever I'm doing at the time. There's a lot of music I've listened to that's influenced me, but everything starts inside me and isn't planned or plotted out."
The 11 tracks on The Distance reflect musical lessons well-learned, however. Comprising song written between 2015-2019 -- some dating back to RTZ's tenure in Nashville with the band Smile -- the album is a rich sonic immersion into rich pop melodies, awash in smoothly textured instrumentation and soaring, layered vocal harmonies. It puts the influence of the Beatles and Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones, the Move and the Who and so many others, into a blender, pouring out aural masterpieces such as the first single, "High and Low,” “The Distance,” “What Am I To Do," "Ize on the Prize," "In Front of Me" and more. Melody and muscle are tightly intertwined, a classic case of making music that's greater than the sum of its parts.
"It's so sophisticated, and the fact that he played every instrument on the record except for the brass is incredible," says Jack Douglas, the legendary producer (John Lennon, New York Dolls, Aerosmith, Cheap Trick) who was introduced to RTZ through his father. Douglas signed him to his label Confidential Records NYC after mixing The Distance. "As I was getting material I was just amazed by the talent and thinking, 'Man, if there's anything I would love is to get on my label, it's this.' I want to be part of putting him on the map."
RTZ's own musical journey goes back to when he was just three years old, growing up in Safety Harbor, Florida. That's when he got a ukulele, graduating to guitar when he was five, and then learning drums, bass and piano as well as singing in his school chorus. Music was, of course, all around him -- instruments, recordings, memorabilia -- and frequent trips on the road to see his father play. Joining his dad on stage for some of his solo shows further stoked his own musical ambitions.
"All throughout school I figured once I was out I would do something in music," RTZ says. "I was an introverted music nerd at a pretty early age. When I was little I would take a record and try to learn the bass part or the guitar part, then the next day try to learn the drum part and piano part. Then I'd sing it and I'd be able to record it in my own 'cause I knew everything. That's where my love for music really came from. There wasn't anything else I even thought about doing."
While he learned instruments by ear, RTZ did fall in for some formal music education after high school. He studied performance at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, then recording production at Full Sail University in Florida ("So I could record on my own and didn't have to pay someone else to do it," he says) as well as taking classes at Florida State University. The next stop was Nashville in 2015, where RTZ and his Smile partner John Keach "kinda wrote songs and shopped them around." None were ever released, but the four-and-a-half-year stay was a fertile training ground for RTZ.
"It's a competitive city, but it's inspiring," he recalls. "There are so many really good songwriters, good musicians. It's a place people come to do music, so I think it hardened me and made me even more determined."
Planning for The Distance, even as he toured with Cheap Trick, RTZ recorded the album during two weeks with Kenny Siegel at Old Soul Studio in Woodstock, N.Y. The process was arduous but exciting, and the result is a convincing first statement in what's poised to be a long and prolific career. "There's a bunch of songs that have not been used, too," he says, "a lot of unfinished material that stays unfinished until I feel inspired to finish it. But I'm always coming up with song ideas."
For now, however, RTZ is focused on planting his flag as a solo artist. Live dates are being booked, a band is being built, videos are being filmed. Giving his formidable history he's ready for all of it, and if he's learned anything since picking up that ukulele 25 years ago it's that there's always something to prove, whether it's in the studio or on stage. As RTZ readily acknowledges. "The one thing I know is this is exactly what I want to be doing -- and what I've always wanted to be doing."
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